Albuquerque must exert some magnetic force on aging radicals. We attracted Mark Rudd of the Weather Underground, the group famous for bombing the Capitol. And for quite a while we’ve had Dave Foreman of EarthFirst!, the group that introduced America to eco-terrorism.
Now we’re joined by the chief of staff of the Black Panther Party.
The University of New Mexico has hired David Hilliard as a lecturer. Hilliard was among the first Black Panthers and commanded the organization when Huey Newton was jailed for killing a police officer. Hilliard went to prison for shooting at police. He was also arrested for threatening to kill the president and served time for illegal firearms possession.
The Panthers provided food and social services to inner-city Blacks. They forged truces between gangs. But they were mainly a paramilitary organization. Their show of force met with greater, and frequently more ruthless, force from larger, better-armed police departments and the FBI. Law enforcement killed nearly three dozen Panthers. Black Panthers, for their part, killed 15 policemen.
Mark Rudd knows Hilliard from those days. The Weathermen and Panthers couldn't avoid crossing paths in the revolutionar ’60s. After Chicago Panther leader Fred Hampton was shot by police in his bed, Caucasian Weathermen joined the queue of angry Blacks inspecting the blood-soaked mattress.
Rudd protested the Vietnam War with Students for a Democratic Society, then helped form the Weathermen to pursue the outright overthrow of the United States government. They bombed buildings for nearly a decade. Rudd made the FBI’s Most Wanted List, but eluded capture. He’s never been prosecuted because the FBI’s misconduct against the Weathermen hopelessly contaminated any legal case the government could bring.
An Academy Award-nominated documentary, The Weather Underground, splices Rudd’s film footage as the Weathermen went subterranean with interviews of the aging militants after their surrender. Some greying Weathermen remain completely committed to world revolution. Others can’t help hide their doubts.
Dave Foreman’s EarthFirst! emerged in 1980. EarthFirst!, Foreman wrote in Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, sought to make mainstream environmental groups look reasonable. Their coat of arms was a Neanderthal’s stone club crossed with a monkey wrench, the symbolic tool for dismantling industrial and capitalist society.
EarthFirst! made its splash with a playful unfurling of black plastic across the face of the Glen Canyon Dam, suggesting its breach. The group invented tree sitting and tree spiking. Then came the destruction of public and private property. Foreman’s Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching is a step-by-step guide to committing property crimes, from wrecking ranches to disabling airplanes to thoughts on arson. Today’s eco-terrorists in the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front consider this their bible, and emulate the atomized EarthFirst! structure as a means of preventing infiltration.
The EarthFirst! Journal proclaimed the organization’s philosophy. Human lives deserved no greater value than animal life. They celebrated AIDS as the means for “returning sanity to human population.” They opposed famine relief so that “nature could run its course.” Foreman has compared humanity to a virus. Radical environmentalists are the white corpuscles fighting the human infection of Mother Earth.
The Black Panthers and Weather Underground withered away. Hilliard lectures at several colleges and consults for movie productions. Rudd teaches math at Central New Mexico Community College and does community organizing in the South Valley. This past summer he said the Kadish, a Jewish prayer for the dead, at Nob Hill rallies protesting Israel’s attack on Lebanon. EarthFirst! continues without Foreman. He writes and lectures about continental-scale conservation and, with other former EarthFirsters, directs the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
Their actions amounted to terror in their time. Even EarthFirst’s mischief was intended to cause fear and intimidation. But we’re a forgiving nation, forgiving enough that Hilliard and Rudd have public sector jobs and Rep. Tom Udall recently led a fundraiser for Foreman’s wilderness group.
I’d like to see these men brought together and hear them holding forth honestly, really honestly, including all regrets and second-thoughts. Then I’d like to hear Hilliard’s take on a stylish Black secretary of state responsible for killing innocent people of color across the globe. And Foreman on the 300-millionth American. And Rudd on an American Empire that never learned the lessons of Vietnam.
I truly want to hear whether they feel their methods made any lasting difference, or if they would like those days back to try something along the lines of, say, Martin Luther King Jr. or Paul Wellstone.
If ever such a gathering can be convened, I’ll be in the audience, probably along with a few retired and still frustrated FBI guys hanging at the back of the room.