Bernardine Dohrn

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Bernardine Dohrn

Dohrn at 2007 reunion of SDS
BornBernadine Ohrnstein
(1942-01-12) January 12, 1942 (age 70)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
ResidenceChicago, Illinois, U.S.
CitizenshipUnited States
OccupationLaw professor
Known forFormer member of the Weather Underground
Urban educational reform
Spouse(s)Bill Ayers
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Bernardine Dohrn

Dohrn at 2007 reunion of SDS
BornBernadine Ohrnstein
(1942-01-12) January 12, 1942 (age 70)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
ResidenceChicago, Illinois, U.S.
CitizenshipUnited States
OccupationLaw professor
Known forFormer member of the Weather Underground
Urban educational reform
Spouse(s)Bill Ayers

Bernardine Rae Dohrn (née Ohrnstein; born January 12, 1942) is an Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and the immediate past Director of Northwestern's Children and Family Justice Center. Dohrn is a former leader of the Weather Underground, a domestic terrorist organization responsible for the bombing of the United States Capitol Building and the Pentagon. As a member of the Weather Underground, Dohrn read a "Declaration of a State of War" against the United States government, and was placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, where she remained for three years. She is married to Bill Ayers, a co-founder of the Weather Underground, who was formerly a tenured professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Early life

Bernardine Dohrn was born Bernadine Ohrnstein in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1942 and grew up in Whitefish Bay, an upper-middle-class suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[1] Her father, Bernard, changed the family surname to Dohrn when Bernardine was in high school.[2] Her father was Jewish and her mother, Dorothy (née Soderberg), was of Swedish background and a Christian Scientist.[3][4][5][6] Dohrn graduated from Whitefish Bay High School where she was a cheerleader,[7] treasurer of the Modern Dance Club, a member of the National Honor Society, and editor of the school newspaper.[1]

She attended Miami University for one year, then transferred to the University of Chicago, where she graduated with honors with a B.A. in Political Science in 1963. Dohrn received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1967.[8] She moved to New York to work for the National Lawyers Guild in 1967.

Early radical history

Sketch and photograph of Dohrn (c. 1960s)

Dohrn became one of the leaders of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM), a radical wing of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), in the late 1960s. Dohrn with ten other SDS members associated with the RYM issued, on June 18, 1969, a sixteen-thousand-word manifesto entitled, "You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows" in New Left Notes. The title came from Bob Dylan's song, "Subterranean Homesick Blues."[9] The manifesto stated that "the goal [of revolution] is the destruction of US imperialism and the achievement of a classless world: world communism."[10]

The manifesto concludes with, "The RYM must also lead to the effective organization needed to survive and to create another battlefield of the revolution. A revolution is a war; when the Movement in this country can defend itself militarily against total repression it will be part of the revolutionary war. This will require a cadre organization, effective secrecy, self-reliance among the cadres...".[11]

The manifesto also asserted that African-Americans were a "black colony" within a U.S. government that was doomed to overextend itself. And the RYM was needed to quicken this process. Dohrn said, "The best thing that we can be doing for ourselves, as well as for the [Black] Panthers and the revolutionary black liberation struggle, is to build a fucking white revolutionary movement."[9]

The ninth annual national SDS conference was held at the Coliseum in Chicago on June 18–22, 1969, and the SDS collapsed in a Revolutionary Youth Movement-led upheaval. Soon after the Revolutionary Youth Movement became known as the Weatherman.

Dohrn led the Weatherman faction in the SDS fight and continued to be a leader afterward.[12][13]

Controversial statements about Tate-LaBianca murders

Dohrn was criticized for comments she made about the murders of actress Sharon Tate and retail store owners Leno and Rosemary LaBianca by the Charles Manson clan. In a speech during the December 1969 "War Council" meeting organized by the Weathermen, attended by about 400 people in Flint, Michigan, Dohrn said, "First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into the pig Tate's stomach! Wild!"[14] In greeting each other, delegates to the war council often spread their fingers to signify the fork.[9]

In 2008, Dohrn's husband Bill Ayers wrote that Dohrn was being ironic when she made the statement about the Manson murders.[15] Ayers wrote that he always thought Dohrn's statement was intended to make a political point, "agitated and inflamed and full of rhetorical overkill, and partly as a joke, stupid perhaps, tasteless, but a joke nonetheless", and similar (he said) to jokes about Charles Manson that were being made by Hunter S. Thompson and Richard Pryor. Ayers said he had been present at interviews with reporters in which Dohrn had tried to put her statement in context but the reporters had dismissed her explanation.[15] However, in a 2001 Salon article, David Horowitz wrote: "In 1980, I taped interviews with 30 members of the Weather Underground who were present at the Flint War Council, including most of its leadership. Not one of them thought Dohrn was anything but deadly serious. Outrageous nihilism was the Weatherman political style."[16]

Life and the Weather Underground


Dohrn graduated from Whitefish Bay High School in June 1959. She later attended University of Miami from September 1959 to January 1961. She then transferred to the University of Chicago and earned three degrees. She got a Bachelors of Arts in June 1963 then a Masters in June 1964 and later a law degree in June 1967. While attending law school, Dohrn began working with Martin Luther King, Jr. She was the first law student organizer for the National Lawyers Guild. She was organizing against the war in Vietnam and in conjunction with the Black Freedom Movement. In 1967 Bernardine Dohrn was listed as the new student director of the National Lawyers Guild.[17]


May 26, 1968, as a speaker for the national Lawyers Guild, stated a motion was to be filed in federal court asking for an injunction to halt any disciplinary action that was being taken against student activists and any of the criminal charges. She represented students from Columbia who were striking and protesting.

On June 14, 1968 she was elected as the Interorganizational Secretary of SDS. When elected, she was asked if she was a socialist and she replied, "I consider myself a revolutionary communist."[18]

From August 30 through September 1, 1968 Bernardine Dohrn visited Yugoslavia. On September 20, 1968, after returning from Europe with a group of American student leaders, Bernardine Dohrn announced they had met in Budapest with representatives from North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam with a focus of peace talks.

On the night of October 1, 1968, Bernardine Dohrn spoke at a meeting in Chicago to condemn policy action in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. From October 11 to 13, Students for a Democratic Society held a National meeting at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Bernardine was a speaker and addressed concerns on behalf of new members, saying they wanted to know where the movement was headed and what involvement they could expect. On October 11, 1968, Bernardine Dohrn suggested she would expand the movement to non-students and do all that was necessary to complete the job of "attack, expose, destroy."[19]


On January 29 and 30, 1969, in recognition of the tenth anniversary of the revolution, the University of Washington held a Cuba teach-in where Bernardine Dohrn was a speaker on campus. Bernardine Dohrn attended a regional conference held for the leaders of the SDS on April 14, 1969.

A month later at a press conference at the regional headquarters of SDS in Chicago, Bernardine Dohrn spoke of the plans that were under way to "attack" college graduation ceremonies across the country. She said, "our presence will be known at the graduation ceremonies where the big people will come as speakers."

Bernardine Dohrn was now known as a National Interim Committee member of the SDS and a member of the Weatherman group. She traveled to Cuba via Mexico City on July 4, 1969, with a delegation from the SDS and later arrived in Canada on a Cuban Vessel on August 16, 1969.

On August 22, 1969, Bernardine Dohrn was arrested in Chicago and charged with possession of drugs. The defense argued police conducted an illegal search of the car in which she was a passenger. On September 9, 1969, Judge Kenneth R. Wendt of Narcotics Court of Chicago dismissed the charges.

On September 20, 1969, there was an anti-Vietnam rally at the Davis cup tennis tournament. Police arrested twenty persons, among them was 27-year-old Bernardine Dohrn. She was charged with disorderly conduct.

On September 26, 1969, Bernardine Dohrn was arrested in Chicago during a demonstration. The rally was in support of the eight men accused of conspiracy concerning the riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, who were being tried on riot conspiracy charges.

Bernardine Dohrn was arrested on October 9, 1969, by the Chicago police during a rally for women’s faction of the Weathermen group. She was later released on a one thousand dollar bond.

On October 31, 1969, a grand jury indicted 22 people including Bernardine Dohrn because of her involvement with the trial of Chicago 8. On April 2, 1970, in Chicago a Federal Grand Jury indicted 12 members of the Weatherman group, among them was Bernardine Dohrn, on conspiracy charges to violate the anti-riot act during the "Days of Rage" which was held in Chicago on October 8 through 11, 1969.[19]

On November 21, 1972, all of the convictions were reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on the basis the judge was biased in his refusal to permit defense attorneys to screen prospective jurors for cultural and racial bias.[20]


In May 1970 Dohrn recorded and sent a transcript of a tape recording to the New York Times, the statement was a "declaration of a State of War" on behalf of the Weathermen. On October 14, 1970, Bernardine Rae Dohrn was added to the Federal Bureau of Investigations list of the 10 most wanted Fugitives. Bernardine Dohrn had several alias, which included, Bernardine Rae Ohrnstein, H.T. Smith, and Marion Del Gado. The Federal Bureau of Investigations removed Bernardine Dohrn from its "most wanted list" in December 1973 after a District Judge Damon J. Keith dismissed the case against the Weatherman. On January 3, 1974, a U.S. District Court Judge Julius J. Hoffman dismissed a 4-year-old case against 12 members of the Weatherman faction of the Students for a Democratic Society, which included Bernardine Dohrn; she was charged with leading the riotous "Days of Rage"[18]

Later radical history

A founder of the Weatherman group, Dohrn was a member of the "Weather Bureau" (name later changed to "Central Committee"). Larry Grathwohl, an FBI informant who was with the Weatherman from autumn 1969 through spring 1970, considered her one of the two top leaders of the organization, along with Bill Ayers.[21]

During this period, the group organized the October 1969 Days of Rage riot in Chicago, which Dohrn led.[22] During the 1970s, the Weathermen bombed federal buildings and police stations.[23] Prior to the March 6, 1970 Greenwich Village townhouse explosion, in which three members of the group were killed as a bomb was being constructed, all members of Weatherman went underground. The group then changed its name to Weather Underground.

Dohrn went underground in early 1970, engaging in bombing activities.

Role in policymaking, ideology and public statements for Weather Underground

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Weather Underground Declaration of a State of War

Dohrn was a principal signatory on the group's "Declaration of a State of War" in 1970 that formally declared "war" on the U.S. Government, and completed the group's transformation from political advocacy to violent action. Dohrn also co-wrote (with Bill Ayers) and published the subversive manifesto Prairie Fire in 1974, and participated in the covertly filmed Underground in 1976.

In late 1975, the Weather Underground put out an issue of a magazine, Osawatamie, which carried an article by Dohrn, "Our Class Struggle", described as a speech given to the organization's cadres on September 2 of that year. In the article, Dohrn clearly stated support for communist ideology:[24]

We are building a communist organization to be part of the forces which build a revolutionary communist party to lead the working class to seize power and build socialism. [...] We must further the study of Marxism-Leninism within the WUO [Weather Underground Organization]. The struggle for Marxism-Leninism is the most significant development in our recent history. [...] We discovered thru our own experiences what revolutionaries all over the world have found — that Marxism-Leninism is the science of revolution, the revolutionary ideology of the working class, our guide to the struggle [...]"

According to a 1974 FBI study of the group, Dohrn's article signaled a developing commitment to Marxism-Leninism that had not been clear in the group's previous statements, despite trips to Cuba by some members of the group before and after Weather Underground was formed, and contact with Vietnamese communists there.[24]

Leaving the underground

While on the run from police, Dohrn married another Weatherman leader, Bill Ayers, with whom she has two children. During the last years of their underground life, Dohrn and Ayers resided in Chicago, where they used the aliases Christine Louise Douglas and Anthony J. Lee.[23]

In the late 1970s, the Weatherman group split into two factions, the "May 19 Coalition" and the "Prairie Fire Collective", with Dohrn and Ayers in the latter. The Prairie Fire Collective favored coming out of hiding, with members facing the criminal charges against them, while the May 19 Coalition continued in hiding. A decisive factor in Dohrn's coming out of hiding were her concerns about her children.[25]

The couple turned themselves in to authorities in 1980. While some charges relating to their activities with the Weathermen were dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct[26] (see COINTELPRO), Dohrn pled guilty to charges of aggravated battery and bail jumping, receiving probation.[27]

After refusing to testify against ex-Weatherman Susan Rosenberg in an armed robbery case, she later served less than a year of jail time.[26] Shortly after turning themselves in, Dohrn and Ayers became legal guardians of Chesa Boudin, the son of former members of the Weather Underground, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, after the couple were convicted of murder for their roles in a 1981 armored car robbery.[28]

Later life and career

From 1984 to 1988, Dohrn was employed by the prestigious Chicago law firm Sidley Austin.[29] She was hired by Howard Trienens, the head of the firm at that time, who knew Thomas G. Ayers, the father of Dohrn's husband. "We often hire friends," Trienens told a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.[30] However, Dohrn had not been admitted to the New York or Illinois bar. She passed the New York bar exam but had not submitted an application to the New York Supreme Court's Committee on Character and Fitness.[29] She also passed the Illinois bar, but was turned down by the Illinois ethics committee because of her criminal record. Trienens said of the Illinois rejection, "Dohrn didn't get a [law] license because she's stubborn. She wouldn't say she's sorry." [30]

In 1991, she was hired by Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, as an adjunct professor of law, with the title "Clinical Associate Professor of Law". Trienens said he did not get her that job, although he sat on the board of trustees of Northwestern, as did Dohrn's father-in-law, who was chairman of the board until 1986, when Trienens succeeded him in that position. Robert Bennett, dean of the law school, had hired Dohrn, according to Trienens. Because Dohrn was hired as an adjunct (a temporary assignment), her appointment did not need to be approved by the faculty. When law school officials were asked whether or not the dean hired Dohrn or the board of trustees approved the hiring, the school issued a statement in response stating "While many would take issue with views Ms. Dohrn espoused during the 1960s, her career at the law school is an example of a person's ability to make a difference in the legal system."[30]

In 1994, Dohrn said of her political beliefs: "I still see myself as a radical."[31]

Her son Zayd was featured in the 1998 book A Hope in the Unseen as the college friend of the main character Cedric Jennings.

Dohrn now serves on the board of numerous human rights committees and teaches comparative law. Since 2002, she has served as Visiting Law Faculty at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Her legal work has focused on reforming the much criticized juvenile court system in Chicago and on advocating for human rights at the international level. Dohrn is director and founder of the Children and Family Justice Center, which supports the legal needs of adolescents and their families.[32]

In 2008, Dohrn and Ayers resurfaced into news headlines as presidential candidate John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin publicly denounced the ties between Ayers and then presidential candidate Barack Obama.[33][34]

On November 4, 2010, Dohrn was interviewed by NewsClick India. About the "Right" in the U.S., she said, "It's racist; it's armed; it’s hostile; it’s unspeakable." Referring to the Restoring Honor rally which was promoted by Glenn Beck and held on August 28, 2010, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., "You have white people armed, demanding the end to the [Obama] presidency." She also stated, "The real terrorist is the American government, state terrorism unleashed against the world."[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b Grathwohl, Larry, and Frank, Reagan, Bringing Down America: An FBI Informant in with the Weathermen, Arlington House, 1977, page 103
  2. ^ Lear, Patricia Rebel Without a Pause, Chicago, May 1993. Retrieved October 9, 2008.
  3. ^ Fischer, Klaus P. American in White, Black, and Gray, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006, p. 278, ISBN 0-8264-1816-3.
  4. ^ "Rebel Without a Pause - Chicago Magazine - May 1993 - Chicago". Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Collier, Peter (October 17, 1982). "Weatherman's untold story". Chicago Tribune.'s+untold+story&pqatl=google. 
  7. ^ "The Department of Greek and Latin at The Ohio State University". Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  8. ^ "Bernardine Dohrn, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Faculty Profiles, Faculty & Research, School of Law, Northwestern University". Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  9. ^ a b c Kolbert, Elizabeth, "The Prisoner," The New Yorker Magazine, July 16, 2001, page 49.
  10. ^ "You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows", page 2, PDF found at
  11. ^ "You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows", page 27, PDF found at
  12. ^ Chepesiuk, Ron, "Sixties Radicals, Then and Now: Candid Conversations With Those Who Shaped the Era", McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers: Jefferson, North Carolina, 1995, "Chapter 15: Bernardine Dohrn: From Revolutionary to Children's Rights Advocate", pages 223 and 224: "Dohrn, a leader of the Weather Underground" (p 223); "she then proceeded to lead the faction in the takeover of the organization's headquarters and the seizure of its assets"
  13. ^ Montgomery, Paul L., "Last of Radical Leaders Eluded Police 11 Years", article, The New York Times, October 25, 1981. Retrieved June 8, 2008.
  14. ^ There are slightly differing versions of this quote cited in books and news reports.
    Bugliosi, Vincent, Helter Skelter, 2001 page 297
    Barber, David (2008). A hard rain fell: SDS and why it failed, page 211.
  15. ^ a b Ayers, Bill, "I'M SORRY!!!! I think ....", blog post, "Bill Ayers" blog, March 3, 2008. Retrieved June 8, 2008.
  16. ^ [2]
  17. ^ Siegel, Bill et al, The Weather Underground, the American Historical Review, 2004.
  18. ^ a b Berger, Dan, Outlaws of America: the Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, AK press, 2006.
  19. ^ a b U.S. Government Printing Office, The Weather Underground report, 1975.
  20. ^ United States v. Dellinger, 472 F.2d 340 (7th Cir. 1972).
  21. ^ Grathwohl, Larry, and Frank, Reagan, Bringing Down America: An FBI Informant in with the Weathermen, Arlington House, 1977, page 110: "Ayers, along with Bernardine Dohrn, probably had the most authority within the Weatherman."
  22. ^ Kushner, Harvey W., Encyclopedia of Terrorism, Sage Publications Inc, 2003, pp 108-109, ISBN 0-7619-2408-6, ISBN 978-0-7619-2408-1 ; retrieved via Google Books, September 5, 2008
  23. ^ a b Sheppart, Nathaniel, Jr., "Chicago Home of a Friend was Refuge for Miss Dohrn", The New York Times, December 5, 1980, p A22
  24. ^ a b "Weatherman Underground / Summary Dated 8/20/76 / Part #1", 1976, pp 23-24, FBI website, retrieved June 8, 2008
  25. ^ Franks, Lucinda, "The Seeds of Terror", article, New York Times Magazine, November 22, 1981. Retrieved June 8, 2008.
  26. ^ a b Smith, Dinitia (2001-09-11). "No Regrets for a Love Of Explosives; In a Memoir of Sorts, a War Protester Talks of Life With the Weathermen". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  27. ^ Milwaukee Sentinel, Jan. 14, 1981
  28. ^ NY Times -James Barron August 21, 2003
  29. ^ a b Haitch, Richard. Hurdle for Dohrn, The New York Times, February 10, 1985. Retrieved October 17, 2008.
  30. ^ a b c Grossman, Ron. Family ties proved Ayers' point, Chicago Tribune, May 18, 2008, last accessed, October 17, 2008.
  31. ^ Chepesiuk, Ron, "Sixties Radicals, Then and Now: Candid Conversations With Those Who Shaped the Era", McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers: Jefferson, North Carolina, 1995, "Chapter 15: Bernardine Dohrn: From Revolutionary to Children's Rights Advocate", p 239;"Acknowledgements" section dated by the author as "Summer 1994" indicating interview took place before that
  32. ^
  33. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth and Healy, Patrick. McCain Joins Attacks on Obama Over Radical, The New York Times, October 9, 2008. Retrieved October 10, 2008.
  34. ^ Cooper, Michael. Palin, on Offensive, Attacks Obama's Ties to '60s Radical, The New York Times, October 4, 2008. Retrieved October 10, 2008.
  35. ^ "NewsClick India, November 4, 2010". Retrieved 2010-11-06. 

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