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Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 2003 / 20 Elul, 5763

Neil Steinberg

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3 ways al-Qaida is better than paroled Weatherman | Give Islamic terrorists this much credit: At least they act out of deep religious conviction, twisted though it is. At least--tragically--they are not inept; they generally know how to rig a bomb and accomplish their horrible goals. And when caught, they tend to acknowledge their crimes.

Their American counterparts of the 1960s were not nearly so inspired, skilled or bold. Their philosophy was a lazy hash of Mao and Marx and Dylan, and their dreams of bombing Army bases and the Pentagon largely remained dreams or else blew up, literally, in their faces.

We didn't call them "terrorists'' back then, of course. They were "radicals'' or "revolutionaries,'' determined to lead America out of the nightmare of liberal democracy and into--well, into something groovy. They were never clear precisely what. Some kind of commune with themselves as kings.

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Like the terrorists of today, they tended to be well-educated and well-off. Kathy Boudin grew up in New York's Greenwich Village, her father a prominent lawyer. She graduated magna cum laude from Bryn Mawr, dabbled briefly in actual work, but instead found meaning planning and carrying out the violent disruptions of the Weathermen, a lukewarm 1960s al-Qaida.


Boudin was granted parole this week after 22 years in prison for her role in a 1981 armored car robbery of $1.6 million for the struggle that left three law enforcement officers--two policemen and a Brink's guard--dead in the street. Of course Boudin wouldn't have called them "law enforcement officers'' then. She would have called them "pigs.''

This was after nearly a dozen years on the lam. The Sixties had ended for most people by 1981, but not for her. Boudin had been living in a bomb factory in 1970 and run out of a New York town house when her comrades managed to blow themselves up. Three died. Boudin wandered naked from the rubble and went into hiding--"underground'' was the romantic term they used, as if she were in the French resistance or something.

Boudin surfaced during the bloody robbery. Others involved in the crime claimed that they were political prisoners and demanded to be tried in the Hague. Boudin turned to her daddy lawyer and copped a plea deal--20 years to life. Her son, Chesa, who was 14 months old when she robbed the truck, was handed off to fellow Weathermen Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers to raise.

Boudin remained silent during the first 20 years of her term. But when parole became a possibility, she decided to explain herself. The result was a 2001 profile in the New Yorker that was a study in sickening, ludicrous self-justification. She had no idea they were making bombs in that house she lived in. She was hazy on the details of the robbery she participated in. She shucked off all but the merest echo of blame.

"I was responsible for not being responsible,'' she said, in a neat illustration of the kind of Orwellian babble that passed for thinking in the Weather Underground.

Normally, revulsion at such an empty soul as Boudin would inspire me to pass by her release without comment. But her son, now 23 and off to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, said something so wrong, so morally skewed, that I can't let it go unchallenged.

"I think 22 years is a very long time to serve,'' he said. "There are a lot of other inmates serving long sentences for nonviolent offenses.'' There's a world of b.s. packed into that one little word "other.'' Gunning down cops during a robbery is not a nonviolent offense, and doesn't become one just because you aren't the gang member who pulled the trigger.

So many other crooks slip up on this, but it's the law. If three people burn down a store, the guy who buys the gasoline is as guilty as the guy who lights the match as is the guy who stands lookout. It makes sense legally, rendering moot all the fingerpointing that felons do.

And it makes sense morally. Murder is murder, no matter how you contribute to it. The woman who holds her friend's hat so he can have two hands free while he strangles someone is a murderer too. Kathy Boudin is a murderer of the worst kind--a politically motivated, self-justifying, unrepentant terrorist, and she was lucky to get out after 22 years.


Boudin's aging radical friends will no doubt be dancing around the maypole in Hyde Park when she comes prancing out of prison in October. They'll be hugging and laughing and telling themselves how right they were, after all. How they beat the man and lived to tell about it.

They won't think about those three cops. But we can. And when Boudin decides she's ready to begin the healing process by telling her story, remember that it is a lie, a bloody lie, literally.

Instead of sharing the self-pity Boudin feels for her 22 years in jail, think of three men who will have no joyous return to life. Think of their nine children, left fatherless by the crime. No reunion for them. Those men were just doing their jobs, protecting the community, that day in 1981 when they met Kathy Boudin and her philosophy of liberation. She has blood on her hands no parole board can wash away.

JWR contributor Neil Steinberg is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. His latest book is Don't Give Up the Ship: Finding My Father While Lost at Sea . Comment by clicking here.

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