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Guilty as Sin, Free as a Bird': Bill Ayers
(Photo Credit: Zombie Blog)

Guilty as Sin, Free as a Bird': Bill Ayers

Editor’s Note: This week, the DVD of the movie “2016″ will be released. A key premise of the film is that Barack Obama has his own set of five “founding fathers” — five key people who shaped his worldview. This week, TheBlaze will examine one of those individuals each day. Yesterday we examined Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Today, the focus will be on Bill Ayers, the man credited with launching Obama's political career from his Chicago apartment. 

​​From noon until 12:30pm today, writer Tiffany Gabbay and TheBlaze Editor-in-Chief Scott Baker will be discussing this article live on today's BlazeCast:


“Guilty as sin, free as a bird.” That is a term all-too apropos for unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, a man who set off explosives at the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a police station, two Army recruiting stations and a New York judge’s home while his entire family slept inside. He is the founder and leader of the now-defunct radical group, The Weather Underground, of which three members perished while building additional bombs that were, ironically, intended to cause harm to others. He is also the man who happened to help launch an ambitious community organizer’s political career into the stratosphere right from his apartment on Chicago’s South Side.

As TheBlaze continues its series on President Obama’s “Founding Fathers,” we will explore the life and times of America’s most notorious anti-war radical and his association with the man who would go on to become the leader of the free world.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that the domestic terrorist-turned respected University of Illinois-Chicago professor took a shine to Obama back in 1995 when the aspiring politico was being considered to fill Democrat Alice J. Palmer’s state senate seat. While still a relative unknown at the time, as community organizer, Obama was well positioned to stake his place in the world of leftwing Chicago politics – a place Ayers himself deftly traversed and whose various radical initiatives would stand to benefit from being a part of.

Of course, Ayers has denied “knowing” Obama personally prior to hosting a campaign gathering for the state senate hopeful in his own living room back in 1995. Still, most agree it seems unlikely that any person, let alone a highly regarded professor and activist, would “vouch” for a political candidate with whom he had no prior knowledge, personal tie, or vested interest in.

And history might back up this theory.

Photo source: Washington Post

From 1994-2002, Obama and Ayers sat together on the same board of directors for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), an education-focused organization Ayers himself had helped found, and the Woods Fund, a foundation tasked with fighting poverty. In fact, it has been speculated that Ayers was actually keen on recruiting Obama to serve on the board of Annenberg for his influence and connections within the South Side’s black community.

So just how closely did the two work together while battling for the soul of Chicago’s education system?

The Annenberg Challenge

Launched in 1995 as a five-year education-reform initiative to improve public schools in Chicago and across the U.S., billionaire-publishing mogul and ambassador Walter Annenberg underwrote the organization bearing his namesake with $500 million of his own capital. Over 1,600 foundations, businesses, higher learning institutions, and private citizens contributed an additional $600 million in matching funds.

Nonetheless, the organization itself was in fact founded by Bill Ayers and in the words of author and columnist Stanley Kurtz, functioned as CAC's “guiding spirit.”

While in its nascent stage, Ayers along with five members of a working group assembled the foundation’s board of directors, inevitably electing a young Barack Obama chairman of the board, a position the community organizer would hold for four years. Now to understand the gravitas of Obama’s appointment, we must understand just how important education is to Bill Ayers.

Photo source: CCSR UChicago


Annenberg: the culmination of Ayers' life work

Ironically, despite his checkered past as a violent radical who incited youth across the country to "kill the rich," even their "parents," Bill Ayers would go on to become a highly regarded professor of education. Of course, given the leftist bent of America's, and particularly, Chicago's intelligentsia, it is perhaps no surprise the former Weatherman found himself heartily welcomed within the halls of academia.

Ayers’ biography describes him as a Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at UIC (retired), founder of the Small Schools Workshop (an organization whose name bears remembering) and the Center for Youth and Society. In addition, Ayers taught courses in interpretive and qualitative research, urban school change, and “teaching and the modern predicament.”

The left-wing activist is a graduate of the University of Michigan, the Bank Street College of Education, Bennington College, and serves as vice-president of the curriculum studies division of the American Educational Research Association. What's more, Ayers has authored and edited well over a dozen books on education not including articles he has penned for the Harvard Educational Review and the Cambridge Journal of Education, to name a few.


To best “advance the organization’s agenda,” Obama reportedly focused on CAC’s fiscal matters while Ayers honed in on education policy. What's more, the two collaborated closely while writing Annenberg’s bylaws.

Proof of this was uncovered by Kurtz, who perused CAC's archives housed in the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois-Chicago. The foundation's annual reports, a selection of board minutes and even documentation on the organizations and initiatives both funded and rejected by CAC have all been publicly available. According to Kurtz, the Daley archives reveal that Obama and Ayers indeed worked as a team. But what did this team actually set out to accomplish?

The answer may be far from shocking when one considers the players involved.

Under the former Weatherman’s stewardship, Annenberg turned out to be less-focused on improving student-performance across Chicago’s public schools and instead functioned as a vessel through which Ayers could effect the radical change outlined in his book, “Teaching Toward Freedom,” which posited that educators should “teach against the oppression” pervading American society and encourage “revolution and social transformation.”

Thus, Ayers and Obama's Annenberg Challenge set out not to improve mathematics, test-taking and reading skills among students, but rather to radicalize Chicago schools. Those schools, ostensibly, had to sign on to the ideals and mission of a "small 'c' Communist" (as Ayers has openly dubbed himself) in order to receive funding. Suspiciously, however, the schools themselves were not the ones to receive the actual capital, rather they were instructed to join forces with "external partners," who received the CAC grants.

If it sounds confusing, that is likely because Ayers set out to obfuscate what CAC funds were being used for and by who.  When you read on, you'll understand why.

To ensure his goals were realized, Ayers, along with his chairman of the board, Barack Obama, ensured that more than $100 million flowed into the coffers of community organizers and activist groups, all of which upheld the ideals championed in “Teaching Toward Freedom.”

Even programs tasked with promoting political "leadership" among parents were recipients of CAC funding.  "In practice, it meant funding Mr. Obama's alma mater, the Developing Communities Project, to recruit parents to its overall political agenda," Kurtz wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

According to Kurtz's research, proposals from groups focused on achieving milestones in math and science were rejected outright while CAC happily allocated funds to "various far-left community organizers," including the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).  Through the organizations "City Kids, City Teachers" and "Teaching the Personal and the Political," Ayers unabashedly admitted that teachers should become community organizers.


Meanwhile, "external partners" like the South Shore African Village Collaborative and the Dual Language Exchange enjoyed the benefits of CAC funds as the groups focused on issues of Afrocentricity and bilingualism, according to Kurtz.

What's more, Discover the Networks noted that $600,000 of CAC’s funds were allocated to the aforementioned Small Schools Workshop, an organization founded by Ayers and run by Mike Klonsky, a self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist and Mao Zedong-idolater. Small School's mission was allegedly to motivate schools to commit themselves to upholding political themes and “confront issues of inequity, war, and violence.”

CAC's collapse

Perhaps because Ayers and his board were more focused on radicalizing schools, parents and educators in progressivism and social justice than on performing the task with which they were charged: actually improving traditional education, CAC failed in its mission utterly. Kurtz noted that in-house evaluators reviewed the effects of CAC grants in relation to test scores of Chicago public-school students and found no educational improvement of any kind. This was documented in CAC's own final report.

Obama stepped down as chairman in 1999, but remained on CAC’s board until the foundation became defunct in 2001. Despite CAC’s ultimate failure, the organization’s remaining assets were transferred to the Chicago Public Education Fund, where, not coincidentally, Obama served as a member of the “Leadership Council” from 2001 through 2004, along with Ayers’ father and brother.

Other boards and dealings

Reports indicate that combined, the Weather Underground leader and Obama attended dozens of quarterly and standard board meetings, as well as panel discussions, retreats, and at least one news conference together via the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and the Woods Fund until roughly 2002. One panel discussion was even organized by Michelle Obama.

Nonetheless, Obama's time spent on progressive boards rubbing elbows with Chicago's political and academic elite helped transform him from relative "nobody" to a formidable operator with the Windy City's rough-and-tumble political scene.

While at the Woods Fund and Joyce Foundation, the soon-to-be state senator channeled what the New York Times reported was "tens of millions of dollars in grants" to champion liberal causes including the environment, campaign finance reform and gun control. Various antipoverty groups with ties to Chicago's powerful labor unions and ACORN were the recipients of some of these grants. Not coincidentally, Obama also needed the organizations' endorsements to win his State Senate race.

With Ayers a fixture of the very progressive milieu Obama sought to penetrate, it is entirely plausible that the aspiring politician would have forged collegial ties with the former Weatherman.

Most accounts, particularly from the Obama camp, suggest that the two men had no additional contact after 2002 save for a brief encounter while the two were bike-riding in Hyde Park in 2007. However, Dr. Tom Perrin, Assistant Professor of English at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, who was a graduate student at the University of Chicago and lived next door to Ayers and Dohrn wrote on his blog at 8:44 a.m. on July 6, 2005:

Guess what? I spent the 4th of July evening with star Democrat Barack Obama! Actually, that's a lie. Obama was at a barbecue at the house next door (given by a law professor who is a former member of the Weather Underground) and we saw him over the fence at our barbecue. Well, the others did. It had started raining and he had gone inside be the time I got there. Nevertheless.

So did Obama and Ayers remain friendly until at least 2005, three years after they last served together on the board of directors of the Woods Fund?  Given the small world of South Side Chicago politics, it is indeed possible.




Another oddity surrounding the connection between Bill Ayers and President Obama can be found in black and white in the president's memoir, "Dreams From My Father." The topic of whether Ayers in fact authored "Dreams" was first broached before the 2008 presidential election. Jack Cashill, author of the book, "Deconstructing Obama," has consistently maintained that Ayers "is the principal craftsman behind Dreams" and that the "evidence is overwhelming." In fact, the Weatherman himself claimed ownership of the book on two separate occasions, once captured on video.

While speaking at Montclair State University in March, 2011, Ayers admitted to writing "Dreams" and declared that if anyone could "prove it" he would "split the royalties."

Whether his admission was said in jest remains unclear, but experts who have compared "Dreams" to Obama's subsequent book, "The Audacity of Hope," seem to agree that the writing styles differ greatly with each work, the latter being of lesser quality. Given Ayers proficiency with the English language, and as an educator who has authored, co-authored and edited dozens of books and scholarly articles, it does seem possible that the retired professor's expertise was invoked by Obama when putting together the pages of his memoir.

What's more, with Ayers' nature as an anti-war radical and political progressive, he would have been innately in-tune with the anti-colonial sentiment harbored by Obama's father, Barak Sr., which served as the prevailing theme throughout the entire book.

Today, Ayers has been an equal, if less hostile critic of the free market, praising Occupy Wall Street and declaring that he still wakes up each and every morning with a renewed push to end capitalism.

“I get up every morning and think, today I’m going to make a difference,” Ayers said in an online video clip. “Today I’m going to end capitalism. Today I’m going to make a revolution. I go to bed every night disappointed but I’m back to work tomorrow, and that’s the only way you can do it.”

While President Obama has never condoned violent protest, he has commiserated with the Occupy movement and been vocal in his support of the group's worldview and ultimate goal. In turn, while the depth of the connection between Ayers and Obama is still uncertain



When presidential biographers set out to understand what makes their subjects tick, the first topic delved into will be the friends, family, mentors and colleagues with whom a president shared various stages of his life. Thus, when one views the Commander in Chief's style of governing through the lens of his role models, a clearer pictures comes into focus. Such appears to be the case with President Obama and the man who hosted a parlor meeting for the young community organizer in his Chicago home nearly 20 years ago.

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