The Weathermen. The Symbionese Liberation Army. The FALN. The Black Liberation Army. The names seem quaint now, when not forgotten altogether. But there was a stretch of time in America, during the 1970s, when bombings by domestic underground groups were a daily occurrence. The FBI combated these groups and others as nodes in a single revolutionary underground, dedicated to the violent overthrow of the American government.
The FBI’s response to the leftist revolutionary counterculture has not been treated kindly by history, and in hindsight many of its efforts seem almost comically ineffectual, if not criminal in themselves. But part of the extraordinary accomplishment of Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage is to temper those easy judgments with an understanding of just how deranged these times were, how charged with menace. Burrough re-creates an atmosphere that seems almost unbelievable just forty years later, conjuring a time of native-born radicals, most of them “nice middle-class kids,” smuggling bombs into skyscrapers and detonating them inside the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol, at a Boston courthouse and a Wall Street restaurant packed with lunchtime diners—radicals robbing dozens of banks and assassinating policemen in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta. The FBI, encouraged to do everything possible to undermine the radical underground, itself broke many laws in its attempts to bring the revolutionaries to justice—often with disastrous consequences.
Benefiting from the extraordinary number of people from the underground and the FBI who speak about their experiences for the first time, Days of Rage is filled with revelations and fresh details about the major revolutionaries and their connections and about the FBI and its desperate efforts to make the bombings stop. The result is a mesmerizing book that takes us into the hearts and minds of homegrown terrorists and federal agents alike and weaves their stories into a spellbinding secret history of the 1970s.
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Read an Excerpt
“THE REVOLUTION AIN’T TOMORROW. IT’S NOW. YOU DIG?”
Sam Melville and the Birth of the American Underground
NEW YORK CITY | AUGUST 1969
On a drizzly Friday afternoon they drove north out of the city in a battered station wagon, six more shaggy radicals, a baby, and two dogs, heading toward a moment unlike any they had seen. Jimi. Janis. The Who. The Dead. They were like hundreds of thousands of young Americans that season, one part aimless, druggy, and hedonistic, two parts angry, idealistic, and determined to right all the wrongs they saw in 1969 America: racism, repression, police brutality, the war.
Traffic on the New York State Thruway was slow, but a pipeful of hashish and a few beers left everyone feeling fine. Ten miles from their destination, the car sagged into a traffic jam. One couple got out to walk. The girl, who was twenty-two that day, was Jane Alpert, a petite, bookish honors graduate of Swarthmore College with brunette bangs. She wrote for the Rat Subterranean News, the kind of East Village radical newspaper that published recipes for Molotov cocktails. Later, friends would describe her as “sweet” and “gentle.” As she stepped from the car Alpert lifted a copy of Rat to ward off the raindrops.
Beside her trudged her thirty-five-year-old lover, Sam Melville, a rangy, broad-chested activist who wore his thinning hair dangling around his shoulders. Melville was a troubled soul, a brooder with a dash of charisma, a man determined to make his mark. Only Jane and a handful of their friends knew how he intended to do it. Only they knew about the dynamite in the refrigerator.
Slogging through the rain, they didn’t reach the Woodstock festival until almost midnight. Ducking into a large tent, Jane curled up beside a stranger’s air mattress and managed an hour of sleep. She found Melville the next morning wandering through the movement booths, manned by Yippies and Crazies and Black Panthers and many more. After a long day listening to music, she glimpsed him deep in conversation with one of the Crazies, a thirty-something character named George Demmerle, who could usually be found at New York demonstrations in a crash helmet and purple cape. “That George,” Melville said as they left. “He really is crazy. I offered to spell him at the booth, but he said only bona fide Crazies ought to work the official booth.”
“That’s because he’s old,” Jane said. “He wants to be a twenty-year-old freak.” When Melville dropped his head, Jane realized she had offended him. He and Demmerle were almost the same age.
The echoes of Jimi Hendrix’s last solo could still be heard at Woodstock on Monday morning when Jane left the East Village apartment she shared with Melville and walked to work. They had been squabbling all summer and had decided to see other people. That night, though, she canceled a date and returned to the apartment to find him glumly sitting on the bed. “I thought you had a date,” he said.
“I changed my mind.”
“Because I’d rather be with you.”
Table of Contents
Author's Note xi
Cast of Characters xvii
1 "The Revolution Ain't Tomorrow. It's Now. You Dig?": Sam Melville and the Birth of the American Underground 9
2 "Negroes with Guns": Black Rage and the Road to Revolution 26
Part 1 Weatherman
3 "You Say You Want a Revolution": The Movement and the Emergence of Weatherman 55
4 "As to Killing People, We Were Prepared to Do That": Weatherman, January to March 1970 87
5 The Townhouse: Weatherman, March to June 1970 106
6 "Responsible Terrorism": Weatherman, June 1970 to October 1970 132
7 The Wrong Side of History: Weatherman and the FBI, October 1970 to April 1971 152
Part 2 The Black Liberation Army
8 "An Army of Angry Niggas": The Birth of the Black Liberation Army, Spring 1971 173
9 The Rise of the BLA: The Black Liberation Army, June 1971 to February 1972 199
10 "We Got Pretty Small": The Weather Underground and the FBI, 1971-72 218
11 Blood in the Streets of Babylon: The Black Liberation Army, 1973 236
Part 3 The Second Wave
12 The Dragon Unleashed: The Rise of the Symbionese Liberation Army, November 1973 to February 1974 259
13 "Patty Has Been Kidnapped": The Symbionese Liberation Army, February to May 1974 284
14 What Patty Hearst Wrought: The Rise of the Post-SLA Underground 304
15 "The Belfast of North America": Patty Hearst, the SLA, and the Mad Bombers of San Francisco 333
16 Hard Times: The Death of the Weather Underground 361
17 "Welcome to Fear City": The FALN, 1976 to 1978 380
18 "Armed Revolutionary Love": The Odyssey of Ray Levasseur 407
19 Bombs and Diapers: Ray Levasseur's Odyssey, Part II 425
Part 4 Out with a Bang
20 The Family: The Pan-Radical Alliance, 1977 to 1979 447
21 Jailbreaks and Captures: The Family and the FALN, 1979-80 471
22 The Scales of Justice: Trials, Surrenders, and the Family, 1980-81 492
23 The Last Revolutionaries: The United Freedom Front, 1981 to 1984 513
A Note on Sources 553
What People are Saying About This
A fascinating portrait of the all-but-forgotten radical underground of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. Burroughs gives us the first full picture of a secret world where radical dreams often ended in personal and political tragedy.
Bryan Burrough gives the story of America's armed underground revolutionaries of the 1960s and 1970s what it has long desperately needed: Clarity, levelheadedness, context, and reportorial rigor. He has sifted the embers of an essential conflagration of the counterculture, found within it a suspenseful and enlightening history, and told it in a way that is blessedly free of cant or point-scoring.
William D. Cohan, author of House of Cards, Money and Power, and The Price of Silence:
“In spellbinding fashion, Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage brilliantly explicates one of the most confounding periods of recent American history—the era when a web of home-grown radicals and self-styled anarchists busily plotted the overthrow of the American government. Rarely has such a subject been matched with a writer and reporter of Burrough’s extraordinary skill. I could not put the book down; you won't be able to, either.”
Beverly Gage, Yale University; author of The Day Wall Street Exploded:
“A fascinating portrait of the all-but-forgotten radical underground of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. Burroughs gives us the first full picture of a secret world where radical dreams often ended in personal and political tragedy.”
Mark Harris, author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back:
“Bryan Burrough gives the story of America’s armed underground revolutionaries of the 1960s and 1970s what it has long desperately needed: Clarity, levelheadedness, context, and reportorial rigor. He has sifted the embers of an essential conflagration of the counterculture, found within it a suspenseful and enlightening history, and told it in a way that is blessedly free of cant or point-scoring.”
Paul Ingrassia, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Engines of Change and Crash Course:
“Bryan Burrough has delivered a terrific piece of research, reportage and storytelling. Those who lived through the period of America's radical underground, as I did, will be amazed to learn how much they didn’t.”
Bryan Burrough has delivered a terrific piece of research, reportage and storytelling. Those who lived through the period of America's radical underground, as I did, will be amazed to learn how much they didn't.
In spellbinding fashion, Bryan Burrough's Days of Rage brilliantly explicates one of the most confounding periods of recent American historythe era when a web of home-grown radicals and self-styled anarchists busily plotted the overthrow of the American government. Rarely has such a subject been matched with a writer and reporter of Burrough's extraordinary skill. I could not put the book down; you won't be able to, either.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I grabbed this book because its narrative seemed relevant to what is happening now in the United States. It is interesting to read about people who thought that armed and violent struggle would lead to a revolution in the U.S. I'm not sure if that would happen today, but there are always people with such viewpoints. I liked being able to hear the thoughts of some of those in the underground and how they justified their actions and the course they took in deciding to use bombs, bank robberies, and other types of violence to send a political message. The history of the various groups formations are intriguing, since all of the members came from different social, racial, class, and political backgrounds to join these groups in fighting for similar causes. Reading about the power dynamics and struggles within the groups makes it understandable how they labored in getting their objectives met. I did enjoy reading this book, but it seems to jump all over the place at times. I understand the author kept a timeline to give a perspective on what each group or member of a group was doing at the time, but it felt rushed and a little disorganized. I had to keep flipping back to remember who was apart of what group and with the name changes some people took, it was even more difficult. Even with those challenges it does not take away from the relevancy of the book. I do wish the epilogue had included more information on what many of those underground did after the momentum slowed and their organizations broke apart. It just seems like everyone was either captured, killed, or turned themselves in but doesn't show what they thought about giving up or why they decided the time was right to come above ground. I highly recommend this book for the anyone interesting in learning about the social and political atmosphere during those times and how it encouraged these mostly young people to take such radical steps.
Excellent book with new perspective
People under 50 probably watch Ironside and Hawaii Five-O reruns about radical bombers and bank robbers and think it was just the overheated imaginations of a few 1970s TV writers. Bryan Burrough, the author of Public Enemies, has written a gripping book that chronicles the reality if the Weathermen, the SLA and Patty Hearst, the Black Revolutionary Army, and other leftist groups who believed a revolution was just around the corner. Burrough covers both the revolutionaries and the police units who tracked them down. He is no right-wing fanatic trying to link Barack Obama to former Weatherman Bill Ayers; Obama is not listed in the index. Public Enemies was about the lives of the Thirties outlaws such as Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd. Days Of Rage puts the reader on the inside of the radical underground where college-educated youth turned their backs on the privileged lives they had lived and instead built bombs and robbed banks. As the United States splits into red and blue camps unable to hear each other, Days Of Rage warns us that political frustration can easily turn into violence.
This book should be required reading for anyone interested in recent US history up to this very day. There is plenty of action (bombings and bank robberies) for the reader to reflect on how ideas, mostly Marxism, inspired a handful of lawyers, criminals and middle class students to bring fear and anxiety into the lives of Americans. The MASSES did not respond to the call, but the scars are there to be seen. Utopia will never be defeated!