Why Is Ayers Being Connected to the Death of Officer Walter Schroeder?

A persistent theme of the criticism Brandeis as a whole (and DFA/SDS in particular) have received as a result of Bill Ayer’s visit is the purported connection between the Weather Underground organization and two Brandeis students, Katherine Power and Susan Saxe, who murdered a police officer during a 1970 bank robbery. The assertion of a connection has been made by, among others, Michael Graham and Cliff Kincaid. Conservative radio host Michele McPhee is going so far as to use this connection as a pretext for a protest at Brandeis this Thursday, the day of Ayers’ visit.

However, this connection is not supported by evidence. The proof which Graham et. al. use to support their conviction is either nonexistent or misleading. While the murder of Officer Schroeder was and is tragic, Ayers and his organization were not involved. Rather, it seems that the effort to link Ayers with this murder is politically motivated, seeking to exploit the Schroeder family’s tragedy to rile conservative outrage.

Although the FBI formerly considered Power and Saxe members of the Weathermen, they have since rescinded that designation. Dan Kennedy of Media Nation has a great post examining the evidence for an Ayers-Power-Saxe connection, and finds nothing. He points out that the main source for Graham’s contention is an FBI webpage on the Weather Underground, which mentions Power only to say that a “Photo of Katherine Ann Power was removed because she was inaccurately associated with the Weather Underground”.

Interestingly, Kennedy is receiving criticism from the website USA Survival News, which is running a Campaign for Justice for Victims of Weather Underground Terrorism. An article on their site disputes Kennedy’s claims, and says that the FBI’s removal of the photo of Power from the website indicates that “the FBI is susceptible to political pressure from Bill Ayers or his supporters” – a starkly conspiracist claim, which is of a piece with the website’s allegations of Communist and U.N. plots for world domination.

While I could go on for a while about the paucity of evidence connecting Power or Saxe to Ayers, Kennedy has already done an admirable job covering this – indeed, if one wanted even more verification, please read this. What is more outrageous is the persistence with which McPhee and her ilk have promoted this unsubstantiated claim in the media. As creationists have repeatedly shown us, submitting one’s claims to an uncritical media is a convenient way to bypass the filters of logic and common sense.

These conservative pundits are creating a hateful, intolerant, possibly even dangerous atmosphere. It is fundamentally irresponsible for McPhee and Graham to broadcast these unproven claims, especially in an environment prone to conspiratorial thinking; unsupported suspicions put out by conservative media have already been possibly linked to violence. In the era of Obama, it seems, the right’s major tactic appears to be ridiculous mud-slinging about secret plots by liberals, which, while transparently phony to the critical observer, is calculated simply to rile the masses – and increase ratings.

Beyond these concerns, however, there is something deeply disturbing about the contortions and machinations that reality goes through to conform to these conservatives’ dishonest version of history. Though McPhee claims that her protest against Ayers is in the spirit of “lest we forget”, it is in fact she and her fellow pundits who have forgotten the media’s responsibility to the truth. Opposition to Ayers’ visit is, of course, not in itself wrong or even undesirable; however, their objections would be more credible and more honest if they were based in fact, not rank speculation.


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