I remember Norman Mailer

In 1969 Norman Mailer was running in the Democratic Party primary for Mayor of New York City along with columnist Jimmy Breslin who was trying for City Council President. Despite the fact that I did not agree with Mailer's anti-war views I invited him and Breslin to come speak at Wagner College in Staten Island. I was very heavy into Ayn Rand and I fancied it would be fun to spar with him. Although I thought I had some very strong intellectual arguments against some of his leftist positions, what I didn't count on was that Mailer had great routines at evading thrusts for which he did not have handy cogent replies.

Sometimes those with a greater repertoire of evasive skills can dominate an argument. It wasn't until years later that I recognized some of those leftist routines: Liberals yell Islamophobe or racist when they have no good answer in regard to Islamic terror.

As a digression, I should mention that Mark Rudd, who a few months later would form the Weather Underground (1), was also there and although known as being an extremist bent on the destruction of the US Government, he was rather quiet and circumspect in conversation with me. Perhaps he worried I was part of the establishment. A few months later he disappeared and became a fugitive. For my readers who are not familiar with the Weather Underground:

Weathering the Storm - Interview With Mark Rudd

Outraged by the Vietnam War and racism in America, the Weathermen became convinced that only revolutionary militant action could force change. In early 1970, members went underground to "bring the war home.” The Weather Underground waged a low-level war against the U.S. government through much of the 1970s. They took responsibility for bombing two dozen public buildings, including the Pentagon and Capitol buildings, eventually landing on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

Anyway, years passed. In 1977 a small-time criminal named Jack Abbot read about Mailer's work on The Executioner's Song and wrote to Mailer about Abbott's experiences behind bars. Mailer was impressed with Abbott's letters and helped publish In the Belly of the Beast: Letters From Prison. In 1980, Mailer pushed for Jack Abbott's parole. Six weeks after his release, Abbott stabbed to death 22-year-old Richard Adan.

His involvement with Abbott was "another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about," he told the Buffalo News in 1992. Notwithstanding that last statement, Mailer never really felt truly responsible for what happened. Let me explain why:

In 1985 I was in the attorneys' room at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York when I heard a voice behind me. I turned around and said I'd recognize that voice anywhere, "Norman Mailer." And indeed it was. He was speaking with an inmate who also was writing a book and Mailer was there to discuss its publication. I told him I was the one who invited him to Wagner College in 1969 and he said he remembered that night quite well. After he had wrapped up his discussion with the prisoner/writer, I asked him if he wasn't worried about having the same thing happen again a la Jack Abbott. He said he did not want to treat every prisoner he met as if they were doomed to commit murder upon release. Someone else with a thinner skin would probably have avoided prisoners who wanted to be authors. Not Mailer - he didn't care.



PBS, The Weathermen Today

Bernardine Dohrn

Part of the leadership of the Weather Underground, Dohrn was considered the organization’s figurehead. She spent the 1970s living underground and was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. Today, Dohrn is an associate professor and director at Northwestern University's Children and Justice Center.

Mark Rudd

Rudd was best known for his role in the 1968 Columbia protests. As part of the Weather Underground's leadership, he lived underground for several years during the 1970s. He now teaches at a junior college in New Mexico.

Brian Flanagan

A former member of the Weather Underground, Flanagan is currently a bar-owner in New York City.

David Gilbert

When the organization dismantled, Gilbert joined the Black Liberation Army and plunged deeper into revolutionary violence. He is currently serving a life sentence in New York’s Attica Correctional Facility for his role in a 1981 robbery gone awry, committed with his wife and fellow ex-Weatherman Kathy Boudin.

Bill Ayers

A central figure in the Weathermen, Ayers lived underground for ten years, an experience he wrote about in his memoir, Fugitive Days. Now married to Dohrn, Ayers is currently a school reform activist and a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Naomi Jaffe

A former member of the Weather Underground, Jaffe currently lives in Albany, New York, and is executive director of a foundation that supports women's activism.

Laura Whitehorn

A former member of the Weather Underground, Whitehorn now lives in New York City and is active in a wide range of progressive causes.

### End of my article ###

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