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Claim: Barack Obama had an acquaintanceship with Bill Ayers, a former domestic terrorist.
Origins: William (Bill) Ayers was one of the founders of the Weather Underground, a radical leftist organization formed in 1969 by a group of University of Chicago students who split with the campus-run Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organization because they disagreed with the SDS's peaceful protest tactics against the Vietnam War. From 1970 until 1974, the
Ayers and his wife participated in some of the early bombings, but criminal charges against them were dropped in 1974 due to illegal evidence-gathering activities by authorities, and in 1980 the couple turned themselves in. Ayers and Dohrn emerged from hiding to become university professors in Chicago; Ayers specialized in education reform and served as an advisor to Chicago mayor Richard Daley, work through which Ayers became acquainted with Barack Obama in 1995. Ayers hosted a meet-the-candidate gathering at his home as Barack Obama prepared to run for his initial election to the Illinois state senate (although Ayers later said he didn't even know Obama at the time), the two worked with the same charity and social service organizations in Chicago (particularly the Chicago Annenberg Challenge), and Ayers contributed $200 to Obama's
Opponents have charged that Obama has been "palling around with terrorists" and "lied" about his connection with Ayers when he described Ayers as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood" in response to a question about their relationship posed to him during an April 2008 Democratic debate:
Q: A gentleman named William Ayers, he was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings. He's never apologized for that. And in fact, on 9/11 he was quoted in The New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."Although Obama's dismissing Ayers as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood" could fairly be considered a deliberate attempt to minimize or play down a more substantial acquaintanceship between the two men, the fact remains that they aren't (and never were) particularly close. Obama has denounced Ayers' violent radical activities (which took place when Obama was just a child), Ayers didn't advise Obama on policy issues, the two were not close friends, and they have not remained in regular contact over the last several years:
An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?
A: This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English [sic] in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas with on a regular basis.
And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts
A review of records of the schools project and interviews with a dozen people who know both men, suggest that(The above-cited article was the one referenced by Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin when she began stating on the campaign trail that Democratic candidate Barack Obama had been "palling around with terrorists," even though the article said just the opposite: that Obama and Ayers "do not appear to have been close.")
"The suggestion that Ayers was a political adviser to Obama or someone who shaped his political views is patently false," said Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman.
In August 2008, Stanley Kurtz suggested there was a
Reporters reviewing records in Chicago have so far found nothing startling in documents linking Sen. Barack Obama to 1960s radical William Ayers.Kurtz also claimed that "Obama assumed the Annenberg board chairmanship only months before his first run for office, and almost certainly received the job at the behest of Bill Ayers." This claim was inaccurate, as FactCheck.org noted:
The UIC records show that Obama and Ayers attended board meetings, retreats and at least one news conference together as the education program got under way. The two continued to attend meetings together during the
To the contrary, Ayers was not involved in the choice, according to Deborah Leff, then president of the Joyce Foundation. She told the Times, and confirmed to FactCheck.org, that she recommended Obama for the position to Patricia Graham of the Spencer Foundation. Graham told us that she asked Obama if he'd become chairman; he accepted, provided Graham would be vice-chair.Kurtz subsequently claimed in a Wall Street Journal article that Obama and Ayers were partners in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), an effort that "poured more than $100 million into the hands of community organizers and radical education activists." But as Education Week noted of the CAC, that organization was not "radical" but rather "reflected mainstream thinking among education reformers":
The bipartisan board of directors, which did not include Ayers, elected Obama chairman, and he served in that capacity from 1995 to 1999, awarding grants for projects and raising matching funds. Ayers headed up a separate arm of the group, working with grant recipients. According to another board member, Ayers "was not significantly involved with the challenge after Obama was appointed."
The Chicago Annenberg Challenge, chaired from 1995 to 1999 by Barack Obama, is being portrayed by some critics of the Democratic presidential nominee as an attempt to push radicalism on schools.The week after the 2008 presidential election, Ayers himself acknowledged in an interview that he hadn't known Barack Obama all that well:
In fact, the project undertaken in Chicago as part of a high-profile national initiative reflected mainstream thinking among education reformers. The Annenberg Foundation's
Vietnam-era radical Bill Ayers said he doesn't know President-elect Barack Obama any better than "thousands of other Chicagoans" and the two never talked about Ayers' anti-war activities. In a television interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," the college professor disputed the contention that in the new afterword of a paperback edition of his 2001 memoir "Fugitive Days" he describes himself and Obama as "family friends."
"I'm describing there how the blogosphere characterized the relationship," Ayers said. "I would really say that we knew each other in a professional way, again on the same level as say thousands of other people."
In fact, Ayers said he didn't even know Obama when he hosted a coffee early in Obama's political career at Ayers' home in the Chicago neighborhood where the two live. Ayers added that he agreed to have the meet-the-candidate event after a state senator asked him to.
"I think he was probably in 20 homes that day as far as I know," he said. "But that was the first time I really met him."
Ayers and Obama also served together on a Chicago school reform board and a foundation board, but their discussions were limited to the issues before those boards. "The truth is we came together in Chicago in a civic community around issues of school improvement, around issues of fighting for the rights of poor neighborhoods to have jobs, housing and so forth," Ayers said. And he elaborated on those issues in a December 2008 newspaper piece:
The dishonesty of the narrative about Mr. Obama during the campaign went a step further with its assumption that if you can place two people in the same room at the same time, or if you can show that they held a conversation, shared a cup of coffee, took the bus downtown together or had any of a thousand other associations, then you have demonstrated that they share ideas, policies, outlook, influences and, especially, responsibility for each other’s behavior. There is a long and sad history of guilt by association in our political culture, and at crucial times we’ve been unable to rise above it.Last updated: 6 December 2008
President-elect Obama and I sat on a board together; we lived in the same diverse and yet close-knit community; we sometimes passed in the bookstore. We didn't pal around, and I had nothing to do with his positions.
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