“My students sometimes ask what I was doing during the Vietnam War,” said Mark Rudd, a middle-aged math teacher, sitting outside a Macdougal Street café on a recent sunny afternoon. “And I tell them that I helped found an organization whose goal was the violent overthrow of the United States government.”
Now 56, Mr. Rudd’s stories from those tumultuous years of Vietnam protests, Black Panther ascendance and militant revolutionary zeal are so much better than your uncle’s rehash of drug-induced revelations and far-out cross-country road trips that they’ve become the subject of a new documentary, The Weather Underground , which opens June 4 at the Film Forum.
Mr. Rudd, who has lived in Albuquerque for 25 years now, returned to New York to see the show and publicly reminisce about his participation in the anti-war movement of the 1960′s.
As Mr. Rudd chattered amiably, it was hard to imagine this soft and jolly father of two, with his desert suntan and baggy chinos, at Columbia University in 1968. As a leader of the Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.), he helped stage a massive anti-war protest that shut down the school for two weeks and led to his dismissal.
In the film, Sam Green and Bill Siegel document how Mr. Rudd and several of his comrades went beyond instigating sit-ins in administrative buildings, founding a violent S.D.S. splinter group called the Weather Underground, which operated in the early 1970′s as a covert terrorist organization with the stated goal of inciting an armed revolution to topple the U.S. government.
The grainy footage of Mr. Rudd at Columbia and later in Chicago shows a young man with angular features, incongruously dreamy eyes and a mop of thick blond hair. Despite his tender years and relatively comfortable childhood-a Boy Scout and model student, Mr. Rudd was raised in upper-middle-class Maplewood, N.J.-he articulated a political agenda driven by anger and anchored in violence.
“We believed that there were no innocent Americans,” Mr. Rudd later wrote in an unpublished memoir. “All Americans were guilty. All Americans were legitimate targets for attack. I was overwhelmed by hate, and I cherished my hate as a badge of moral superiority.”
This hatred led the Weathermen to bomb dozens of U.S. government buildings and cause millions of dollars in damage.
By the mid-70′s, Mr. Rudd recalled, he had become convinced that violence was futile. He emerged from the underground in 1977, settled in New Mexico shortly thereafter and began teaching at Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institution in 1980. Since then, he’s been married twice, raised two kids, built his own house, and taught fractions and basic algebra to literally thousands of community-college students.
As a teacher, Mr. Rudd hasn’t strayed far from campus, but his take on the post-9/11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq is suffused with the same sardonic detachment one hears from many former hippies and peaceniks.
“We need a political movement in the Democratic Party that opposes a militaristic foreign policy,” he said. “But it’s a hard struggle to be in the Democratic Party with this bunch of scumbags, opportunists, ego-freaks, maniacs and criminals.
“My dream ticket at this point is Oprah Winfrey on a peace platform with Bill Moyers as her Vice President; maybe Amy Goodman for National Security Advisor and Michael Moore for Secretary of Defense,” he continued.
Mr. Rudd has aged so genially that it’s now nearly impossible to imagine this teddy bear of a guy ever penning manifestos like the now-famous open letter to the president of Columbia, Grayson Kirk, which concluded: “Up against the wall, motherfucker, this is a stick up.”
Mr. Rudd has embraced pacifism; he hasn’t rioted in the streets or raged against the machine in years. But his politics still aren’t exactly mainstream.
“We still insist on denying the unpleasant reality that the reason this country exists on the level it exists is because of our conquest and exploitation of the whole world,” he said, without the slightest hint of irony.
Mr. Rudd now operates in a more circumscribed political sphere: He works with the local teachers’ union and for environmental causes. He is a passionate advocate for changing the way math is taught in this country. The man who once orchestrated an attack against the head of New York City’s Selective Service, culminating with the colonel wiping lemon-meringue pie off his face, now gives passionate lectures at professional conferences with titles like “The Life and Hard Times of Developmental Math Reform at T.V.I.”
Asked to account for his past, Mr. Rudd vacillates between playing the role of penitent and educator.
“Absolutely, I have feelings of shame. But I can forgive myself. I think it’s very hard to develop nonviolent discipline. Hitting back, especially when you’re 20 years old, feels great,” he said. “In retrospect, I think I was probably driven somewhat crazy by the violence of the war in Vietnam, just like there are probably hundreds of thousands of young Muslim men being driven crazy by the violence today. We considered ourselves soldiers in a war against U.S. imperialism-and just like a soldier is willing to die for it, I was willing to die for it.”
The Hillary Stakeout
On a recent Friday morning, we were parked across the street from the 590,000-square-foot Simon & Schuster warehouse, a generic brick building with a chain-link fence along its perimeter. It was a placid day in Riverside, N.J., a township along the Delaware: Barnes & Noble trucks rolled down I-130 with their freight of books, a couple of forklift operators shot the breeze at the loading dock, and inside the warehouse were a million copies of Living History , the forthcoming memoir by New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Copies of the book that S&S paid $8 million for-possibly all of them, strictly embargoed from public view until June 9-were right in there, crates and crates of them.
Of course, some people will get a look a bit sooner. Barbara Walters is airing a long interview with Ms. Clinton, scheduled for June 8. Surely all or part of the book would be available to her production team by then. And while serialization contracts are still being worked out, it is acknowledged that some news glossy-either Time or People , according to Ms. Clinton’s agent-will carry a part of the book in its pages on June 8.
We naturally wondered: Were warehouse workers pawing through it while they scarfed down burgers for lunch at the White Eagle Tavern, located on the southwest corner of the complex? Was a dog-eared copy floating around the break room? Maybe dozens of them were sitting in the bland, mid-sized cars that filled the parking lot. Anything was possible.
After eating a delicious frosted pastry at the L&M Bakery across the street-for courage!-we started off boldly: We walked into the front entrance and approached the receptionist’s desk, which was helmed by an Asian girl of about 21.
“Do you have that Hillary Clinton book here?” we asked.
Her answer was disheartening: She hadn’t even heard of it! So much for a lucky break.
But perhaps an unboxed copy fell into the hands of a local bookstore owner-like the Stephen Glass novel The Fabulist , which appeared seven days early in a shop in Newark, N.J., tipping off The New York Times to the story? Nope. There weren’t any bookstores around, said the receptionist, but “you should look online-you can get anything online.”
Back outside, we spied two women in jeans and T-shirts exiting the employee door and heading out to lunch. Maybe we could shake them down, we thought. They piled into a burgundy Ford and started driving toward the center of town. We followed. Three minutes later, we were in the back parking lot of a bar and grill that advertised chicken wings on the side of the building. We watched the S&S staffers in our rear-view mirror as they shuffled in. They didn’t quite look like the sort to forfeit a $50,000 union job merely to pilfer a copy of Living History .
Next we went to Bella Pizza Cafe, situated right across the street from the S&S loading docks, in hope of intercepting some chatter. We bought a pepperoni pizza and a Sprite ReMix. At around 12:30 p.m., a gaggle of S&S staffers-all women-walked in. We casually flagged one of them as she walked by: She was blond, 50-ish, with an S&S ID tag around her neck and a pack of Salem Menthols in her hand.
“Isn’t Simon & Schuster publishing that Hillary Clinton book?” we asked, eyeing her ID.
“That’s right. It comes out June 9,” she said. She was friendly.
“Have you had a look at it yet?” we asked.
“No, nobody’s seen it,” she said. “They’re keeping it under tight security. It’s embargoed, you know.”
We knew, we knew.
After lunch, when the staffers had filed out, an eerie quiet fell over Bella Pizza. We sat on a bench outside and considered our meager options. No one stirred at the S&S compound. It was 2 p.m. and hot out. We were at a point of crisis: The entrance was open, and somewhere inside was the Clinton book. But if we got caught …. Then we saw them: Three more women staffers near the front entrance, taking a smoke break. One of them looked like management material: She was slimmer than her friends, late 40′s, wearing a crisp, navy blue T-shirt and white polyblend pants. The gestures of obeisance by the other two staffers suggested that Slim was their superior-someone in the know.
We sidled up casually, as if we were just randomly strolling by this hulking warehouse in the middle of nowhere and decided to pop by for a chat.
“Say,” we asked, “aren’t you publishing that, uh, new Hillary Clinton book?”
“Yes,” said Slim, wondering what sort of idiot this was.
“Have you had a peek at it?”
“No,” she said, “nobody’s seen it.”
“Wow,” we said. “And it’s right here in the warehouse?”
“Well, that’s exciting!”
“I’m glad you’re excited,” she sniffed. She wasn’t a Hillary fan.
Then, in a bold display of authority, Slim offered her intimate knowledge of the situation: Inside the warehouse, she said, there was a large fence around the entire stock of Living History . She said it was guarded.
“There are actual guards in the warehouse?” we asked incredulously.
“Yep,” she said, drawing on her cigarette.
She then went on to explain that when the books are finally shipped, they’ll be wrapped in black paper so no one can identify them in transit. Wow! Living History was locked down-and not even she had seen them.
When we got back to Manhattan, empty-handed-after popping across the river to Philly for a cheesesteak-we called up Simon & Schuster to see if they would verify some of the security details we had learned.
“We’re not talking about the book or anything regarding our plan,” said a curt Aileen Boyle, Ms. Clinton’s publicist at Simon & Schuster. “If anything changes, I’ll get back to you.”
-Joe Hagan with Samantha Hunt