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Oglesby: Not in any active sense. There were very few connections between SDS and right-wing organizations. I can’t say that ever panned out. On the other hand, SDS was never a socialist organization. That doesn’t deny the fact that most people in SDS, if they had to make a choice between socialism, liberalism, and capitalism, would have called themselves socialist.
Reason: But not you.
Oglesby: No. I was always suspicious of government-operated systems.
Reason: Were there particular libertarians who helped open your eyes to the Old Right/New Left congruence?
Oglesby: Murray Rothbard, with whom I had several very delightful conversations, was one of my favorites.
Reason: You proposed that SDS cooperate with the right-wing student group Young Americans for Freedom [YAF] on some projects. Did anything ever come of that?
Oglesby: I got denounced within SDS for that. In Southern California, some YAF guys did respond to the call and took part in our demonstrations against the war.
Reason: SDS finally collapsed, and out crawled the Weathermen. What was your experience with the Weathermen?
Oglesby: A good many of them were close friends. The ones who got killed in the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion were especially close. Diana Oughten had been a babysitter of my kids. Terry Robbins had been the one guy in the world who listened to the lyrics of my songs and helped me figure out what I was trying to say. I remember talking about existentialism with Teddy Gold, spending a whole afternoon talking about Sartre and Heidegger and De Beauvoir.
I was close for a while to Bernardine Dohrn. I used to stay with her when I visited New York. Thought the world of her. Still like her, by the way. Jeff Jones was another Weatherman I was close to. I never thought they were right; I thought they were pushing the envelope in very destructive ways and were probably going to wind up hurting themselves and hurting SDS, which they now would acknowledge. Bernardine, early last year at a conference at Brown University, apologized for the role that she played. Very simply she stood up and said, “I’m sorry.” She didn’t have to explain what she was sorry for or why. She just said “I’m sorry” and sat down.
I had it pretty tough from the Weathermen for a while. I was seen as a despicable liberal. But I never felt impeded by the Weathermen. I was sorry that they destroyed SDS. Their view was that SDS had done what SDS could do and that now the struggle needed to be escalated. It was time to pick up the gun. And the Weatherkids thought they could get somewhere by doing that.
Reason: You quote Emma Goldman to great effect in the book.
Oglesby: “When you pick up the saber, you hand it to your enemies.”
Reason: The general view of the Weathermen today would be that they were nihilistic brats playing at violence. Is that unfair?
Oglesby: They weren’t nihilists. They were true believers. They had a passion for ridding the world, or the United States anyway, of a peculiarly odious form of cryptofascism, or militarism at least. They always were clear that they were fighting the militarizing of the United States and American foreign policy. They weren’t just into violence for violence’s sake. They were doing the best they could in their limited imagining of the situation to fight the people who were making things bad for Americans and Vietnamese and others around the world.