Review: Mother Country Radicals Spotlights the Weather Underground

Perhaps unintentionally, this podcast holds up a mirror to the social justice movements of today.


There have been few satisfyingly in-depth chronicles of the inner workings of Weather Underground, the leftist group active in the late 1960s and 1970s that claimed to fight U.S. imperialistic violence around the world with violence at home. This rarity is likely because the chief players indeed lived "underground" to evade law enforcement. Fifty years later, a new podcast, Mother Country Radicals, aims to deliver a more thorough history of the gang.

Two of the Weather Underground's most notorious members, Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, had children, one of whom happens to be this podcast's host. Zayd Ayers Dohrn thus has a uniquely intimate, and uniquely cozy, view of their violent shenanigans. The podcast succeeds, although likely not always in the ways the creative team intended.

It's fair to say that the Weather Underground comrades were motivated in large part by righteous anger. But the podcast does little to interrogate the most obvious elephant in the room: whether their theoretical ends justified their actual means, which consisted, among other things, of blowing up buildings. One botched explosion famously killed three of its own members, and host Dohrn acknowledges they weren't victims in the traditional sense. But then you hear him interview his father, Bill, who chuckles while saying Bernardine's placement on the FBI's Most Wanted List was her at the "top of her field."

Former members detail humiliation sessions where they would target a comrade, strip him down, and berate him into accepting his racist, sexist nature, sometimes replete with screaming and tears. We hear about uneasy intersectionality before that was the word for it. Perhaps unintentionally, this podcast holds up a mirror to social justice movements of today.