More than 3,200 supporters -- including former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill -- have signed a petition protesting what they call the "demonization of Professor William Ayers."
Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama's ties to Ayers have been questioned during the presidential campaign by critics who call the professor a "domestic terrorist." Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain, conducted a robo-phone call campaign in Colorado and several other states, calling into question Obama's connection with Ayers.
The phone call campaign against Ayers began at the same time McCain told voters he wasn't concerned with "some washed up terrorist," during the last presidential debate.
The petition, circulated online, asserts that Ayers' violent actions as the co-founder of the Weather Underground were just "history." The petition calls Ayers a well-respected, nationally-known figure in the education world. It also said that critics who call Ayers an "unrepentant terrorist" and "lunatic leftist" are "part of a pattern of 'exposes' and assaults designed to intimidate free thinking and stifle critical dialogue."
Click here to read the petition.
Ward Churchill made national headlines when he called the victims of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center "little Eichmanns" and compared them to Nazis in an essay. He was eventually fired from his job in Boulder for research misconduct and work with the Martin Luther King Collegium of Scholars.
The petition is signed by a number of professors from the University of Colorado, Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado.
Bill Ayers holds the titles of Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Ayers was a co-founder of the Weather Underground in the 1960s, a radical group that launched a series of bombings targeting U.S. landmarks in protest of the Viet Nam war. Ayers was charged in 1970 with inciting to riot and conspiracy to bomb public buildings, but the charges were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct. He emerged from hiding several years after the charges were dropped and eventually became an educational scholar, writing 15 books and fighting for education reform.
"He gives of himself greatly to his students. He gives of his time, his energies, his commitment," said Pamela Quiroz, an associate professor who works in the college of education with Ayers. "He is just a superb individual."
Ayers' beige stone rowhouse on Chicago's South Side is just a few blocks from Obama's home. He lives there with his wife, former fellow radical Bernardine Dohrn. Now a law professor at Northwestern University, Dohrn was a fugitive for years with her husband until they surrendered in 1980 and charges against him were dropped because of government misconduct, which included FBI break-ins, wiretaps and opening of mail.
Although Ayers has refashioned his life from street-level revolutionary to intellectual, he has not entirely renounced his past.
When "Fugitive Days" was published, a photo accompanying a Chicago Magazine article showed him stepping on an American flag. He also told The New York Times, in an interview that appeared coincidentally on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001: "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough."
The Weather Underground claimed responsibility for bombings in the early 1970s at the U.S. Capitol, a Pentagon restroom and New York City police headquarters. No one was injured. In 1970, a Greenwich Village townhouse that the group was using to build a bomb blew up, killing three members, including Ayers' girlfriend. The bomb, Ayers wrote in his memoir, was packed with screws and nails.
Had it been detonated, he admitted, it would have done "some serious work beyond the blast, tearing through windows and walls and, yes, people, too." It belied the group's claims that its targets were buildings, not people. "We did go off track ... and that was wrong," Ayers told the AP when his book came out.
"I'm not a terrorist," he said at the time. "We tried to sound a piercing alarm that was unruly, difficult and, sometimes, probably wrong. ... I describe what led some people in despair and anger to take some very extreme measures."
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