The Story of Diana: The Making of a Terrorist
This Pulitzer-winning series originally appeared in the United Press International and is reprinted on Longform by permission of the authors.
When Diana Oughton, dead at 28, was buried in Dwight, Ill., on Tuesday, March 24, 1970, the family and friends gathered at her grave did not really know who she was.
The minister who led the mourners in prayer explained Diana’s death as part of the violent history of the times, but the full truth was not so simple.
The newspapers had provided a skeleton of acts. Diana Oughton and two young men were killed March 6 in a bomb explosion which destroyed a townhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village. Two young women, their clothes blown off, had run unharmed from the crumbling house and disappeared after showering at the house of a neighbor. It had taken police four days to find Diana’s body at the bottom of the rubble and another week to identify it.
Diana and the others were members of the violent revolutionary group known as “The Weathermen.” They had turned the townhouse into what police described as a “bomb factory.” Months later, they were all to be cited in a Grand Jury indictment as part of a conspiracy to bomb police, military, and other civic buildings in their campaign to destroy American society.
The facts were clear but the townspeople of Dwight (pop. 3,086) could not relate them to the Diana they remembered. Her family, too, had their own memories. Diana’s father, James Oughton, had watched her tear away from a closely-knit family and a life where beautiful and fine things were important.
Her nanny, Ruth Morehart, remembered how uneasy Diana felt about the money which set the Oughtons apart and how, when she was only six, she had asked: “Ruthie, why do we have to be rich?”
Carol, her sister, recalled the last phone call, days before Diana’s death, and the voice that asked: “Will the family stand by me, no matter what?”
Diana’s mother, Jane Oughton, wondered whether her daughter had been making the bomb that killed her.
There seemed to be many Dianas. There had been the small-town girl who had grown up with an abundance of good things in a luxurious home, superior schooling, and people who loved and encouraged her to be anything in the world she wanted to be. There had been the frothy, slightly scatterbrained student at Bryn Mawr College, the self-denying teacher in an impoverished Guatemalan market town, and finally the Diana that no one in Dwight really knew or understood—the serious closely-shorn woman whose mug shots appeared on police files in at least two cities.
Diana had never stopped loving her family, but the bomb which had accidentally killed her had been designed ultimately to kill them and their king. The revolution she would have died for would have stripped her father of his vast farmlands, blown his bank to pieces, and destroyed in a moment the name and position which had taken a century to build.
Her love of family was not the only traditional value that Diana was unable to shed. She never lost her gentleness, either, or her sense of morality; but consumed by revolutionary commitment, she became a terrorist, fully prepared to live as an outlaw and killer.
Diana wanted to destroy many things. Not only the government she detested but her class, her family, her past. Perhaps, in the end, even herself.
Now that Diana is dead, now that many memories are beginning to recall things from the past, it becomes easier to understand why she became what she did and died as she did. This account of her life is based on long and frank conversations with members of her family, with her friends, associates, teachers and acquaintances over a period of several weeks. Some of the sources were young people involved in the radical movement. Some, to judge from the mysterious way in which they contacted the writers of this article and their steadfast refusal to give their names, were clearly fugitives from the law.
The world that Diana Oughton grew up in was a world of spacious, elegant homes, sweeping lawns, the best schools and an ancestry of distinguished and monied men.
One of Diana’s great-grandfathers had founded the Boy Scouts of America. Another built the Keeley Institute, the first home for alcoholics to treat the condition as a disease. Her father, James Oughton, a graduate of Dartmouth College, served in the Illinois legislature from 1964 to 1966. His holdings, which make him one of the wealthiest men in the state, include 6,000 acres of corn and soybeans, 100 heads of cattle, several farmhouses, a restaurant, and part ownership of the family bank in Dwight.
Diana was born January 26, 1942, in a town where her family had been prominent for decades. The Oughtons paved the village streets of Dwight, built the waterworks, furnished land for the schools and athletic fields. Townsfolk still talk of the 1869 visit to Dwight by King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, who shot wild turkey and planted a tree on the Oughton estate. They remember the Rolls Royces which filled the driveways of the Keeley Institute before it closed a few years ago; the wealthy and famous people who came for the “Keeley Cure,” a rest, and feasts of pheasant and venison in the tapestry-lined banquet hall.
Diana grew up as a farm girl, huntress and horsewoman. She hunted pheasant and was the best shot in the family, drove the tractor through the cornfields at harvest time, was an active member of the local 4-H Club and once, as a child, cried for hours when she found a dead bird and was told it could not be brought back to life.
She was close to her three younger sisters—Carol, now 26 and a television writer; Pamela, a 24-year-old housewife; and Deborah, 17, a senior at the Madeira school.
Her father, a handsome, well-read gentleman who is nearly blind from a hereditary ailment, and her mother, Jane, tall and gracious, liked to keep the dinner conversations lively and encouraged their children to discuss at home what they learned in school.
The Oughton estate is a landmark in Dwight. On one side sits the huge, brick, tudor-style home with swimming pool, deer park and small vegetable garden where the family gets the first corn of the season. On the other side there is a lodge full of antiques, a full suit of armor and tapestry, and a restaurant which serves superb prime beef and homemade strawberry shortcake. Behind the lodge and the family home there is a wood studded with trees imported from the orient and an old woodmill which can be seen miles away.
As a child, Diana was easygoing and helpful. “She never fussed or demanded this and that like most kids,” said Ruth Morehart, the family cook and nanny for 21 years. “She didn’t ask why, she just did what she was told.”
Diana’s childhood was sheltered and her upbringing strict. “The Oughtons never let the kids run around,” Ruth said. “Diana was not allowed to do a lot of things other children were. If she went someplace it was usually with her mother and father.”
Her family’s multi-million dollar fortune made Diana feel a bit different from her schoolmates. They used to call her “Miss Moneybags”—a hurt which she remembered, and sometimes mentioned to friends, until her death. Several of Diana’s teachers in high school rented their homes from her father. She sometimes wondered whether the good grades she got were entirely based on her work.
Once, when she was only six, she came to her nanny and said, “Ruthie, why do we have to be rich?”
A few years later, a school friend who lived in a poor section of Dwight was sent away by her family to live with a grandmother. Diana came to her father in tears. “Why can’t we be ordinary like them?” she asked.
As Diana grew older she took a dislike for frilly clothes, for dressing up and going to parties. She was not a child who often asked for new things and she never made out birthday lists. Sometimes, she gave her allowance to her sisters; although they all got the same amount, Diana always used to have some left at the end of the week.
At fourteen, Diana left Dwight for the first time, to finish her high school years at the Madeira School in Greenway, Va. There she mixed with the daughters of rich and prominent families, and often spent weekends at the homes of the Rockefellers. The days of Connecticut and Madeira were what Diana had always known: green rolling grounds, manicured gardens, picnics by the lake, people of her own background. They were the kinds of places where it was important to wear Lanz dresses and McMullin blouses, where having an ambassador for a father was a ticket to popularity, where scholarship students wanted to keep that fact a secret. Diana went to football games, and happily did all the things a Madeira girl did. In her senior years, she was accepted by all of the seven sister colleges and decided on Bryn Mawr.
When Diana walked onto the suburban, spreading campus of Bryn Mawr just outside Philadelphia in the fall of 1959 she was a tall, bony girl with short blonde hair and long aristocratic hands. A midwestern Republican, she was against Social Security, Federal banking regulations and everything else which smacked of “liberalism” or “big” government. In 1960, she supported Richard M. Nixon against John F. Kennedy. She ardently defended her father’s ownership of tenant farms in Lickskillet, Ala., since sold, arguing that he treated his tenants well and fairly.
During her first year, Diana was known as a lighthearted girl, always clowning around, and the kind of person you came to if you wanted to be cheered up. She never was scholarly and studied reluctantly, but still managed to get A’s and B’s. At examination time she would entertain with caviar and sour cream and then memorize her notes on the way to the test. To force herself to get up in the morning, she sometimes wrapped three alarm clocks in newspaper and placed them across the room beneath a sign that read, “Get up, you bitch!”
If there was a Princeton or Yale weekend, Diana was always on the bus, sometimes having arranged dates with two different boys.
“It wasn’t that she was particularly beautiful,” said one man who knew her. “She had a round face, and a funny nose but she was so sharp and kind of glowing that everyone fell half in love with her.”
Back home in Dwight, she was the pride of the family. James Oughton pointed to Diana as an example for her sisters and took keen pleasure in her quick mind and her ability to grasp and understand ideas long after others were still absorbing them.
In 1961, when she was 19, Diana went off to Germany to spend her junior year at the University of Munich. Living with a German family, she immersed herself in the culture and picked up the language quickly. She spent time learning different dialects so she could talk to any German she might meet, whether a Bavarian beer garden owner or a Swiss-German businessman.
Diana made close friendships with German students and would sometimes remain late into the night at the student cafes, discussing over cigarettes and coffee the special problems in the United States which she later was to feel could be solved only by violence.
Her letters to her parents were filled with accounts of people she met and their conversations. She talked of the crush she had on a Romanian refugee, “My new unreachable—wonderfully conscientious, melancholy and romantic.”
She described how happy she felt when strangers were warm and kind, how she had taken candy to a German woman who had picked up some books which dropped from her bicycle.
She spoke of conversations with a German boy, Peter: “He said something which made sense. He said the trouble with America was it had lost its pioneer spirit ... it put women in the wrong place and they were becoming neuter. Hurrah for socialism!”
While in Germany, the nineteen-year-old Diana began to develop a new consciousness of her country, its people and its problems. When she met some relatives in Rome toward the end of her stay, she suddenly saw them in a different light although she had known them since childhood.
”I just sat wide-eyed and listened,” she said in a letter to her parents in the spring of 1962, a few months after her 20th birthday. “I didn’t know people like that existed. She (the relative) doesn’t like anyone who hasn’t a proper pedigree ... talking about poor me surrounded by all these German peasants, that Nuremberg was the center of world Communism. I was amazed.”
Politics were still incidental to Diana’s life, however. She had not yet started the slow process of radicalization which would make her a revolutionary. She was still a fun-loving college girl, gay and confident. She began her letters to her parents with “Mes Chers Parents” and closed them “Muchest love, me.” She refused to wear glasses out of admitted vanity and had trouble spotting people more than a few yards away. She was casual and scatterbrained and once made a special trip to Wurttemburg only to blurt out when she got there, “My God, I’ve seen this castle before.”
Diana’s senior year at Bryn Mawr in 1962-63 was a year of change for young people throughout the country. John F. Kennedy’s promise in 1960 to “get the country moving again” had ended once and for all the silence of the fifties. Young people began to think about America and found it fell short of what they had always been taught to believe it was. They went on freedom rides in the South, joined voter registration projects and picketed stores which discriminated against negroes. Students at fashionable schools like Bryn Mawr talked about social justice and racial prejudice and turned away from deb parties and champagne in the back of a fast car.
During the same period, a kind of genteel bohemianism was becoming fashionable in the colleges. Diana was among the small advanced class of students, inspired by the beatniks of the 1950s, who grew their hair long and traded their shirtwaists and circle pins for sandals and suede jackets.
A book which made a deep impression on thousands of white students was John Howard Griffin’s “Black Like Me,” an account of a trip the author made through the deep South disguised as a negro. Diana was strongly affected by it and joined a project in Philadelphia to tutor black ghetto children.
Although tutors were supposed to be limited to one child each, Diana soon had three. She took a train from Bryn Mawr into the city two days a week and spent more and more time with the children she was helping. There are few negroes in Dwight; there was only one in her class at Bryn Mawr. Inevitably, the Philadelphia ghettos began to show Diana that the prosperous tranquility of Dwight was not the rule in America.
On one occasion, she told her sister Carol how amazed she was that seventh grade children could not read.
Like thousands of other students touched by the new mood in the country, Diana often spent long evenings discussing what was wrong and how to make it right. She began going out with what one friend called “sad-souled men” and showed less interest in the Princeton football players who still came to see her. She shunned college mixers and proms and listened to Joan Baez albums by the hour.
At graduation, she was listless about commencement activities and more embarrassed than pleased by the elaborate party given by her parents in a Philadelphia hotel.
The message beneath Diana’s picture in her college yearbook read: “The milkmaid from Dwight who’s always on a diet ... traveler far and wide but never knows where she’s been ... loves Bryn Mawr but has never spent a week-end here.”
Those who knew her best saw qualities emerge in Diana during those four years which were not described in the yearbook. Beneath the frothy exterior, there was an increasingly serious, somewhat troubled young woman who was gradually growing away from the protected and privileged world of her childhood.
By the time she had graduated from Bryn Mawr in June of 1963, Diana Oughton had traveled among the poor in the byways of Europe and worked closely with children in one of Philadelphia’s decaying ghettos, but she did not really begin to learn about poverty until she went to Guatemala.
When she filled out a personal information form after being accepted by the Quaker-run, Voluntary International Service Assignments (VISA) program, she put a single word after the heading marked experience:
Barbara Ann Graves, director of VISA, felt Diana’s sheltered upbringing and gentle character would be a handicap and tried to dissuade her from the lonely assignments in back-country areas. Diana refused to be given special consideration, however, and was assigned to the isolated Indian market town of Chichicastenango in Guatemala.
Chichicastenango is a small, still half primitive place where Catholic priests look the other way when the Indians burn incense to the old gods and beat ceremonial drums on the steps of the church.
When Diana first arrived she was struck by the gaudy vitality of the town, by the bright-colored shawls of the Indians, the rambling streets, whitewashed buildings, church bells and surrounding jungle, a damp rank tangle of vines and undergrowth and towering trees. She was delighted by the market where Indians from the surrounding hamlets came to sell cakes of brown sugar, earthenware, handwoven cloth, firewood, vegetables and freshly killed goats, pigs and chickens.
Gradually, however, Diana began to see other things—the Indians’ bad health, their short stature, the small, child-sized coffins sold in such numbers in the market.
She plunged into work, helping local priests to launch a nutritional program, editing a newspaper for adults who were just learning how to read, and helping to care for the children who swarmed through the town. She went shopping in the market two or three times a week, learning to bargain over carrots and cabbages, and she began to know and respect Father Jose Maria Casas, an energetic middle-aged man who had spent many years helping the Indians.
The directors of VISA in Guatemala City, Bill and Donna Dreyer, began with the same doubts about Diana that Barbara Ann Graves had originally felt. When they saw the speed with which Diana learned Spanish and the rapport she established with the priests and the people of Chichicastenango, their doubts disappeared.
Dreyer remembers Diana most clearly in the market one sunlit morning, simply dressed, surrounded by Indian children. She was bargaining with a vendor for vegetables, her blonde hair catching the light; a kind of northern goddess above the dark-skinned, dark-haired throng.
After Diana had been living in Guatemala for several months she met Alan Howard, a young Fulbright Scholar in Guatemala City. He was running an experimental adult reading program in the city’s federal prison and long conversations with political prisoners had made him cynical about the chances of peaceful change in the country.
When Diana told him about the work she was doing in Chichicastenango, Howard said it would never end the poverty of the Indians.
“You’re only delaying the revolution,” he told her.
He argued that VISA was treating the symptoms of poverty, not the basic causes. He pointed to the experience of another Fulbright Scholar who had planned to spend a year studying the country’s corporate structure but completed his project in a week. There was no corporate structure, he said, only a handful of ruling families.
Whenever Diana was in the capital, Guatemala City, she would spend the evening with Howard, talking late into the night about the peaceful revolution envisioned by the Quakers and the violent revolution already under way in the mountains to the East. Howard argued that Guatemala’s only hope for fundamental change lay with guerilla leaders like Luis Turcios.
Howard’s views were shared with one of Diana’s Guatemalan friends who prescribed violence even more bluntly. “What this country needs,” he told Diana, “is to line up the fifty first families against the white wall.”
Diana, oldest daughter of the first family of Dwight, Ill., a midwestern Republican who opposed Social Security until she went to college and who favored Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election, found such ideas hard to accept. She was not necessarily against violence in extreme circumstances; but like most Americans, she had always assumed that hard work could achieve the same ends with less suffering.
Throughout her two years in Guatemala Diana struggled with the questions of poverty, social justice and revolution. She and Ann Aleman, another VISA volunteer in Chichicastenango, had been exposed to the country’s deep conservative roots as soon as they had arrived; the priests warned them bluntly that discussion of birth control or other subjects considered sensitive by the Catholic Church was forbidden.
During the months that followed, both girls gradually began to see that no matter how hard they or Father Casas worked, there would always be more people than food or jobs or places to live.
“Father Casas is one of the finest men I’ve ever met but he’s a fool too,” she once said to Mike Kimmell, another VISA volunteer living in a small town about fifteen miles from Chichicastenango.
Diana told Kimmell that she sometimes doubted she would ever make a difference in the lives of the Indians, no matter what she did. Sometimes she took pride in having taught fifty or more Indian men to read Spanish, but then she would think, so what? The country is still seventy percent illiterate.
Despite her doubts, however, Diana committed herself totally to her work. She deliberately sought out a simple, almost primitive place to live. She carried all her own drinking water, cooked over a wood fire, read by candlelight and washed her clothes in a large wooden tub. Her door was always open and the children in the neighborhood wandered in and out freely.
When two Indian children contracted a rare eye disease Diana kept prodding the sluggish Guatemalan bureaucracy until operations for the children could be arranged in the capital. Several times she took the children to Guatemala City for eye examinations and returned the same day, a bruising four-hour trip each way.
When she developed asthma in the high mountain climate of Chichicastenanago she tried to ignore it. During severe attacks Ann would build a fire to dry out the air and Diana, refusing to leave the town and her work, would simply retreat into bed until the attack had passed.
Once she was bitten by a dog the whole town considered rabid, but refused to leave to get rabies shots, saying she couldn’t spare the time. At night she would sometimes walk a dozen miles along the twisting mountain roads, checking on the programs she had established in the tiny village. One night she stumbled down a steep embankment into a water-filled ditch, got herself out, and continued on despite cuts and bruises.
Diana was tireless and hard to discourage. When a problem arose she thought about it until she had decided how to solve it, and then did whatever was necessary without asking anyone for aid.
On one occasion when she and Mike Kimmell were trying to find a way to build some ovens, Diana decided the best way was to cut openings in large earthenware pots. She took a small elegant tool kit out of her pack, a present from her father, attached a chrome-plated saw to its chrome-plated handle and then sat in the sun for five hours, laboriously cutting openings into the rock-hard pots. When she was done her hands were covered with blisters and the saw was ruined.
The volunteers were paid a small subsidence salary, which most of them found barely adequate, but Diana spent even less than she received. When her clothes wore out she patched and re-patched them.
"Buy yourself a dress," Kimmell told her once. "No one will hold it against you."
Her disinterest in clothes was part of a broader dislike for traditional middle-class amenities. She said what was on her mind and tended to be brusque with people she didn't like. She and Ann both were unwilling to restrict their activities to avoid violating the Guatemalans' notion of proper behavior for women. On one occasion, when they were out at a time most women were supposed to be at home, a Guatemalan approached them under the assumption they were prostitutes.
As time passed Diana began to feel that American economic aid was only consolidating the control of Guatemala’s ruling families without ever reaching the broad mass of people.
The American influence seemed to reach everywhere. Diana knew that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been responsible for a coup against a left-wing Guatemalan regime in 1954, and that the Spanish newspaper she helped edit was run by the Guatemalan Army with U.S. military assistance funds.
She and other VISA volunteers made friends with the people who ran CARE in Guatemala City, stopping in whenever they got to the capital to pick up a couple of pounds of radish seeds for the Indians or a box of ballpoint pens or whatever else had arrived since their last visit. The volunteers were surprised and disturbed when two CARE officials suddenly left after it was reported that both were CIA agents.
On another occasion Diana was angry to learn that a large shipment of baby food donated to CARE had been prompted by something other than charity. The American manufacturer had simply decided that free samples distributed by CARE would be the cheapest form of advertising.
Diana’s growing concern over the American influence in Guatemala was matched by a growing dislike for the American tourists who came to Chichicastenango and stayed at the Mayan Inn, where they spent enough in a week to support an entire Indian family for a year. She hated the Americans’ gaudy clothes, their broken Spanish, their silly questions, the way they snapped pictures of the Indians. She began to hate doing the marketing because the Americans would always spot her blonde head above the crowd and ask what in the world an American girl was doing in such a godforsaken spot.
Diana’s distaste for American extravagance was also directed at her friends. When an old college friend and her husband, both heirs to large fortunes, came to Guatemala for a visit, Diana was disgusted by their complaints about the food and water and by their extravagant spending. “My God,” Diana said to Kimmel after the couple had left, “She used to be my very best friend in the whole wide world.”
The attitude she had tolerated in her friends was something she could not abide in her parents. For weeks before they came to visit her during the Easter holidays of 1964 Diana worried that they would shatter in a moment the image she had worked a year to create, erecting a barrier between her and the Indians. She told Kimmel she didn’t care what her parents did or how they lived in Guatemala City, where no one knew her, but she couldn’t bear to have them behave like visiting aristocrats in Chichicastenango.
Before they arrived she made them promise they would stay at the cheapest of the town’s three hotels, not the comfortable but expensive Mayan Inn. During the visit her parents were always aware of Diana’s tenseness. She was impatient with their occasional discomfort and constantly afraid they would anger or insult the people she worked with.
Later, after they had gone, she wrote them and apologized. “I had forgotten how long it took me to adjust to life here,” she said.
Shortly before the end of her two years in Guatemala, Diana wrote home and tried to explain what the experience had meant to her. She did not mention the long conversations with Alan Howard about revolution and the disturbing charges taking place in her attitudes toward her upbringing, her country and her own life, but she alluded to her doubts about the Quakers’ approach to changing society.
“When you work at such a basic level with people from a different culture, with different values and different ways of thinking, you really have to seek a common denominator of understanding,” she said.
“Instead of talking about equality of the races, you live with it, get past the hump many people get stuck on and begin to really look at people as people with needs, happinesses, tragedy.
“I have to admit grudgingly that I benefited far more than the inhabitants of ‘Chichi’ from these two years. I’ve come to a real understanding of that which one might call an ideal, practically gained.”
By the time she left, Diana had a totally new view of the problems faced by underdeveloped peoples and of the U.S. role in the struggle to solve those problems. When an Aid for International Development (AID) official, impressed by her fluency in Spanish, offered her a job Diana was flattered but refused to take the offer seriously. By this time she had largely accepted Howard’s argument that American and Guatemalan interests were directly opposed. She felt that working for AID would inevitably put her on the side of Guatemalan aristocrats resisting change.
The following year, when Diana returned to Guatemala for a brief visit, she was half embarrassed to tell Donna Dreyer she was working in a poverty program in Philadelphia.
“What are you doing working for the Federal government?” Donna asked.
Diana tried to dismiss the question with a joke, but Mrs. Dreyer felt she was troubled by it.
After leaving Guatemala, Diana occasionally wrote the priests of Chichicastenango, Mike Kimmell, Howard and other people she had known there. She carried the letters she received in return from place to place until the week before she died.
On New Year’s Eve in 1967, Diana met Kimmell for dinner in New York. “I’ll drive,” Diana said when Kimmell started to get on his big BMW motorcycle.
“You’re crazy,” Kimmell said, but Diana insisted. Kimmell finally agreed and she startled him by expertly kicking the machine to life and then maneuvering through New York traffic until the icy December air began to hurt her gloveless hands. After dinner she flew back to Ann Arbor, Mich., where she was helping to run an experimental school with a handsome, charming radical named Bill Ayers. Kimmell never saw her again.
In November 1968, Diana wrote him to say the experimental school had folded and that she was thinking of becoming a fulltime organizer for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). She included a quote from D.H. Lawrence which referred indirectly to a discussion she and Kimmell had on the plane to Guatemala in 1963.
“There is no point in work unless it absorbs you like an interesting game,” Lawrence had said. “If it doesn’t absorb you, if it’s not any fun, don’t do it.”
“With her money, she can afford to think that way,” was Kimmell’s first reaction.
Later, remembering the way Diana had worked in Guatemala, he decided his first reaction had been wrong. He felt that she had not been telling the truth, that out of embarrassment she had been trying to disguise her almost puritanical seriousness and devotion to hard work, and that in fact Diana always did what she thought was her duty, whether she liked it or not.
The Diana Oughton who returned from Guatemala in the fall of 1965 was not the same young woman who had graduated from Bryn Mawr two years earlier.
Her family was bothered by her seriousness and a new air of melancholy in everything she did. She seemed to have lost some of her sense of humor and her taste for clowning around.
After living in a single room with a dirt floor and no plumbing for two years, Diana found it hard to adjust to the luxury of the Dwight Estate. Her family’s way of life made her uneasy. She preferred to wash dishes herself instead of using the dishwasher. She would rummage through the attic and pull out an old sweater or wool skirt instead of buying new ones.
Her college German professor, whom she visited upon her return, found her deeply distressed at the poverty she had seen in Guatemala. Others said she had become disillusioned with her country’s role in Guatemala and increasingly critical of its policies elsewhere, particularly in Vietnam.
Diana moved into the Bohemian Powelton quarter of Philadelphia when she returned from Guatemala and deliberately lived an acetic life. Her apartment contained a bed and a table and nothing else. Her cupboards were generally empty except for a stock of caviar, smoked oysters and other gourmet food sent by her mother.
She took a job teaching in a federally-financed adult literacy program but soon became disillusioned with the other teachers. She said they were tired professionals who had little interest in their pupils and were “just trying to pick up an extra 100 bucks a week.”
In the spring of 1966, Diana left Philadelphia for Ann Arbor to enroll in the University of Michigan Graduate School of Education to get her master’s degree in teaching. She was adamant about being on her own and at times tried to conceal her family’s wealth. When asked what her father did, she often said, “Oh, he’s a farmer,” and quickly changed the subject.
In Ann Arbor, she again lived frugally, ate little, and refused to let her father give her money.
”I don’t want you to give me an allowance,” she said in a letter in March 1967. “It is important to me to be on my own and to feel I can support myself and have responsibility for my own life ... I think by age twenty-five, I have the right to live the way I want without feeling guilty that my way of life upsets you.”
A variety of influences played on Diana in Ann Arbor. It was a time when opposition to the Vietnam War was growing, when many young people began to feel despondent about the failure of mass peaceful demonstrations to change American policy. At home, there was a feeling that Bob Dylan’s prophecy of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” was coming true; beginning in 1964 there were riots in the urban ghettos, senseless, freak violence like the murder of eight nurses in Chicago and the massacre of fourteen persons by a deranged gunman from a tower at the University of Texas. A darker vision of America was emerging in the minds of many young people, but most still believed the way to combat war and violence was through non-violence and reform.
After she arrived at the University of Michigan in 1966, Diana joined the Children’s Community School, a project based on the Summerhill method of education and founded a group of students the year before. It was there that Diana met Bill Ayers, the son of the chairman of Commonwealth Edison Co. of Chicago and one of the Weathermen later indicted on bomb conspiracy charges. Ayers probably exercised the single most powerful influence over Diana until her death.
The school, a kindergarten in the basement of the American Friends Committee building, was based on the premise that something had gone wrong with America’s schools. Its goals were to create an integrated student body where black and white children would be treated alike, and an unstructured classroom where the children would choose what they wanted to learn. There were no classes or grades and the kids were allowed to come and go as they pleased. They wandered from room to room, free to choose from among sand tables, clay, blocks and books. A child was taught to read or write only if she expressed a desire to learn.
Diana was loved by the children, and, as she had in Guatemala, plunged herself totally into the effort to make the school a success. She wrote promotional brochures and designed a button with the slogan, “Children are only newer people.” Three years later, some of her children were to place that same button, pinned to a bouquet of flowers, on the site of the bombed-out New York townhouse where she was killed.
At the Children’s Community School the students spent more time on outings than in the classroom. They visited supermarkets to learn the value of money and when one child asked what a dead person looked like, they all went off to visit a morgue. They had Sunday picnics and a huge party at Christmas, 1967, where the children gave each other presents. Bill gave Diana a long Indian dress and she gave him a pair of leather pants.
Bill and Diana grew closer and eventually began to live together in an attic room near the university. Like most of the men Diana had been attracted to, Bill was charming, manipulative, and a bit cruel. Diana was always at his side and when she went home to Dwight, she talked about him frequently, quoting things he had said and talking about their plans for the school. Members of her family felt her ideas, which were becoming steadily more progressive, were a reflection of his.
In March, 1967, Diana’s sister, Carol, got her a job offer to work for the crusading, liberal Washington journalist, I.F. Stone, who was looking for an editorial assistant fluent in Spanish. Diana considered it seriously for several months, but finally decided to stay in Ann Arbor with Bill. The relationship deepened and a year later, she and Bill tried to have a child but failed.
The Children’s Community School had begun to attract considerable attention by the end of 1967, and had expanded to include first and second grade levels. Ayers, who had become somewhat of a figure in Ann Arbor, ran for the town’s school board in April, 1968, on a joint ticket with a Negro woman, Joan Adams, the mother of one of the children in the school. Both were defeated.
Despite its early acclaim, the school began running into severe problems in the spring of 1968. The American Friends Committee complained that the kids were running wild, marking up the walls, and damaging property in their basement. Two professors withdrew their children, saying that the black students were dominating the school and terrorizing the white children and that, in fact, the school was teaching their children to become racists.
In June, the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) Board in Ann Arbor turned down a request for funds by the school, which had previously been self-supporting. It was a double blow for Bill and Diana because members of the black community in Ann Arbor, including some with children at the school, were among those who argued most heatedly against the grant.
Most troubling to Bill and Diana was the fact that Joan Adams, a member of the OEO Board, abstained in the voting at a moment when the board was split five-five on the issue of the grant. The bitterness of the attack on the school partly centered on the fact that Bill and Diana were living together and stunned both of them.
When the school ran into still other problems because of state zoning regulations, Bill and Diana, too disappointed to go on, looked elsewhere for involvement and became more active in the Ann Arbor chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
Ayers had been a member of the SDS radical education project for several years at a time when SDS was still a loosely-organized group of students who believed in experimental schools and community projects as vehicles for change.
In June, 1968, they attended an SDS convention in East Lansing where a sharp split was emerging between the Progressive Labor Party (PL) and the cultural revolutionaries who naturally attracted Bill and Diana. PL was a dour, highly disciplined but distinctly old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist party which frowned on marijuana, sexual freedom, long hair and anything else which would offend the American working classes.
After the convention Diana and Bill spent part of the summer in Chicago working in the SDS national office where they had intense political discussion with Mike Klonsky, an SDS national officer, and Bernardine Dohrn, a later leader of the Weathermen. Diana and Bill became convinced that direct action rather than education and peaceful reform were the way to change society.
Diana was deeply affected by the demonstrations at the Democratic Party convention that August and what she and the SDS and eventually the Walker Commission felt was a “police riot.” At the peak of the violence, she called her sister, Carol, in Chicago for $150 to help bail Tom Hayden, one of the founders of SDS in 1962, out of jail. A day or two later she called again and said she and Bill were leaving the city because “it’s getting too rough.”
It was also during that summer that Bill and Diana turned full-scale toward the cultural revolution. They developed a taste for “acid” rock at ear-shattering volume. They cut off their hair and began to wear hippy headbands and wire-rimmed glasses. They took LSD, sometimes with another couple. On one occasion one of the group ran out into the street naked but was coaxed back inside before the police came.
The returned to Ann Arbor that fall in an activist mood. At the first meeting of the Ann Arbor SDS on Sept. 24, 1968, a sharp division in the group was apparent. Diana and Bill along with some 40 other radicals banded together against the moderates and formed a faction which they called “The Jesse James Gang.”
The gang declared themselves revolutionary gangsters. They held peaceful methods of reform in contempt. They urged direct action instead of talk, individual violent confrontations instead of big peace marches. Contained in their still half-formed ideas about the role of America in the world and white radicals in America was the germ of the Weatherman analysis which would later call for violence.
The gang disrupted SDS meetings and made vicious personal attacks on their opponents. The meetings frequently degenerated into brawls. The gang shouted and heckled and even threw eggs and tomatoes at moderate speakers. They often let it be known that their opponents were running the risk of physical beatings.
Bill Ayers, Diana at his side, spoke against the failure of education to change people and described the gang as “the arms of liberation inside the monster.”
"We are tired of tiptoeing up to society and asking for reform. We’re ready to kick it,” he told one opponent.
The gang became unpopular on campus and the majority of the left inside and outside SDS called them "action freaks," "crazies" and self-destructive adventurists.
The behind-the-scenes leader of the Jesse James Gang was a mysterious, 31-year-old man named Jim Mellen who appeared out of nowhere in Ann Arbor that Fall. No one knew where he had gone to school or why he had come to the University of Michigan. Although he was the major intellectual force behind the gang, Mellen carefully avoided any position of formal authority. A rumor began circulating among his critics that Mellen was an agent provocateur sent by the Central Intelligence Agency to destroy SDS and the radical movement in Michigan.
Ten months later, after helping to write the Weatherman manifesto and playing a part in the June, 1969, SDS convention which destroyed the organization, Mellen faded from the Ann Arbor radical scene as mysteriously as he had arrived.
Within a period of a few weeks the Jesse James Gang triumphed within the SDS chapter at Ann Arbor. Early in October, 1968, the moderates decided they had had enough and walked out to form their own group. Through psychological warfare and vague threats of violence, the gang had captured the single most important SDS chapter in Michigan, which automatically gave them a powerful voice in the national organization.
The gang carried out few actions, but when they did the entire University of Michigan campus generally knew about them. On one occasion they held a demonstration outside a campus building while the University’s president, Robben Fleming, was giving a speech inside. Armed with a portable public address system, records and loaves of bread they attracted a crowd. Diana spoke during the demonstration while other gang members handed out slices of bread, shouting, “Here’s the bread. Get the baloney inside.”
Ayers rose to a position of strength with the gang because of his ability to dominate groups through a combination of charm and the volume of his voice. Handsome and brash, he was a notorious lady’s man who did not hide his promiscuity from Diana.
Diana told friends that although she was hurt by Bill’s infidelity, it made her redouble her efforts to be a true revolutionary. Stung by frequent jibes that she could afford to be one because her daddy was rich, Diana struggled to make her own mark in the movement.
In November, 1968, Diana became a regional organizer for the SDS in Michigan, not fully aware that the appointment was an attempt by national SDS to head off criticism by the just-born Women’s Liberation Movement that SDS was “male chauvinist.” Diana’s status as a token woman brought her into conflict with other women radicals, but she eventually earned acceptance as a genuine liberationist.
Early in 1969 she organized a “Cuba Month” on campus, a series of films and seminars on the Cuban revolution. Gradually she became known less as Bill Ayers’ sidekick than as a radical “sister” in her own right.
Diana’s upbringing made her an asset to the movement. Naturally gracious and tactful, she was used as a negotiator in disputes with other left groups, and with the university administration. As one non-SDS student put it, “She was the only one in the gang you could talk to without wanting to punch her in the nose.”
As Diana deepened in her political commitment, her relationship with her father, which had always been close, began to break down.
During December, 1968, Bill and Diana both began to emerge as leaders in the national SDS at a conference held in Ann Arbor. At about the same time, on Dec. 9, 1968, she wrote in one of her last letters home:
"It gets harder and I get more reluctant to justify myself over and over again to you—I feel as if I’ve gone through a process of conscious choice and that I’ve thought about it a lot and people I admire agree with me, educationally important, recognized and respected people...
"I feel like a moral person, that my life is my values and that most people my age or even younger have already begun to sell out to materialism, status, hypocrisy, stepping on other people, etc. ... I feel like part of a vanguard, that we speak of important change to come...”
In October, 1968, Diana and Kathy Boudin, believed to have been one of the two girls who ran from the house after the bomb explosion which killed Diana, went to dinner at the Chicago apartment of an old college friend of Diana, Karin Rosenberg.
The pair were astonished at the “bourgeois, middle class” way in which Karin and her husband, Merrill, lived.
During dinner Diana got into a long, heated argument about politics with Merrill, a liberal who said he agreed with some of SDS’s goals but not with its methods.
”How can you think that way and then do nothing?” Diana asked. Merrill became angry and defensive. “If you’re serious about bringing on a revolution,” he said, with a strong implication he did not think she was, “then you are going to have to throw bombs.”
The final nine months of Diana Oughton’s life were absorbed almost entirely by the disintegration of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the growth of a new, much smaller organization which turned to terrorism as the Weathermen.
In June, 1969, the SDS, long troubled by deep differences on questions of ideology, suddenly burst apart at a chaotic, slogan-shouting convention in Chicago.
When the SDS was founded in 1962 it was a fluid, open group which emphasized persuasion, community organizing and broad popular participation in all important decisions. By 1969, however, the organization was locked in a power struggle between the Progressive Labor Party, a highly disciplined offshoot of the Communist Party, and a more militant faction which became the Weathermen.
By the end of the Chicago convention, the Weathermen had captured control of the SDS national headquarters in Chicago’s West Side ghetto. The new SDS leadership was committed to action and over the summer of 1969 gradually worked out a plan for turning student radicals into a “Red Army” which would fight the establishment in the streets of America.
Late one night during the convention, Diana called an old friend from Bryn Mawr, asked if she could spend the night and finally arrived with eight exhausted SDS members after 4 a.m. One of the people with Diana that night was Alan Howard, who had been working for the underground Liberation News Service (LNS) in New York since leaving Guatemala.
Before returning to the convention the next day, Diana and Alan went for a long walk down Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. They talked about the impending split in SDS and the Weatherman manifesto, partly written by Diana’s boyfriend, Bill Ayers. The 25,000-word manifesto—named after a line in a Bob Dylan song, “You Don’t Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows”—argued that white radicals in the United States could help bring on a worldwide revolution only by fighting in the streets of the “mother country.”
Howard, who had first started Diana thinking seriously about revolution in Guatemala, now found himself in the awkward position of trying to restrain her, to convince Diana that a premature attempt to bring on the revolution would be suicidal.
Diana insisted that the time had come to fight.
While the SDS was beginning to plan for a four-day series of antiwar demonstrations in October, Diana’s relationship with Bill Ayers and her family both came under increasing strain. Ayers had been elected one of the three national officers of the Weathermen, along with Mark Rudd and Bernardine Dohrn, and was spending most of his time in the national office. Friends of Diana and Ayers say he was increasingly fascinated by Bernardine’s toughness intelligence and hard beauty, so unlike Diana’s warm, almost enveloping softness of spirit.
Ayers told Diana he would not allow himself to be tied to one woman and she began spending her time with a number of other men.
During the same period, Diana’s father canceled a gas company credit card she had been using on behalf of SDS and she wrote him a letter explaining why the money was being spent in a good cause.
”You speak of a revolution against capitalism,” her father answered from the family home in Dwight. “This can only mean that you are developing forces against me and the rest of your family. The oldest and most reasonable form of capitalism is the ownership of agricultural land and this is what your family has been involved with for a hundred years.
”I will resist any effort to change the basic ideology governing my own life and it should be obvious I do not want to support any movement that would develop into violence against me and my family.”
After Diana had returned to the United States from Guatemala, Mr. Oughton had incorporated the family-owned farmland surrounding Dwight, partly in the hope that Diana’s shares in the company would give her a vested interest in the society she was turning against. The move did not strengthen her ties to Dwight or weaken her belief in revolution, however, and Mr. Oughton sometimes did not even know where to send Diana’s dividend checks.
The passionate intensity with which the Weathermen took their political ideas created a state of mind in Diana which her father later called “a kind of intellectual hysteria.” He found her less and less willing to really talk about politics, increasingly heated when she did. She finally refused to discuss the subject altogether.
”I’ve made my decision, Daddy,” she said. “There’s no sense talking about it.”
Diana came home less and less often; when she did, it was usually with a group of friends. He father, opposed to her political ideas but at the same time fascinated by them, attempted to discuss the revolution with her friends but got nowhere. They seemed to talk in a kind of secret language, reducing everything to phrases like, “wow, man” and “outtasight” and “get it together,” responding to every question with mocking laughter and exaggerated disbelief, sure of each other and intolerant of the beliefs of anyone outside their own circle.
When Mr. Oughton persisted in questioning his daughter about her politics she would sometimes kid him in response. Once he asked her where the Weatherman were getting their instructions.
"Peking, Daddy," she said.
On one occasion Diana's mother was deeply hurt when she and her friends openly made fun of her when she tried to ask them about their political ideas. Fearing she would lose her daughter if she persisted, Mrs. Oughton never asked again.
Diana’s difficulty in talking about politics with her family was only a reflection of the difficulty all Weathermen found in trying to explain why violence was necessary.
The group’s opponents argued that the Weathermen were repeating the errors of the “Narodniki” (Russian terrorists) who assassinated the Czar in 1881 and set back the cause of reform in Russia for decades. Like the Narodniki, the Weathermen were an elite, self-appointed body from the upper classes who wanted the revolution now and, like children, could not force themselves to be patient. The Weathermen themselves joked about their upper class origins, saying that the first requirement for a prospective member was a father who made at least $30,000 a year.
The arguments against the demonstrations planned for October were generally well thought out, but they ignored one thing which made the Weathermen determined to go ahead anyway: A profound frustration with argument and a hunger for action of almost any sort.
While sentiment against the war in Vietnam grew between 1965 and 1969, SDS had raced ahead in its thinking, rejecting the war first, then rejecting the “liberalism” which they held responsible for the war, finally rejecting “the system” they saw behind everything they opposed. By 1969 they were committed to revolution, but revolution seemed further away than ever as the radical movement broke up into squabbling factions.
It was clear the working class was not about to occupy the factories, that the hordes of rock-loving, marijuana-smoking young people were not necessarily revolutionaries, however much they fought with their parents. The country did not take the revolutionary fervor of SDS seriously, and SDS grew increasingly impatient with strategies which would take thirty years to work. They wanted to act; they wanted the country to take them seriously, and perhaps most important, they wanted to take themselves seriously.
When the Weathermen began planning for a super-militant “kick ass” street battle with police in Chicago, Oct. 8-11, 1969, however, the remnants of the SDS split again. During the summer the Black Panthers denounced the Weathermen, a serious blow from their point of view, but with each setback those who remained became more determined than ever.
The pace of events picked up after Diana and a delegation of Weatherman returned form a trip to Cuba in August marked by secret meetings with Cubans and representatives of the Viet Cong. The delegation left feeling even the Cubans were too moderate and losing their revolutionary fervor.
On the morning of Saturday, Sept. 6, 1969, only a few hours before Diana’s sister Pamela was to be married in Chicago, Diana called her family in Dwight and abruptly told them she would not be able to come and be a bridesmaid after all.
That weekend Diana was attending the Cleveland SDS conference where the Weathermen strategy of total commitment to revolutionary violence finally emerged as a comprehensive position. During the following weeks the Weathermen raided a Pittsburgh high school, invaded a community college outside Detroit, took a gun away from a policeman in New York, attacked Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs and provoked fights at drive-in restaurants and on beaches in Chicago, Cleveland and other Midwestern cities.
The theory behind the street fights in working class districts was that tough high school students, generally referred to as “Grease,” felt SDS was made up of “sissy intellectuals” who would never fight. A punch in the nose would do more to radicalize the Grease, Weathermen argued, than years of community organizing and patient argument.
More important than the occasional battles, however, was the attempt by Weatherman to literally recreate themselves as street fighters by a brutal process of group criticism which tended to break down their personalities. Diana's experiences in collectives in Detroit and Flint, Mich., where she went to live after returning from Cuba, were an indication of her willingness to sacrifice herself for the movement.
People who knew her during this period say that, put simply, she and the other Weatherman went through a hell of their own making.
In the months following the June, 1969, convention, Weathermen collectives ranging in size from a dozen to thirty or more people began to barricaded themselves inside rented houses. They put double locks on every door and nailed chicken wire over the windows to prevent enemies, real or imagined, from throwing in bombs.
Inside they lived a 24-hour existence of intense political discussion, marked by a complete abandonment of all the bourgeois amenities of their largely middle class childhoods. Clothes were strewn everywhere, food rotted on unwashed plates, milk turned sour in half-empty containers, toilets jammed, flies and cockroaches swarmed in kitchens filled with encrusted spoons and spilled food.
Diana’s dividend checks and all other money went into a common fund; every expenditure, without exception, was a matter for collective decision. When the collectives needed money for bail or for buying guns and, later, explosives, and sometimes simply as a matter of discipline, the members would go without food for days.
In a number of ways the collectives attempted to destroy the “bourgeois morality” they had been taught as children. On at least one occasion they vandalized gravestones in a cemetery as a way of destroying conventional attitudes of respect for the dead.
On another occasion, partly from genuine hunger and partly to instill in themselves a kind of savagery, a collective killed, skinned, and ate a tomcat.
The collective also attempted to destroy all their old attitudes about sexual relationships. At the Cleveland conference the Women’s Liberation caucus had proposed that Weathermen attempt to “smash monogamy” on the grounds that it oppressed women and at the same time created love relationships which interfered with revolutionary commitment.
As a result, long-established couples were sometimes ordered to separate and sexual relations became mandatory between all members of a collective. Diana and Bill Ayers were one of the couples forced apart during this period.
Drugs, cigarettes and alcohol were usually banned by the collectives for reasons of discipline and economy. On several occasions, however, as the result of a policy decision made by the Weather Bureau in Chicago, collectives took LSD, hashish and other drugs and engaged in what amounted to orgies. In some instances homosexuality and lesbianism were involved.
For a relatively brief period the attempt to destroy traditional sexual behavior led to a situation in which any man could simply announce that he wanted to sleep with a particular woman and she would be required to submit. Women quickly came to resent the fact this did not seem to work in the opposite direction, however, and the sexual experimentation began to moderate.
The attempts at self-transformation turned collectives into a violent groups with an almost savage emotional atmosphere. The group criticism sessions inevitably led to hurt feelings and smoldering grudges. The attempt to overcome traditional niceties led to exaggeratedly crude behavior. People became stiff, unnatural, afraid they would be attacked, and perhaps even purged, if they were found lacking in commitment to the revolution. Many Weatherman became nervous, high-strung and emotionally unstable.
The military aspects of the training—karate, target shooting, practice in street fighting and, later, the making of bombs—suffered in the chaotic atmosphere of the collectives where everyone was always overtired and underfed.
Diana’s commitment was to the revolution. Her loyalty to her friends and her determination to repress all “bourgeois hang-ups” led her to participate fully in everything, but friends say she was deeply upset by much that was happening. A gentle woman who preferred staying with one man at a time, Diana questioned both the sexual excesses and the emphasis on violence and was brutally criticized as a result. Nevertheless, she was often the one who pressed for a rest during the long, highly chafed meetings and she tried, largely without success, to prevent the collectives from becoming excessively cold and brutal.
During street actions in Flint, where she was arrested on a minor charge (later dropped) at the end of September, Diana could not bring herself to shout obscenities at the police and she sometimes even tried to argue with them.
"You’re a revolutionary now, not a society bitch,” a Weatherman once yelled at her when she was talking to a policeman.
Before the October action Diana and Bill Ayers returned to Ann Arbor to gain recruits for the demonstrations. Diana was jeered during a speech in a student center where the audience included people who had been her allies in the Jesse James Gang the year before. Bill Ayers, a far more persuasive speaker, was also attacked during the meeting for his emphasis on action at the expense of political organizing.
“When I was at Ann Arbor all the talk about revolution was in the abstract,” he argued. “Since we’ve moved to Detroit we’ve made the revolution real. The Grease come up to us and say, ‘Hey aren’t you the guys who beat up the pigs at McDonald's last night? How come?'
"You understand the revolution when you make the revolution, not when you talk about it. If I’m going into a new town I don’t look for the guy with a comprehensive political analysis, I look for the kids who are fighting the pigs.”
Ayers predicted that at least 1,000 teenagers would come to Chicago from Detroit alone. His estimate, like those of other Weathermen, proved wildly overoptimistic.
When the Four Days of Rage began with a rally in Chicago on Wednesday, Oct. 8, only 300 Weathermen in helmets and denim jackets turned out for the battle. The group went ahead anyway, however, charging through the Loop and Gold Coast areas, smashing windows and windshields and even charging directly into the ranks of police. More than fifty were arrested.
The following day Diana joined 70 Weatherwomen who marched to Grant Park for an all-women’s action. When they got there they found themselves outnumbered by the police, who threatened to arrest them if they tried to leave the park wearing their helmets and carrying Viet Cong flags at the end of long, heavy poles.
Diana was one of a dozen Weatherwomen who gritted their teeth and plunged into the police lines but were immediately overpowered. After a dozen had been hustled into police vans, the rest of them women, some of them crying, dropped their clubs, took off their helmets and were escorted by police to the nearest subway station.
After Diana had been booked she was allowed to call home and her father immediately left for Chicago, driven by his lawyer, to post her bail. When Diana was led out by the police she seemed subdued and resigned, saying little as she got into the car.
“Why don’t you come back to Dwight for a few days?” Mr. Oughton asked.
“No,” she said quickly, not wanting to argue the question. “I’ve got an important meeting in Evanston.”
When the car pulled up in front of the suburban Evanston Church being used by the Weathermen as a temporary headquarters, Diana said, “good-bye, Daddy,” and jumped out. Mr. Oughton watched as a group of excited young men and women ran over to greet his daughter. She did not look back as he drove away.
When the Chicago and Evanston police made a surprise raid on the church early Saturday morning, Oct. 11, arresting forty-three Weathermen, Diana was one of those who escaped by jumping out the windows. Later that afternoon Weathermen began filtering into Haymarket Square for the final action of the Days of Rage.
At a signal, a small group of young men and women pulled crash helmets from shopping bags and put on denim jackets with Viet Cong flags sewed to the back beneath the legend, "Motor City SDS." Then the remnants of the "Red Army," about 200-strong, started out through the streets of Chicago on a final rampage. When it was over 103 had been arrested and those who had managed to escape were being hunted through the city.
That night, still trying to find a way out of Chicago, Diana called a friend. “The pigs are picking everybody up,” she said. “Can you give me a ride to the airport? I’ve got to get back to Detroit.”
Diana was scared but elated over the phone that the Weathermen had overcome their fear and fought in the streets. Despite the arrests (290 in all), the $1 million in bail and the injuries (three Weathermen had been wounded by gunfire the first day; dozens of others had been severely beaten) she felt they had created the core of the Red Army.
When Diana’s friend said it would be impossible to drive her to the airport, she changed her mind and went back to Dwight where she stayed for a few days, resting and eating ravenously.
Diana’s mother, distraught at the thought of her daughter fighting with police, tried to talk her into abandoning the Weathermen.
“But, honey,” she said, “you’re only going to make things worse. You’re only going to get yourself killed.”
Diana refused to argue. “It’s the only way, Mummy,” she said, stalking back and forth in the hall. “It’s the only way.”
During the late fall of 1969 the Weathermen had few illusions about their ability to spark a revolution in the United States, but their fanaticism only seemed to increase as a result.
Diana Oughton, fundamentally gentle, had nevertheless been exhilarated by the violent Days of Rage in Chicago in October. In spite of their fear, their fewness and the hopelessness of their cause, the Weathermen had gone into the streets to fight the police and had not found their courage wanting.
When Diana went to Washington for the massive Nov. 15 demonstration against the war, it was in an almost buoyant mood. The night before the demonstration Diana’s boyfriend, Bill Ayers, went to the moratorium headquarters and tried to shake down the group for $20,000 to help cover legal expenses incurred by the Days of Rage. In return for his token “Fraternal Solidarity,” Ayers said, the Weathermen would not provoke a violent battle with police.
Ayers was asked what the Weathermen program was.
“Kill all the rich people,” Ayers answered. “Break up their cars and apartments.”
“But aren’t your parents rich?” he was asked.
“Yeah,” Ayers said. “Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that’s where it’s really at.”
The moratorium said it didn’t have $20,000 to spare and the following day Ayers and Diana, their faces decorated with war paint, joined in a march on the Department of Justice after the main rally. The brief collision was more a revolutionary theatrical than a serious street action, marked by shouting and scuffles with police and clouds of tear gas.
It was the last time the Weathermen found a kind of fun in politics, their last action before turning to a politics of terror which had no place for the humor that called for war paint.
That night Diana drove across Washington to visit her sister Pam and to meet Pam’s husband for the only time. Diana was breathless and keyed up by the day’s battle with police and said she felt the revolution was near.
“When blue collar workers are making $6 an hour, where is the support coming from?” asked Carol, another of Diana’s sisters, also living in Washington.
Diana simply dismissed the question. “The revolution is here,” she insisted. “It’s a world-wide thing.”
Diana saw her family in Dwight, Ill. for the last time on Christmas Day, 1969. It was a special holiday for the Oughtons with caviar, aunts and uncles, lots of presents and a fir tree that reached the ceiling. Diana had called to say she would be there but the family, disappointed so often in the past, was not really sure she would come until the last moment.
Diana finally arrived after midnight, hours late, wearing blue jeans and a borrowed sweater and carrying a toothbrush and a nightie in a paper sack. Mrs. Oughton was upset by Diana’s thinness, her arms not much thicker than her wrists, but the family avoided talking about politics and other touchy subjects. Diana seemed happy to be home and asked all kinds of questions about the family, wanting to know what everybody was doing and what had been going on in Dwight.
On Christmas morning she went into the kitchen and gave her old nanny, Ruth Morehart, a peck on the cheek and helped her make dressing for the Christmas salad. Ruth felt for a minute that the old Diana had returned until she asked what Ruth thought of the SDS. Ruth gave a vague answer and Diana seemed to cool.
Diana had not brought any presents for anyone but she seemed pleased, for the first time in years, by the presents she received—a shirt and slacks from her mother, a heavy fisherman’s sweater from Carol, other odds and ends.
The family pressed Diana to stay but she left immediately after Christmas dinner, as abruptly as she always had in the past. Her father thought Diana felt threatened by the warmth of her family, as if her commitment to a life of denial and privation might be weakened if she remained at home too long.
That afternoon Diana returned to Flint, Mich., to help with final preparations for the Weatherman war council which began on Dec. 27, a well-publicized meeting that attracted as much attention from the Flint police and the FBI as it did within the radical movement.
The atmosphere of the convention hall was far different from the heady excitement and optimism of student meetings in the early 1960s. Guards frisked everyone entering the building, the women as thoroughly as the men. Signs proclaimed “Piece (that is, guns) Now” and an eight-foot-high cardboard pistol stood by the door.
Mark Rudd, a persuasive, witty speaker, described Weatherman as a kind of political joyride, an explosion of creative energy made possible by total commitment to revolution and an end to the “bourgeois” fear of violence.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to hit a pig,” he said with the tone of a boy describing his first trip on a roller coaster. “It must really be a wonderful feeling to kill a pig or blow up a building.”
For many of those at the council, however, the talk of violence was oppressive and degrading, not liberating. They felt slightly sick when Bernardine Dohrn, once among the most articulate of American radical leaders, praised the alleged murders of actress Sharon Tate and four others.
“Dig it!” she told the 400 people gathered in the meeting hall. “First they killed those pigs, then the ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach! Wild!”
When Weathermen grinned and held up three fingers symbolizing the fork, non-Weathermen found the gesture obscene.
Much of the argument in favor of violence centered on the killing of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by Chicago police on Dec. 4, 1969. Weathermen argued that the entire radical movement should have taken to the streets and avenged Hampton’s death.
Others found a certain ambivalence in this, since it had been Hampton who had denounced the Weathermen as “anarchistic, adventuristic..., masochistic and Custeristic” during the Days of Rage. When one Weatherman argued that the white race was itself the problem—“all white babies are pigs” he said—others felt he was expressing self-hate rather than a coherent political opinion.
When Weathermen insisted blacks would be the vanguard of the revolution and that they were fighting on the side of blacks, their words rang false. Radical black groups had turned against them and the organization, despite its efforts to recruit blacks, was as lily-white as the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
Rudd urged radicals to be like Captain Ahab in “Moby Dick,” who lived with “one thought—to bring down the white whale.”
The rest of the movement realized that Rudd’s white whale included virtually everyone with a white skin and pointed out that it was Ahab, not the whale, who was destroyed in the end. Like Ahab, they said, Rudd and the Weathermen were themselves on a “death trip.”
During the four-day council in Flint, Weathermen leaders slipped away to meet secretly in a seminary across the city where they debated the fate of the organization. The enormous legal difficulties which sapped their energies and finances following the Days of Rage, and the hostility of much of the radical movement, made it clear that “Wild in the Streets” was not a strategy that could be sustained. Before the council ended on Dec. 30, Weathermen leaders decided they should make a final break with American society and go underground.
During the following weeks the Weatherman collectives began breaking up into smaller groups. Members severed their relationships with friends and family and one by one began to disappear. It was not an easy decision to make. Breaking windows in Chicago and making bombs were far different things, and Weathermen knew there would be no turning back.
The policy of the Weathermen was that every member would participate, so far as possible, in every illegal act, whether obtaining, making or planting explosives. They knew their chances of a normal life were being irretrievably put behind them. They knew they might have to die. Of the 400 people who attended the Flint council, fewer than 100 went underground. For those few, committed to the revolution above all else, it was a matter of logic. Community organizing had failed. Mass demonstrations had failed. Fighting in the streets had failed. Only terror was left.
The activities of Diana and the other Weathermen between the end of the Flint council and the bomb explosion in New York on March 6 are extremely difficult to reconstruct. People who knew what they were doing are naturally reluctant to talk and even the federal indictment handed up in Detroit in July gives only the barest outline of the alleged activities of the group’s leaders.
Diana is connected with only three of the 21 overt acts cited in the indictment and those fall on two dates, Dec. 26, when the Flint council opened, and March 6, the date of her death.
A Weatherman who dropped out of the organization when it decided to go underground said that Diana had begun to question the policies of the group’s leaders—that she was no longer sure the young, the poor and the black would ever support the kind of revolution the Weathermen were committed to making. Despite her doubts, however, Diana was prepared to go underground with a small group of friends.
On Feb. 4, Diana appeared in court in Chicago and was fined $450 for her part in the women’s action the previous Oct. 9. When her name was called the judge raised his head and asked, “Are you related to Jim Oughton, the legislator?”
With a smile of amusement, Diana admitted that she was.
Later that day she called her friend, Karin Rosenberg, and was invited for dinner. “Is it safe?” she asked, knowing that Karin lived on the edge of a Negro ghetto.
Karin said of course, and asked if Diana were serious.
“You don’t know how deep the hate of the black man is,” Diana said.
When she arrived she looked tired, underfed and somehow “scruffier” than ever before. She was quiet during dinner, vague about what she was doing. In the past she always answered that question by saying, “high school organizing.” Now she did not even mention that.
The old liveliness and the sense of humor had disappeared completely. She seemed somber, sardonic, at moments almost heavy-hearted.
She told Karin that the sixteen people in her collective had decided to break into groups of four and five because of mounting harassment by police.
The Rosenbergs were going to a ballet and dropped off Diana in the loop on their way. When she got out of the car Diana gave Karin a kiss, something she had not done for a long time, and urged her to keep in touch. She made a point of giving Karin the SDS address in Detroit, a box number since the group was now moving from place to place. A few days later she did something else uncharacteristic. She sent Karin a copy of the Weatherman manifesto with a brief note across the top:
“Karin—I’d love to talk to you about this—Love, Diana.”
Before going back to Detroit Diana called her parents in Dwight and told them she had paid her fine with part of the bail money put up by her father and that she intended to keep the rest.
“You know, Diana,” her mother said, hurt by Diana’s cold tone, “you’re killing us both off.”
“I’m sorry, Mummy,” Diana said.
Not long afterwards Mrs. Oughton told a friend, “We have lost our daughter.”
During her last weeks of life Diana was torn by conflict, determined not to falter and yet reluctant to make a final break with her friends and family. The ambivalence ran deep. She loved people and at the same time tried to use them. On one occasion in these final weeks she tried to involve a friend in a complicated scheme to “rip off” (that is, defraud) a travelers’ check company.
On Monday, March 2, just four days before she died, she called her sister Carol in Washington. She asked lots of little questions about the family. Carol felt that perhaps Diana was beginning to move away from the violent politics of the Weathermen. About halfway through the conversation Diana asked: “Will the family stand by me, no matter what? Will they help me if I need it?”
Carol said of course. Later Diana asked if she could send Carol some papers and other personal items.
"The pigs have been rifling our house,” she said. “They aren’t anything important but I just don’t want anybody to find them.”
A couple of days later a large envelope arrived marked, in French, “Do not open.” It had been so long since Diana had used French expressions that Carol assumed someone else must have written it there. Nevertheless, she did not open the envelope until after Diana’s death. It contained letters from old friends, an address book, some pages from an appointment calendar, scraps of paper with names and addresses on them, papers about the family farm corporation, every document, in fact, which conceivably could have been used by police to identify her.
It was no accident that the Weathermen were the children of the privileged classes of America. From the very beginning of the student movement, when white students organized to support black sit-in demonstrations in 1960, the strength of their commitment was subject to ridicule and attack.
Their defensive parents and teachers, their non-political friends, the public officials who always hoped they would go back to their studies, even, most painfully, the blacks they were trying to help, all suggested scornfully that white activists were summertime soldiers who would retreat into the middle class womb which had created them whenever the going became hard.
There was no way white students could defend themselves against this charge. The police might hit them over the head but the courts treated them indulgently and they would always be welcomed back by the establishment, perhaps even valued more highly for the spunk they had shown before settling down.
It was not until they became criminals that the Weathermen proved their commitment beyond a doubt. They could not believe in themselves until they had turned against the middle class world which had made them. It was their country, their class, their families, even themselves which they considered the enemy.
In Dwight, Diana had hated being rich; in Guatemala she hated being an American; in the Weathermen she finally came to hate herself. How else could she have attempted, at such a cost in suffering, to destroy everything that she was?
In the end, Diana Oughton relinquished her humanity in hopes of creating a new world where she thought people could be more human. She denied her own nature and everything she loved. She grew more and more distant from her family; she gave up teaching children, the thing she loved to do best; she gave up her relationship with Bill Ayers when he argued the revolution came first. Willingly, she became an instrument of the revolution. She stopped asking questions to make bombs.
She regarded the world she saw around her as the implacable enemy of everything she believed in. Like the rest of the Weathermen, the privileged children of that world, in the end Diana had only one ambition: to be its executioner.
The bomb, which exploded a few minutes past noon on Friday, March 6, 1970, killing Diana and two other Weathermen in the townhouse at 18 West 11th Street in New York City, was a bomb designed to kill. It was made of dynamite surrounded by heavy metal nails which acted as shrapnel. The doctor who examined the remains of her body said she had been standing within a foot or two of the bomb when it exploded. It may, in fact, have gone off in her hands.
Four days after the explosion, bomb squad detectives found Diana’s body near a workbench in the rubble-filled basement of the devastated townhouse. At the end of another week a detective discovered the tip of the little finger from a right hand. A print taken by a police department expert was matched later that day with a set of Diana’s prints in the Washington files of the FBI. The prints had been taken in Chicago following her arrest during the Days of Rage in October, 1969.
That evening the New York Police Department called the tiny police force in Dwight. A member of the Dwight force then went to the Oughtons’ house on South Street and told Mrs. Oughton her daughter was dead.
The accidental explosion did not end the campaign of terrorism begun by the Weathermen. Remaining members of the organization are reported to be in hiding, staying off the streets almost altogether, but continuing to build bombs and plan attacks. Three of the Weathermen have reportedly gone to Cuba but the rest remain in the United States, as determined as ever.
In the months since the March 6 explosion there has been a steady stream of bombings, not all of them attributable to the Weathermen. In New York, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Omaha and Madison, Wis., among other places, bombs planted by terrorists have caused death, injuries and destruction.
The only friend Diana contacted in New York before she died was Alan Howard. Sometime that week, probably on Wednesday, Howard and Diana met. They talked about the Weathermen. Diana told him she still believed the only course open to American radicals was the building of a “Red Army” in the United States which would be part of the international army fighting for a world-wide revolution.
She admitted that the Days of Rage had been at least partly a failure, that the Flint war council had weakened the Weathermen even further, that the revolution was impossible without a mass base.
Nevertheless, she insisted that her role was to physically fight in any way possible.
“We have a lot to learn,” she told Howard. “We’ll make mistakes.”
On Friday of that week one of those mistakes ended her life.