Disclaimer (October 28, 2013): This article was written not long after I finally tracked down news articles about this bombing plot and perpetrator. I have been looking for details about this for decades, and the miracle of Google finally came through.
However, the articles from 1972 were riddled with errors and inaccuracies, that I was not able to refute until recently (October, 2013). Now armed with more information, including court documents, I can say that any relation between Ron Kaufman and the Weathermen was coincidental. I have no doubt that their members and he crossed paths in the New Left of the day, but it does not look like he was an actual “member” at any time.
My book length project blog for this is the Time Bomber Book blog, which I update when I can as I work on the manuscript.
Sorry world, I lost the memo. The Weathermen changed their name to the Weatherpeople before going “underground.” Terrorism was not just for boys, even in the 1970s.
I discovered that bit if trivia while researching what ever happened to the only 1970s bomber who ever fascinated me, Ronald Kaufman. Research projects like this turn out to be more fascinating as they unfold than one imagines going into the project. What follows are some of those twists and turns.
It turns out that Kaufman earned a PhD in Psychology, and during the 1968 Democrat National Convention in Chicago, he was Abbie Hoffman’s butler/manservant who chauffeured Hoffman around, made sure he was fed, and all manner of intern type behavior. Folks around the pair called Kaufman “Abbie’s Jewish mother.” He also dressed in a hardhat, t-shirt and jeans during the convention. For some reason, the news writers of the time did not take note of the “Hardhat uniform” that counter protestors wore, quite famously at the time.
The people “in the movement” interviewed in 1972 by the Washington Post, after Kaufman’s bombs were discovered, claimed that Kaufman could not have been much of a big deal, mostly because he was not as flamboyant as Hoffman and others in the Weatherpeople organization. That strikes me as interesting, and I am no psychologist, but the folks who assign this ‘pioneer’ of bomber terrorism as a minor figure all made that assessment because he was not a flashy loudmouth.
When this story broke in January 1972, I was 10 years old and living in the suburbs of Chicago and heard about it on the evening news. One of the WMAQ-TV news anchors was mailed a manifesto of sorts (as were other TV stations and newspapers), hand printed in block letters, describing what the bomber created and what he wanted. Kaufman used simple electric clocks of the time, powered them with batteries, and set them all to explode 217 days (
9 7 months) after installing them in safety-deposit boxes in banks located in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
If my memory serves, the WMAQ newsmen spoke to “experts” who theorized that the bomb maker had some sort of Special Forces training, speculation which later proved incorrect. Kaufman had indeed served in the Army, twice. Once under his own name and once under an alias. He was Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL) under his alias when the bombs were discovered. His “demands” were to release all “political prisoners.” His threat was to leave more powerful versions of these time bombs in buildings under construction, or hidden under the new interstate highway system that was under construction at the time. That was the part that fascinated me as a kid, and still does today. It was a unique implementation with a Dukes of Hazard twist. He planned on attacking property, holding it hostage in a way, rather than people. Note that fascination does not equal approval in the slightest.
One would think that his manifesto would be out there someplace, but it is not, at least not as written (that I have found yet), so I am reconstructing it from news articles. One of the newsmen who received a copy of the Kaufman Manifesto was my favorite columnist of all time, Mike Royko. Unfortunately, I cannot find his 1972 column online. Hopefully I can find it at the massive government library here in town. Royko was at the Chicago Daily News in 1972, but I did not start reading him until years later when his column was syndicated in a Knoxville, TN newspaper.
In 1986, Mike Royko wrote about Kaufman again, this time after he was arrested in San Francisco. His column is also a time capsule of the state of research at the time. Of course some might attribute this to sloppy research, but I would not attribute that to Royko. He seemed like a stand-up guy who wanted to be accurate with his facts as he shared his opinion about them. Anyway, this portion does not quite fit facts:
So when I read about Kaufman turning up after all these years, my thoughts and sympathies immediately turned to the senior Mr. Kaufman, Ronald`s father.
I don`t know the man, and he might not even be around anymore, but as a tuition-paying parent myself, I had to feel for him.
After all those years of writing checks, financing all those degrees
–what`s he got to brag about?
A retired revolutionary who has become a middle-aged janitor.
And now Ronald is going to have to stand trial and probably spend some time–although not too much, I imagine–in a pokey.
Kids, they can break your heart.
Actually, Kaufman’s father had died three years before his son started planting bombs in banks. However, in 1972 it was reported that he had indeed broken his father’s heart well before when he got involved with the Weatherpeople. The elder Kaufman had visited his son in the 1960s when he was running around the South on the radical edge of the Civil Rights movement. It was reported that the son was “embarrassed” by his father arriving in a Cadillac, driven from Wisconsin, just to check and see if his son was OK. The information was out there, but finding it, even in 1986, was still a little bit of a haphazard affair.
Another lesson in research, this time for the modern news writer, is simply getting known facts correct. On the 31st anniversary of Kaufman’s manifesto release, Tulsa World noted it this way:
Way back when: Today in history
BY GENE CURTIS Monday, January 07, 20131/07/13 at 2:35 AM
1972 – Bombs found in banks
Time bombs planted six months earlier in safe deposit boxes of eight American banks in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco were found and disarmed after authorities received letters telling where the bombs were hidden and how to disarm them. In four cases, the letter writer sent keys to the boxes; in the others, the locks on the boxes had to be drilled out. Letters from the bomber warned about future plantings of more high-powered and deadly time bombs in “virtually undetectable” places.
The letters said the freedom of political prisoners would be demanded as ransom against allowing the bombs to explode. Former radical Ronald Kaufman pleaded guilty a few months later to planting the bombs.
That last sentence bolding mine.
I might not have everything I need for the in-depth story I want to write, but I do know this: Kaufman never “surrendered” and he was not captured for 14 years after planting the bombs. He returned to the city of his last known address, assumed the name of a dead local, and went about his life as if nothing had happened. He got married, he got a job, and walked the streets of San Francisco until a cop recognized him from a recent edition of a police magazine. His wife was employed with a county government in the area. At his 1986 hearing, he was represented by John Philipsborn, and later by Leonard Wineglass.
Royko’s intuition was right about Kaufman getting a short sentence too. As reported by the LA Times, he did plead guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison. That was in 1987, so he should have been leaving the pokey around 1996. So what happened to him?
The Bureau of Prisons shows three people named “Ronald Kaufman” were released since they started keeping electronic records in the 1980s, and two were the wrong age. However, there is a 1990 UPI report that he had a parole hearing. His sentencing judge, Thelton Henderson, recommended Kaufman be eligible for parole after three years, four months, placing a possible release date in mid-1990. But the article notes that when the parole board did not recommend his release, he “asked to withdraw his guilty plea.” The Ronald Kaufman released in 1991 was 75, so I doubt that is the right one.
Actually, I am making the assumption that the age shown in the Age-Race-Sex field is the age at release. (I was incorrect. The BoP database shows the current age of the person in question).
One “RONALD E KAUFMAN” was released in 2003, which sounds a bit late, unless there were other charges added that were not reported. I don’t know if you get extra time for asking to withdraw a plea or not, but other circumstances could be at play too. He is the right age too, 65 in June 2003 fits if he was 33 in January 1972. I am not going to assume that is him until more information becomes available. (That one was not him, the one who did just over 3 years in the slammer was him, released on 04-16-1991). I did email someone who uses the short version of that name, and I recall reading his writings online around 2004, a time when I did not know the convicted bomber’s name, but there is no reason to assume that it is the same person.
So, what happened to the radical bomber? If anybody knows, I am all ears.
Steve is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Finance. He is a 30 year veteran Aviation Officer of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, and former Defense Contractor in Resource Management. He has always had a libertarian streak, no matter which major Party flag he flew. Today he is a Minarchist leaning to Anarcho-Capitalism. He and his wife reside in a secret, undisclosed, subterranean lair with the clan motto of “Leave us alone and nobody gets hurt.” The Anarchist’s Soufflé Book is Steve’s current work in progress, coming soon any year now. Follow Steve @AustrianAnarchy and view his Austrian Anarchy blog.