Education

Book: Weather Underground ‘Bomb Guru’ Taught At NYC Schools For 25 Years

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter

A man whose job as the Weather Underground’s “bomb guru” is revealed in an explosive new book taught at New York City public schools for nearly 25 years and now receives a $40,000 annual pension.

Ronald Fliegelman is one of the unsung members of the Weather Underground, co-founded by former Obama associate Bill Ayers in 1969.

The son of a Philadelphia doctor, Fliegelman became the radical leftist group’s chief bomb architect after three members — Terry Robbins, Diana Oughton, and Ted Gold — were killed on March 6, 1970 when a bomb they were making detonated at their Greenwich Village apartment. The Weathermen had planned to set off the bomb at a dance to be held at Ft. Dix Army base in New Jersey.

Vanity Fair reporter Bryan Burrough details Fliegelman’s unexplored role in a new book entitled “Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence.”

And as The New York Post reports, after the Weatherman disbanded in the mid-1970s, Fliegelman went underground in his own way. He was never investigated or arrested for all the bombs he built, and ended up working as a New York City school teacher from 1983 to 2006.

“No one knew what to do,” Fliegelman told Burrough of Weathermen’s turmoil after the Greenwich Village explosion. “I gave a thought to giving up, and I had a gun pulled on me and was told I was not leaving.”

Fliegelman, whose radicalism began with Weather Underground’s predecessor, Students for a Democratic Society, was an asset to the group because of his mechanical ability and his dedication to the cause.

“Fliegelman was the one person who knew how to strip down and reassemble guns, motorcycles and radios, who knew how to weld, who could fix almost anything,” Burrough wrote.

“Everyone was afraid of the stuff, for good reason,” Fliegelman, now 70 years old, told Burrough. “What we were dealing with was a group of intellectuals who didn’t know how to do anything with their hands. I did. I wasn’t afraid of it, I knew it could be handled.”

Fliegelman claims to have assembled many of the 50 bombs the group planted until it began to disband at the end of the Vietnam War.

“Without him, there would be no Weather Underground,” former Weatherman Brian Flanagan told Burrough.

After the group broke up, Fliegelman returned to his parents’ home in Philadelphia and began working towards becoming a teacher, The New York Post reported.

“For me, it was really seamless,” the bomber told Burrough. “No one — the FBI, no one — ever came looking for me.”

Fliegelman and a dozen other Weathermen were indicted on conspiracy charges in the early 70s. But charges were dropped in 1973 because of concerns that the investigation relied on illegal surveillance. Fliegelman and the others were likely not charged because most federal crimes have a five-year statue of limitations.

Fliegelman had also shared his bomb-making skills with Weather Underground’s San Francisco branch, where he collaborated with another bomb maker, Cathy Wilkerson. Fittingly, the two later had a child.

Wilkerson is the only Weather Underground member to serve prison time for crimes related to the group’s activities. She surrendered to police in 1980 after 10 years as a wanted fugitive for her role in the Greenwich Village explosion. She served 11 months in prison.

Like Fliegelman, she also taught New York City public schools after the Weathermen disbanded.

According to The Post, Fliegelman began teaching at New York City schools in 1983. He taught special-needs students at two Brooklyn schools until his retirement in 2006. His most recent pension was just over $40,000, the paper reported.

Wilkerson wrote in a 2010 memoir that she had taught math at New York City public schools for 20 years. She also taught GED students.

Fliegelman’s membership in the group and his job as a teacher was touched on by The New York Times in 2010, but only in passing. Instead, the article was a profile of fathers who had children late in life. It did not mention Fliegelman’s bomb-making role with the terrorist group.

“When [Fligelman’s] first child, Bessie, now 33, was born, he was literally coming up from the underground, from a life on the edge as a radical activist with the Weathermen,” The Times profile read. “He was a single father sharing custody of Bessie, working at a private school and studying nights to become certified to teach in the public schools.”

“A struggle,” Fliegelman told The Times then. “A very harried life.”

“Three years ago, when Isaac was 2, Mr. Fliegelman retired, after 25 years as a New York City special education teacher,” The Times reported at the time.

In his book, Burrough also cites one former Weather Underground member who disputes one of the myths surrounding the group: that they targeted only government buildings and not civilians.

“The myth, and this is always Bill Ayers’ line, is that Weather never set out to kill people, and it’s not true — we did,” Howie Machtinger told Burrough. “You know, policemen were fair game.”

Ayers has said numerous times that the group went to great lengths to prevent casualties. He has said that bombings were only ever intended to destroy government property.

But another former member, John Werner, expected and hoped that the group would take an even more radical turn.

“I remember talking about putting a bomb on the [Chicago railroad] tracks at rush hour, to blow up people coming home from work. That’s what I was looking forward to,” Werner told Burrough.

Like many former Weathermen, Fliegelman is unashamed of his past life.

“Ron is proud of what he did,” Burrough told The Post.

“Did you ever notice how many people were hurt by our bombs? People were not hurt by our bombs,” Fliegelman told The Post when the paper caught up with him on the streets of tony Park Slope, Brooklyn while he was walking a little white dog.

Follow Chuck on Twitter