Howard (Howie) Norton Machtinger (born April 23, 1946 in the Bronx, New York) was, until recently, director of Teaching Fellows at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Considered to be one of the leading Weather Underground Organization members since the organization's creation in June, 1969, Machtinger frequented the WUO-dominated Students for a Democratic Society National Office in Chicago during 1969 and participated in the WUO "Days of Rage" riots in October, 1969. He submerged into the WUO underground in early 1970, thereby becoming a fugitive. He was subsequently arrested by the FBI in New York on Sept. 19, 1973, however, jumped the bond and resubmerged into the underground.
Machtinger also went under the false names of Dennis Egerton Holefoa, "Danny" and Steve Dash.
A November 20, 1969 broadcast of Radio Havana in Cuba transmitted in the English language announced that Howie Machtinger of Chicago Illinois was an individual in the U.S. who would serve as a recruiting contact for the Venceremos Brigade.
- We became known as the Weathermen, drawing the title of our position paper from the Dylan lyric “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” and transformed ourselves into the Weather Underground (WU) over the course of the next year.
Weathermen Flint "War Council"
December 27-31, 1969, about 400 of the national membership of the Weatherman faction of Students for a Democratic Society held a “War Council” at a ballroom dancehall in Flint, Michigan. Posters of a giant cardboard machinegun, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevera, and Fidel Castro hung everywhere.
Among the attendees of the “War Council in Flint" identified by the Flint police department and/or its informant were: Michael Avey, Karen Ashley, Bill Ayers, Edward Benedict, Margaret Bennett, Douglas Bernhardt, Jeff Blum, Harvey Blume, David Chase, Peter Clapp, Judy Clark, Bernardine Dohrn, Diane Donghi, Linda Evans, Brian Flannigan, David Flatley, John Fuerst, Lynn Ray Garvin, Bert Garskof, Michele Garskoff, Mark Glasser, Theodore Gold, Lenny Handlesman, Ann Hathaway, Karen Hardiman, Daniel Hardy, Tom Hayden, Phoebe Hirsch, Arthur Hochberg, Anne Hodges, John Jacobs, Jeff Jones, Sam Karp, David Klafter, Dianne Kohn, Peter Kuttner, Bradford Lang, Stephen Lang, Karen Latimer, Jonathan Lerner, Naomi Lev, Bradford Long, Allan Maki, Eric Mann, Howard Machtinger, Carol McDermott, L.R. Meadows, Lisa Meisel, Jeff Melish, James Mellen, David Millstone, Russell Neufeld, Diana Oughton, John Pilkington, Edward Purtz, Jonah Raskin, Natalie Rosenstein, Dennis Roskamp, Mark Rudd, Karen Selin, Mark Shapiro, Janet Snider, Mike Spiegel, Jane Spiegelman, Marsha Steinberg, David Sole, Susan Stern, Clayton Van Lydegraf, Cathy Wilkerson and Mary Wozniak.
According to a federal indictment, a smaller group, Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Linda Evans, Erik Mann, Howard Machtinger, Diana Oughton and Mark Rudd, met secretly in Flint on December 30, 1969 at the Parish House of Sacred Heart Convent to set up a central committee. It was modeled after Lenin’s democratic centralism. The Weather central committte was to direct underground bombings nationwide from New York, Chicago, Detroit and Berkeley aimed at police, military, university and commercial targets. There was also talk of assassinations. The Liberation News Service reported, “Part of armed struggle, as Dohrn and others laid it down, is terrorism. Political assassination… and… violence…were put forward as legitimate forms of armed struggle..”
Eric Mann, soon became an SDS defector and a Flint Police informant. He reported a man dressed as a priest distributing 200 sticks of dynamite in the parking lot to drivers of cars with license plates from New York, Washington, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, including Theodore Gold, New York.
Howard Machtinger became a fugitive in 1970; by 1978 he turned myself in to government authorities.
- After we decided in late 1969 to create a national underground organization that could carry on illegal—and sometimes violent activities—beyond the reach of the criminal justice system, collectives were set up in a few places that were centers of antiwar or anti-racist activity. The collective in New York came to be called the Townhouse Collective after a bomb that collective members were assembling in a Manhattan townhouse exploded prematurely.
- On its own initiative, this collective had planned to attack a Non-Commissioned Officers’ (NCO) dance at Ft. Dix with a fragmentation bomb. Had this action been carried out, it would have undoubtedly led to the deaths of not only officers, but also their dates and other bystanders – by any definition, an act of terrorism. Instead, the device went off accidentally and killed three WU members of the Townhouse Collective.
- This failed action set off an intense debate in the then newly formed WU organization that culminated in the critique of the Townhouse Collective’s “military error” in a publicly released WU communiqué entitled “New Morning.” While critical of the “heavier the better” mentality that promoted and celebrated political violence per se, the document fell well short of providing a full and honest examination and critique of Townhouse politics.
- A chill in WU frenzy and attempts to reconnect with other activists and tendencies paralleled this limited self-critique. Internal discussions became less aggressive and accusatory; attempts were made to work with, and sometimes to try to lead, or manipulate, the aboveground mass movement.
- While “New Morning” signaled the WU’s commitment to taking greater care after the accident to target property and not people, it did not acknowledge the WU’s own responsibility for the politics of the Townhouse collective.
- WU leaders––then and since––failed to reckon candidly and directly with what it meant, politically and humanly, that core members of the organization had planned to use fragmentation bombs to kill attendees at a dance.
- Prior to the Townhouse disaster, the WU had been obsessed with critiquing bourgeois ambivalence or cowardice, which allegedly was holding people back from armed resistance, with little notion or fear that unrestrained militancy could become inhumane as well as dangerous for the movement. At the Flint conference in December 1969, Weather leaders evoked Charles Manson and attendees danced while making the sign of the fork, a Manson symbol.
- So while the WU did pull back from the precipice of a terrorist strategy, it never forthrightly admitted to the tendency that had grown and been nurtured within it.
"Pine Street" bomb factory
Next Left Notes
- The lesson of Viet Nam is that seemingly all-powerful power can be set back, that the contradictions of imperial power can be exposed, and that ordinary and “barefoot and shirtless people” can make history. This cannot be denied; whether by irresponsible, inarticulate Texans or by the mesmerized media. But its memory must be kept alive and renewed from generation to generation.
"Obama and the left"
In April 2008, howard Machtinger posted an essay on the progressives for obama website "Obama and the left".
- If we, as a Left, are content to smugly and dismissively critique the Obama phenomenon, we trade self-fulfilling sectarianism for the chance at political impact. A victory for Obama will not only be a boon for the African-American community and for people of color, it will offer a unique opportunity for the development of an organized and aggressive Left movement that retains its independence at the same time that it is willing to risk everyday involvement in the strange world of American politics.
- If we just critique, we will miss a moment that may not come again for a while. If our politics are meaningful, effective, and get to the root of problems, we should put them to the test in political work that connects to large numbers of people struggling to find direction in an increasingly dangerous world. Something wonderful is happening. We must be alive to it. I hope we can figure out how to relate to it effectively before we consign ourselves to continued marginalization...
- FBI Weatherman Underground Summary Dated 8/20/76, Part 2
- Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, The Weather Underground, Committee Print, January 1975, 126-7
- Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, The Weather Underground, Committee Print, January 1975, 127
- Liberation News Service cited in “The Weather Underground Organization,” Information Digest, Vol. XIV, #22, November 13, 1981, 340
- Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, The Weather Underground, Committee Print, January 1975, 22.