“Up Close Commies”




Nationally, the toughest of the “revolutionary groups” was known as “The Weathermen”. They had branched off from the Students For a Democratic Society and were preaching outright street violence. They had no tolerance for anything or anyone not supportive of total Communist victory in Southeast Asia and proportionate American defeat. Their heroes were Marx and Lenin. Che and Fidel. Mao and Ho.

Larry White was black. He owned and operated the “Giant Ballroom” on North Saginaw Street in the heart of Flint’s “ethnic” district. He was a friend of Pete Flanders and had become a friend of mine. For whatever fateful reason, the “Weathermen” had chosen Flint as the site for their “National War Council”. They called Larry and asked about renting out the “Giant” for a four day run, concluding with the arrival of 1970 on New Year’s Eve. They said that Larry was a member of the oppressed minority. He was a “brother” in the conflict for the minds and souls of man. He was a secret soldier in the ranks.

Larry called us and asked what we thought. We suggested that he rent the “Giant” out for twenty-thousand dollars. He said that he couldn’t believe “white boys were that dumb”. We suggested that this group probably was and were also far more well-funded than he might think. He called back in twenty minutes, laughing hysterically. Not only had the “Weathermen” agreed to the price after a few minutes of bitching, they had also promised a check for the full amount in advance.

There was quite a national hullabaloo about the “Weathermen”. Their name was lifted from Bob Dylan’s line in “Subterranean Homesick Blues about how “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”.  Bob had been right. You don’t.  Evidently this irony was completely lost upon the S.D.S. dissidents who became the “Weathermen”.

The “Weathermen” seemed just like the “White Panthers”, except they didn’t have a great rock group and really claimed to mean business. They were “mean business”. They got lots of press, mainly by saying they hated the press. They felt representatives of American media were “running dogs of the ruling capitalist elite”. They pissed on radio, television and newspaper reporters, left and right. The more they urinated, the more they were circulated. It was automatic that the “Press” be excluded from the National War Council Meetings at the Giant Ballroom in Flint. What could insure more maximum coverage?

The “Weathermen” arrived in Flint by foot, rail, van, bus, plane and car.

Approximately one thousand of “them” gathered at the Giant Ballroom on Sunday, December 28th, ready for a four-day blow-out. It was so incredibly “hip” in such an ice-cool, “revolutionary” sort of way.

The walls inside the Giant were wallpapered with giant photos of Communist heroes from yesteryear through the present. Almost everyone attending wore torn-jeans and jackets with dirty-sneakers and raggedy-hats. This was the class-equalizing uniform d’jour. There were scroungy blankets, boiling pots of communal soup and hundreds of pieces of hand-out literature for all. Everyone would be staying right there at the Giant for the whole duration. You could sleep where you weep about all the bad things your country had done. One might eat where you’d greet your new leaders of tomorrow. An American flag had been torn in half and hung as a split canopy across much of the ceiling. You might even screw under Red, White and Blue should comraderie fortunately escalate to critical mass.

A  movie screen covered most of one wall, upon which would be shown inspirational films of strife and struggle. A monstrous sound system had been set in place for the dozens and dozens of speeches which would fill the hall with shouts and threats and raging invectives promising true democracy for the “people”. The “people” would win. The “people” would rule. It would go without saying that the “people” would honor the “people” doing all the talking about the “people” by placing them in charge of that glorious post-revolutionary period just a few hard-fought battles away. What could be more fair to the “people” than to be put in charge of themselves through the “people” stirring up the “people”? Anything else would be reactionary and really shitty.

The Giant was surrounded by police cordons and news crews from all major networks and regional stations including Detroit. Up-Close Commies! This was  RED hot!

Admission was limited to only those with pre-issued “Weathermen Identification Badges” and was solemnly checked by scowling, menacing security forces “guarding” the lone entrance, as though it led through the gates of Workers’ Paradise Itself.

No reporters, eh? No newspaper, TV or radio folks, umm?

Larry White had us covered like sticky lives on cotton candy.

There were very few Black participants in the “War Council”. A majority of the handful of minority members present were associates of Larry White. They were working various assignments for Larry; primarily keeping an eye on anything which might be begged, borrowed or stolen from the premises by the cadre of “crazy white boys” in charge. Naturally, these “brothers” weren’t particularly interested in remaining within the walls of the Giant for the entire confabulation. Hanging around for more than three or four hours at a stretch was quite enough. True “liberation” was taking leave as soon as completed responsibilities allowed. Larry had been given a number of Identification Badges for his support people. Ta-da!

It was New Year’s Eve, the culmination of the Flint “Weatherman” War Council Meetings. It was a night where everything would come together in one final “blow-out” celebration with all major leaders offering summary accounting of the four day conference. Other top name “revolutionaries” who had been unable to attend the entire affair were flying into town to lend their presence and support. This was the big pay-off!

John Irons and I wore our rattiest rags and hadn’t shaved for several days. Under burly, over-sized winter coats, we both packed a cassette recorder. Each of us had a microphone which was concealed in our sleeves and instantly available with the flick of a wrist. We shuffled and ambled past the outer security perimeter and approached four “Weather Police” blocking passage to the ballroom. We presented our Larry White I.D. badges. The guards were confused.

“You dudes are White!”

“We work for Larry and, if you weren’t informed, that’s his last name!”

Misplaced  humor is never funny.

They demanded we allow ourselves to be searched.

“No problem, but don’t fuck with our recorders!”

“What recorders?”

“We’ve had the recorders under our coats perfectly calibrated. We’re working for Larry White. He owns the building. You’re on his sidewalk. Even though a lease has been extended,  Mr. White maintains certain clear proprietary rights. We’re here to obtain interviews for “The Free Black Institute” with which Mr. White is proudly associated. I’m sure it’s all been cleared. Go check!”

One of the Weather-Cops headed into the hall. We hadn’t expected a goddamn search. Larry would pick right up on the extemporaneously devised ploy and probably insert a spin or two himself. The twenty G’s were in the bank. Larry was also getting really tired of all the “revolutionary shit” being shoveled by the hour.  He had confided that “these punks would last on the street about three seconds with a four mile start”.

Several new Weathermen returned with the original security sentry to review our credentials and allegations. It was getting shakier. One of the new interrogators was Mark Rudd.

“Mr. Rudd;  Mr. White has enjoyed affiliation with the Free Black Institute since its inception. Our mission is similar to yours, but our identification as journalists for the movement is normally restricted to the Black community. You will note that we are not Black. This permits infiltration into many otherwise prohibited circles and prohibits the White establishment from singling us out as agents for change. Mr. White has approved and authorized our presence here tonight. We demand entry!”

Larry Black was summoned. I repeated my narrative. Larry launched into the lingo:

“They get-in or you get-out!  My people want to know what you honkies are up to!  Everybody’s on my ass!  Twenty grand ain’t shit to me, but if I kick your White, mother-fuckin’, jive-ass butts outta here right now, you ain’t stoppin’ by Refund City on the way, Jack!”

Whoops. All the revolutionaries needed were accusations of blatant racism.

Penetration was allowed.

Irons and I frolicked about for several hours, guided by an official “Weatherman Information Officer.” We interviewed a dozen or so “heavies”.

It became quickly clear that the true would-be “revolutionaries” comprised less than ten percent of total attendance. The rest of the mob, evenly divided between male and female, were there for the “experience”. There were numerous professorial types taking notes and absorbing the “energies”, obviously planning impressive future scholarly dissertations.  They were certain of publication. It seemed like we were not attending a serious political gathering. It appeared to be more of a “Dress Like a Revolutionary New Year’s Eve Bash”.  Held in a gym. No one had seriously bathed since arriving in Flint. It was part of the mystique. So was swaggering and sinister threatening.

We mentioned to one of our interview subjects that we maintained our cover as Free Black Institute reporters by working as disc-jockeys at a local radio station.

“Which fucking station is that?”


“That’ll be the first radio station we burn down!”


We ran through a half-dozen or so cassettes, filling both sides with interviews, speeches and general crowd conversation. Even when we weren’t “officially” taping, the recorders hummed along.

We thanked our hosts for their congenial hospitality and sped back to the station. Within an hour, we had edited highlights from our cassettes and included them in reports which we fed by phone to the NBC, CBS, ABC and
Mutual Radio Networks.

News” is always fun when you’re first .

John and Larry and I were against American war strategy and felt that society certainly had a number of problems which required remedy. At the same time, all three of us had friends who had joined the fighting in Southeast Asia. Several had not returned.

The “Weathermen” were an ugly joke, yet they regarded themselves quite seriously and with deadly intensity. If things ever went their way, shotguns indeed would sing the song. The “Weathermen” were not only  dangerously subversive pretenders, but an embarrassment to the Rock ‘n Roll counterculture and representive of the exact antithesis of freedom.  They’d gone way over the edge. They represented no one other than themselves and had signed up with Chairman Mao. Bought and paid for. War’s whores. It was all in how you looked at it and all in how you studied it.

The ‘Sixties were over! It was the start of a brand new decade! Welcome 1970!  Happy New Year!!!!!

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