by Bill Ayers
In the heat of the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama's opponents were spinning a chilling narrative that cast him as an enigmatic figure with a group of shadowy associates, including a Black Nationalist preacher, a Palestinian professor, and an "unrepentant domestic terrorist." That imagined terrorist was Bill Ayers, a one-time leader of the Weather Underground. The McCain campaign spent millions of dollars demonizing Ayers specifically and castigating Senator Obama for, in Sarah Palin's deathless phrase, "pallin' around with terrorists."
That wasn't the first time Ayers found his face plastered all over the media under the label "terrorist." After his memoir Fugitive Days, the story of his life in Students for a Democratic Society and later the Weather Underground, was published on September 10, 2001, he came under furious fire from right-wing media, which bizarrely tied him to the World Trade Center tragedy. Over the years, at the hands of the radical Right, Bill Ayers has become a household name and a public enemy. In reality, Ayers is a dedicated teacher, father, and social justice advocate, and his "shady past" is actually the story of an ardent antiwar activist.
Ayers was hosting his graduate students at his Hyde Park home during the 2008 presidential debate in which his neighbor Barack Obama was confronted about their association. Public Enemy begins there and then flashes back to tell Ayers's story from the moment he and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, emerged from years on the run and rebuilt their lives as public figures, often celebrated for their community work but much hated by the radical Right.
In the face of defamation by conservative media, and despite frequent death threats, Bill and Bernardine stay true to their core beliefs in the power of protest, dissent, and deep commitment to the welfare of others. Ayers recounts his adventures with the Tea Party, including memorable scenes of "confessing" under entertaining duress that he was indeed the author of Obama's Dreams from My Father, of hosting a dinner party for Fox News stars, of being banned from college campuses and, in one case, from an entire country. He also takes us along to the red carpet at the Oscars, to prison vigils and the Greek islands, and ultimately back to his Hyde Park home, where his activism and commitment to a life that refuses to make a mockery of his values allow him to make the most of his post as America's leading public enemy.