02/09/2009 01:27 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Twisted Self of Billy Ayers

Bill Ayers is a has-been terrorist, but in his confused life, he's associated with many do-gooders like Senator Barack Obama.
For my book, Family Circle, the Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left, I pored for years over FBI documents, and Ayers' press releases taking credit for bombing the Pentagon, the Capitol et al.
The reason the Ayers gang (weather underground)ceased bombing our government buildings was that the FBI finally stopped publicly attributing the horrific messes to them.
Today I march up a steep sidewalk to 520 West 123rd. St., a non-descript five-story walk-up, the last place in Manhattan that Bill Ayers called home in the late 1970's.
Back then, Ayers was leading at least two lives--one secret as a fugitive bomber. His delusional mission: headlines about his bombings and robberies and even murders of policemen would to inspire us to destroy the "racist, warmongering" United States government.
Bill's also led a "normal" life as "Anthony Lee" a do-gooder at a PS 9 pre-school called B.J.'s kids on West 84th, attended by at least one of his sons.
I stare at the tenement where Ayers lived on West 123rd Street and wonder how the crazy terrorist evolved into a smug, double-talking establishment political wheeler-dealer in Chicago.
Still crazy after all these years?
I'm betting William Ayers is thrilled to be making headlines again--courtesty of John McCain.
After all, he's been proud of far more negative headlines.
And Ayers (who by the way sports 17 tattoos) is a public relations genius---outdoing even Angelina Jolie, who calls People magazine to chat and land the cover.
Before bombing, say, a police station, or the U.S.Pentagon, or after breaking Tim Leary out of prison, Ayers' minions mailed out press releases ("communiqués") claiming credit.
But how could he pretend to himself that such terrorism would scare Americans into giving up racism, war, sexism, and overturning the government.
Staring at the five-story tenement where Ayers lived the Spartan life---a couch, beds, no tables, I am trying to see how Billy Ayers,now 63, made such twisting,torturous,implausible transitions from SDS student leader/womanizer to famous terrorist to husband and father and famous establishment education professor and reformer. Today he has upper-middle class Establishment stature in Chicago. Bill's wife even received a MacArthur genius grant for her academic study on children's court reform.
How do they sleep at night?
Their rationalizations over the years run through my head. His wife says Bill's sense of humor has helped them gloss over their crazed past. Bill claims, "We convinced ourselves it was absolutely up to us to stop the Vietnam war."
I believe Ayers is still confused. He's got a weaker sense of self than most.
His autobiography refers to work with his and his wife's allies the police-murdering Black Liberation Army in one cryptic sentence---as "mischief".
I believe the psycho-secret is Ayers will do anything to be better than---to be a star. He contorts himself to suit passing fashion.

I watched Billy for two hours giving a speech in a small room. Sometimes he was a hero-- sometimes he apologized. Voice shaking, he ended saying his proudest achievement was raising three sons.

Killer Hollywood careerists piously say the same.

When I approached Ayers afterward, he said instantly, "Can you get my book reviewed in the Times?" I shrugged helplessly. So the married father of three told me he had a date and vanished.
Okay--Bill Ayers is a charming sociopath, who doesn't know who he is. In Chicago, he's a first citizen who sways crowds who haven't lived through his crazy antics. (Barak Obama was about eight years old.)
He once exulted, "Guilty as hell,free as a bird, what a great country, the U.S.A." Recently he joked that when he told his sons he burned his draft card, they misunderstood and were shocked. "Why burn your credit card?" they asked.

"Hey, I'm not that stupid," he answered.

He told the Times he might bomb again: he regrets he didn't bomb more.
Then, after 9/11, when suddenly the reality of terrorist bombing was scaring everyone to death, he scrambled using double-talk worthy of John McCain: "My book is in fact a condemnation of terrorism in all its forms--individual, group and official."

My colleague John Castellucci, author of the excellent "The Big Dance" about these crazies, asks, "Doesn't Bill Ayers get what a mess he's made: first, his violence leads to the cold-blooded murder of black Nyack policeman Waverly Brown and now he's being used as to discredit our first black candidate for president?"