David Gilbert (activist)
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David Gilbert (born October 6, 1944) is an American activist who is currently serving a 75 year-to-life sentence for felony homicide at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Shawangunk, New York. Gilbert was a founding member of the Columbia University chapter of Students for a Democratic Society and a member of the Weather Underground, a far-left militant organization. In October 1981, he participated in the robbery of a Brink's armored car, along with members of the Black Liberation Army and Kathy Boudin, his partner. Gilbert was convicted of the murders of Nyack police officers Waverly Brown and Edward O'Grady and Brinks guard Peter Paige, all of which were killed in the robbery.
Early life and education
Gilbert grew up in a Jewish family in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. He was an Explorer Scout, and his father was Post Leader, of a South Brookline Explorer Post. Inspired in his teens by the Greensboro sit-ins and other events of the Civil Rights Movement, he joined the Congress of Racial Equality at age seventeen. He entered Columbia University in 1962. In March 1965, Gilbert founded the Independent Committee on Vietnam (ICV) at Columbia. Later, in the same year, he co-founded the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) which merged with ICV in the Fall of 1966, even though there was already a chapter set in place that was formed in the early 1960s. The SDS chapter founded by Gilbert became renowned.
He traveled regularly to Harlem while working as a tutor, and saw Malcolm X speak at Barnard College in February 1965, experiences he describes as formative. Gilbert was one of the known attendees, by the FBI, at the Flint War Council.
After graduating from Columbia University in June 1966, Gilbert spent most of his days and evenings during the fall of 1967 downtown attending graduate school at the New School for Social Research, building an SDS chapter there or attending meetings at the New York SDS Regional Office. In addition, Gilbert spent his spare time studying Marx's Kapital and writing New Left theoretical papers on imperialism and U.S. domestic consumption, consumerism and "the new working-class". As Columbia SDS grew during the Spring 1967 term, Gilbert returned to the Columbia campus to offer a "radical education counter-course" for Columbia SDS freshmen and sophomores in a lounge in Ferris Booth Hall.
Known by the late 1960s primarily as a young theorist, publishing articles in New Left Notes and other movement publications, he went on to play an organizing role in the April–May 1968 Columbia student strike. On April 4, 1968, Gilbert had his first arrest after walking into a police riot where 6 officers were engaged in a physical altercation with a rioter. Gilbert's charge was assaulting a police officer. Gilbert maintained that the officer scraped his hand when he tried to hit Gilbert in the head with his baton. His lawyer advised him to take a plea bargain, and Gilbert pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was fined $50.
During the Columbia strike, which began on April 23, 1968, Gilbert served as part of the strike team; since he had good relations with some of the faculty, he was called on to be a negotiator. At the time of the strike he was a graduate student at the New School for Social Research. In October 1969, he headed a Weather collective in Denver and was arrested twice. The first arrest occurred while he was passing out leaflets in front of a community college and his comrades were inside setting off a smoke bomb. The second arrest led to a charge of "assault with a deadly weapon" after arresting officers found a rock in his pocket.
In 1969, SDS split into different ideological factions and Weatherman emerged, its purpose being to build armed struggle among young white Americans in support of the Black Panthers and other militant groups and also to oppose the war in Vietnam by means of activities intended to "Bring the War Home". Gilbert joined this group in 1969 with his friend Ted Gold, who later died in the March 1970 Greenwich Village townhouse explosion, along with fellow Weather members Diana Oughton and Terry Robbins. The group became clandestine, and the organization was renamed the Weather Underground. When Weather went underground, members often used money they already had or received from their family to fund their efforts. Gilbert cashed in his Israel bonds and half of that money went to supporting Weather and the other half was put into the Black Panther bail fund.
David Gilbert joined the Bay Area collective living in a San Francisco apartment. He and another member were working on another group's car in spring of 1971 when they were approached by two men in suits claiming to be real-estate agents. The men asked a few questions and then left. Gilbert suspected that these men were actually FBI agents looking for information. After several meetings within the group, they decided to stay put for a while. After more suspiciously acting men started inquiring into the activities of other members, they decided to travel north. Although not on the group's coordinating committee (the Weather Bureau), Gilbert acted as a regional leader, spending at least some of these years in Colorado. The Weather Underground committed several small bombings directed toward governmental and business property and buildings.
As support for the group began to wane on the left, the pace of actions lessened, and some members of the Weather Underground resurfaced in late 1976 and early 1977. Gilbert resurfaced briefly in Denver, Colorado, between 1977 and 1979. Denver is where he helped organize a Weather collective in October 1969. Before surfacing, he managed to get his criminal charges dropped so he did not face any legal penalties. Gilbert, however, did not think it was in the best interest of the movement for him to resurface. Most Weather members were not prosecuted or did not serve time in prison despite having been sought by the police for years; police misconduct led to the dropping of many charges (see: COINTELPRO). Gilbert opted to continue his life underground. Gilbert and his partner, Kathy Boudin, remained active even following the birth of their son, Chesa Boudin, in August 1980.
In the late 1970s or early 1980s Gilbert and other white activists joined the RATF (Revolutionary Armed Task Force), an alliance of white revolutionaries with, and under the leadership of, that unit of the Black Liberation Army (BLA). On October 20, 1981, the RATF participated along with several members of the BLA in an attempt to rob a Brinks armored car at the Nanuet Mall, near Nyack, New York.
While Gilbert and Boudin waited in a U-Haul truck in a nearby parking lot, armed BLA members took another vehicle to the mall, where a Brinks truck was making a delivery. They confronted the guards and a shootout ensued, wounding guard Joe Trombino after he let off one shot and killing his co-worker, Peter Paige. The robbers then took $1.6 million in cash and raced to transfer this into the waiting U-Haul. The truck was soon stopped by a police roadblock. Gilbert and Boudin surrendered but when the officers tried to search the back of the vehicle BLA members emerged shooting.
Two police officers, Waverly L. Brown and Edward J. O'Grady, died in the shootout. Gilbert fled the scene with other RATF and BLA members but was caught by police that day. He was convicted and sentenced in 1983 to 75 years for three counts of felony murder. In the years since Gilbert has often expressed regrets about the violence of the Brinks robbery and the deaths and wounds that resulted.
Gilbert co-founded an inmate peer education program on HIV and AIDS in the Auburn Correctional Facility in 1987, and a similar, more successful project in Great Meadows Prison in Comstock following his transfer there. He has published book reviews and essays in a number of small/independent newspapers and journals, some of which were collected into the anthology No Surrender: Writings from an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner (Abraham Guillen Press) in 2004. He has also published longer single pieces on the topics of misleading AIDS conspiracy theories and white working-class political consciousness. The 2003 documentary The Weather Underground featured interview segments with Gilbert, raising his profile beyond those in the small political prisoner support network who have been following his progress since his incarceration. The DVD release of The Weather Underground features a longer interview with Gilbert as a bonus feature.
Gilbert has served time in numerous upstate New York prisons and is currently incarcerated at the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, New York. He is not eligible for parole until October 13, 2056.
David Gilbert co-wrote the pamphlet U.S. Imperialism with David Loud. The pamphlet was used across the country as a study guide by SDSers. Gilbert co-wrote an article entitled "Praxis and the New Left". It appeared in the first issue of Praxis on February 13, 1967. The article, co-written with Bob Gottlieb and Gerry Tenney, was part of a longer position paper called the "Port Authority Statement".
There is a mini-biography on David Gilbert on page 312 of the book Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, by Dan Berger.
In an article published in the Columbia Daily Spectator on April 2, 1983, Bob Feldman wrote: "Beyond Brinks: David Gilbert Talks About the Robbery, the Underground, the Struggle".
Gilbert was one of a small group that edited and rewrote Bill Ayers' initial draft of Prairie Fire. Explaining the book's purpose, Gilbert said, "We needed something to re-mobilize us, we needed to have an organization to fight imperialism."
Gilbert had a son with fellow Weather Underground member Kathy Boudin, in New York City in 1980. When Gilbert and Boudin were arrested for the Brink's robbery, their 14-month-old son, Chesa Boudin, was raised in Chicago by adoptive parents Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who, like his parents, had been members of the Weather Underground. After working as a public defender, in 2019, Chesa was elected District Attorney of San Francisco.
- NY Prisoner Search, http://nysdoccslookup.doccs.ny.gov/, Jul 9 2020
- "Weather Underground Bombings". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
- Berger, Dan. Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, p. 25
- Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1976). Weather Underground organization; retrieved through FOIA pp. 382–83
- Berger, Dan. Outlaws of America:The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, p. 41
- Berger, Dan. Outlaws of America:The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, p. 52
- Berger, Dan. Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, p. 104
- Berger, Dan. Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, p. 156
- Berger, Dan. Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, p. 157
- Berger, Dan. Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, p. 243
- , AT HOME WITH: "Bernadine Dohrn; Same Passion, New Tactics"], nytimes.com, November 18, 1993.
- , AMBUSH: THE BRINKS ROBBERY OF 1981.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-04-20. Retrieved 2008-05-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Berger, Dan. Outlaws of America The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity. pp. 38, 40.
- Dan Berger. Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity. p. 312.
- Bob Feldman (April 2, 1983). "Beyond Brinks: David Gilbert Talks About the Robber, the Underground, the Struggle". Columbia Daily Spectator.
- Weather Underground (January 1974). Prairie Fire.
- Berger, Dan. Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity. pp. 185, 191.
- Heyman, J.D. (December 23, 2002). "Free Thinker". People Magazine. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
- Wilgoren, Jodi (December 9, 2002). "From a Radical Background, A Rhodes Scholar Emerges". The New York Times. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
- Evan Sernoffsky (January 15, 2019). "Chesa Boudin, son of imprisoned radicals, looks to become SF district attorney". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Paul, Deanna (November 2, 2019). "After decades visiting his parents in prison, this lawyer wants to be San Francisco's next DA". Washington Post. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
- Writings by David Gilbert from the Kersplebedeb web site
- An interview from 1985, in which Gilbert discusses the Brinks robbery and his trial. From the site Informations sur des prisonnier(e)s politiques.
- The official site of the documentary The Weather Underground, directed by Sam Green.
- NY State Department of Correctional Services file
- Gilbert is an adviser and collaborator of the annual Certain Days Free Political Prisoners Calendar.
- David Gilbert, Love And Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond, PM Press (2012)