Laura Whitehorn

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Laura Whitehorn
NLN Laura Whitehorn.jpg
Laura Whitehorn in 2009
Laura Jane Whitehorn

April 1945 (1945-04)
EducationRadcliffe College Class of 1966 Brandeis University
OccupationSenior Editor, POZ Magazine; guest speaker on college campuses
Criminal statusReleased
Parent(s)Lenore and Nathaniel Whitehorn
Criminal chargeConspiracy; destruction of government property; fraud
Penalty20 years in prison

Laura Jane Whitehorn (born April 1945) is an activist. Whitehorn was born in Brooklyn, New York to Lenore and Nathaniel Whitehorn. As a college student in the 1960s, she organized and participated in civil rights and anti-war movements.[1] After her graduation from Radcliffe College in 1966, she went on to receive her master's from Brandeis University.[2] She participated in the 1983 United States Senate bombing and served 14 years in federal prison for her crimes.

Early days[edit]

Having worked as an organizer for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Whitehorn became a member of the Weathermen/The Weather Underground organization in 1969.[citation needed] She traveled with them to Havana, Cuba as part of the organization's instruction in the ideology of Marxism and urban warfare, visiting one of the camps established by Soviet KGB Colonel Vadim Kotchergine.[3]

"The Days of Rage"[edit]

On October 6, of that same year, the Weathermen blew up an 1889 commemorative nine-foot bronze statue of a Chicago policeman located in Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, preceding several days of street fighting between protesters and police.[3] According to FBI records, the "Days of Rage" or the "National Action" rapidly degenerated into destructive riots and open confrontations with Chicago Police, leaving a vast amount of public property destroyed, including 100 shattered windows in the vicinity.[4] The Weather Underground Organization (WUO) made a number of demands, primarily related to the Vietnam War.[4] Whitehorn, along with approximately 55 other people, was arrested for her participation in the violence.[4] A Federal Grand Jury in Chicago later returned a number of indictments charging WUO members with violation of Federal Antiriot Laws. The Antiriot Law charges were dropped in January 1974.[4]

Townhouse explosion[edit]

The March 6, 1970 Greenwich Village townhouse explosion was a culmination of the political direction in which Weatherman had been headed, according to Whitehorn. "We were out of touch with what was going on, and we lost sight of the fact that if you're a revolutionary, the first thing you have to try to do is preserve human life."[5] Three Weathermen died in the explosion, Terry Robbins, Diana Oughton, and Ted Gold.[6]

Whitehorn said great care was taken during the numerous bombings to ensure that no one would be hurt, including the janitorial staff.[7]

Feminist education[edit]

In 1971, Laura Whitehorn helped organize and lead a militant takeover and occupation of a Harvard University building by nearly 400 women to protest the war in Vietnam and demand a women's center.[8] One of the founders of the Boston/Cambridge Women's School, Whitehorn helped establish the school as an alternative source of feminist education.[2] Operated and taught by a collective of female volunteers until it closed in 1992, Boston/Cambridge Women's School had gained the reputation as the longest running women's school in the United States at the time.[9]

Climate of militancy[edit]

The dead end of militancy and violence for their own sake was obvious after the townhouse explosion, says Whitehorn.[5] Events at the 1972 Republican National Convention protest led Whitehorn to question once more the need for militancy, confirming her belief that they should allow for militancy when guided by a political framework, but not militancy for militancy's sake.[5]

Battle of Boston[edit]

During the Boston busing crisis, which the WUO referred to as "the Battle of Boston,"[5] Whitehorn was among a small group of the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee (PFOC) activists in the Boston area who sat with baseball bats in people's homes, protecting families from local white supremacists who tried to attack with bats, Molotov cocktails and spray-paint.[5] While Whitehorn and other members of the aboveground cadre carried out their vigilance for two years, the WUO engaged in only minor confrontational tactics in response to the Boston crisis.[5]

Prairie Fire Organizing Committee[edit]

The Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, of which Whitehorn was a member, planned the Hard Times Conference (with WUO support and leadership) as a way to build a national multiracial coalition. The goal was to bring together a multiracial crowd of more than 2,000 people at the University of Illinois Circle Campus in Chicago, from January 30 to February 1, 1976.[5] The slogan for the conference was "Hard Times are Fighting Times."

Even though attendance far surpassed what the WUO and PFOC had anticipated, the conference became a political disaster.[5] Whitehorn was so nauseated by the politics of the conference that she became physically ill in the middle of it. "I hated it more than anything else I've ever done, she told Nicole Kief in an interview on October 20, 2002. She began to pull away from the WUO.[5]

By the early 1980s, Whitehorn was active in a variety of radical organizations, in addition to the May 19 Communist Organization, including the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and the Madame Binh Graphics Collective, a radical art group named for Nguyen Thi Binh, the Viet Cong's lead negotiator at the Paris Peace Talks. During this time, Whitehorn worked with subversive movements in Rhodesia, South Africa and Palestine.[8]

Bombings: the May 19 Communist Organization[edit]

The May 19 Communist Organization, also known as the May 19th Coalition and the May 19 Communist Movement, was a self-described revolutionary organization formed by splintered-off members of the Weather Underground. Originally known as the New York Chapter of the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee (PFOC), the group was active from 1978 to 1985. Between 1983 and 1985, the group bombed the United States Senate as well as three military installations in the Washington D.C. area and four sites in New York City.


On May 11, 1985 group members Marilyn Buck, wanted for her role in the 1981 Brinks armored car robbery, and Linda Sue Evans were arrested in Dobbs Ferry, New York by FBI agents who had trailed them in the hope the pair would lead them to other fugitives. Whitehorn was arrested the same day in a Baltimore apartment rented by Buck and Evans.[10] At the time of the arrests, group members Susan Rosenberg and Timothy Blunk were already under arrest, Rosenberg for explosives and weapons charges connected with the Brinks robbery, Blunk for similar charges.[11] Fugitive group members Alan Berkman and Elizabeth Ann Duke were captured by the FBI 12 days later near Philadelphia,[12] however Duke jumped bail and disappeared before trial.[13] The case became known as the Resistance Conspiracy Case.

Indictment, plea and sentencing[edit]

On May 12, 1988, the seven members of the group under arrest were indicted. The indictment described the goal of the conspiracy as being "to influence, change and protest policies and practices of the United States Government concerning various international and domestic matters through the use of violent and illegal means" and charged the seven with bombing the United States Capitol Building, three military installations in the Washington D.C. area, and four sites in New York City. The military sites bombed were the National War College at Fort McNair, the Washington Navy Yard Computer Center, and the Washington Navy Yard Officers Club. In New York City, the sites bombed were the Staten Island Federal Building, the Israeli Aircraft Industries Building, the South African consulate, and the offices of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.[14]

On September 6, 1990 The New York Times reported that Whitehorn, Evans and Buck had agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and destruction of Government property. Prosecutors agreed to drop bombing charges against Rosenberg, Blunk and Berkman, who were already serving long prison terms (Rosenberg and Blunk 58 years, Berkman 10) for possession of explosives and weapons. Whitehorn also agreed to plead guilty to fraud in the possession of false identification documents found by the FBI in the Baltimore apartment.[15]

At the December 6, 1990 sentencing of Whitehorn and Evans by Federal District Judge Harold H. Greene, in a courtroom packed with supporters, Whitehorn was sentenced to 20 years in prison and Evans to an additional five years after completing a 35-year sentence being served for illegally buying guns.[16] Buck was already serving 17 years on other convictions, and was later sentenced to a 50-year term for the Brinks holdup and other armed robberies.[15]

On August 6, 1999 Whitehorn was released on parole after serving just over 14 years.[2]

Years in prison[edit]

During the 14 years Whitehorn served in prison, she directed AIDS education and wrote numerous publications. When asked if her political work ended once she was in prison, she replied that it had consisted basically of three areas: being a political prisoner, organizing and being part of the struggles for justice inside the prisons, and being part of the fight against HIV and AIDS.[17]

Whitehorn lost many friends while she was in prison during some of the worst years of the AIDS epidemic.[2] While Whitehorn served time in a Federal women's prison at Lexington, Kentucky, her father, Nathaniel, "Tanny" Whitehorn died on January 3, 1992.[18] Whitehorn identifies many consequences of being behind bars for fourteen years, including losing someone you love. She notes that not being with them while they are dying, or being able to go to the memorial service afterwards, is just one way families are destroyed by prison.[2]

Life after prison[edit]

Since her release from prison in August 1999, Laura Whitehorn has been involved in a wide range of causes, including the release of political prisoners.[19] She has contributed writings and art work to numerous books and articles, and has been a guest speaker at several universities, including an official guest of the African American Studies Department at Duke University in 2003, where she was presented as a human rights activist by Duke faculty. A past Senior Editor with POZ Magazine in New York City, much of her writing has to do with supporting AIDS healthcare providers and empowering patients through publications. Whitehorn is a member of the NY State taskforce on political prisoners, a group dedicated to supporting New York State "political prisoners" from the black liberation movement and anti-imperialist solidarity movement.[20]

Laura Whitehorn appears in the documentary films, OUT: The Making of a Revolutionary, directed by Sonja DeVries,[21] and The Weather Underground, (2002), directed by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, which includes a cast of former Weather Underground Organization members; Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Brian Flanagan, David Gilbert, Naomi Jaffe, and Mark Rudd.[19]


  1. ^ La Manana, Izando. Hauling Up the Morning. Red Sea Press, Trenton, New Jersey. 1990. p.404.
  2. ^ a b c d e Day, Susan. Cruel but Not Unusual: The Punishment of Women in U.S. Prisons. An Interview with Marilyn Buck and Laura Whitehorn by Susan Day. NeoSlave Narratives: Prison Writing and Abolitionism. SUNY Press, 2004.
  3. ^ a b Whitehorn, Laura. (2007)
  4. ^ a b c d FBI Chicago Field Office. "Weather Underground Organization (Weatherman)". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 2007-12-03.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Berger, Dan. Outlaws of America. AK Press, Oakland, CA. 2006
  6. ^ McFadden, Robert D (1981-10-22). "'WEATHER' FUGITIVE IS SEIZED IN KILLINGS". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-11. Two members of the long-dormant Weather Underground terrorist group were identified yesterday as being among four captured suspects of a gang that killed an armored-car guard and two police officers in a robbery in Rockland County.
  7. ^ Serrie, Jonathan (2003-01-27). "Students 'Duke It Out' with Controversial Speaker". Fox News. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
  8. ^ a b Anarchist Black Cross Federation. "Laura Whitehorn". Anarchist Black Cross Federation. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
  9. ^ Women's School Records. Archives.
  10. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (1985-03-13). "F.B.I. ASSERTS FUGITIVES HAD A NETWORK OF 'SAFE HOUSES'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-04. The fugitive life of Marilyn Jean Buck and Linda Sue Evans was supported by a network of underground accomplices and safe houses in New York City, New Haven, Baltimore and other locales, Federal officials said yesterday.
  11. ^ "RADICALS FOUND GUILTY BY JURORS IN FEDERAL TRIAL". The New York Times. 1985-03-18. Retrieved 2007-12-04. A Federal jury today found two self-styled revolutionaries, Susan Lisa Rosenberg and Timothy Blunk, guilty of eight counts each of possessing explosives, weapons and fake identification cards.
  12. ^ Raab, Selwyn (1985-05-25). "NEW YORK DOCTOR HELD AS FUGITIVE IN BRINK'S CASE". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-04. A New York City physician, on the run for two years since his indictment for treating suspects in the Brink's robbery and killings in Rockland County, has been arrested, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced yesterday.
  13. ^ "Headliners: All the Way". The New York Times. 1991-06-16. Retrieved 2007-12-04. How far will Linda Backiel go to protect a client? How far is the jail? Ms. Backiel was a lawyer for Elizabeth Ann Duke, a self-described revolutionary who had been indicted on weapons and explosives charges, when Ms. Duke decided to forgo the rigors of a trial and jumped bail.
  14. ^ Shenon, Philip (1988-05-12). "U.S. Charges 7 In the Bombing At U.S. Capitol". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-01. Seven members of a group describing itself as a "Communist politico-military organization" were charged today with the 1983 bombing of the Capitol and attacks on several other buildings, including at least four in New York City, according to the Justice Department.
  15. ^ a b "3 Radicals Agree to Plead Guilty in Bombing Case". The New York Times. 1990-09-06. Retrieved 2007-12-04. Three radicals will plead guilty to setting off bombs at the nation's Capitol and seven other sites in the early 1980s. The Government has agreed to drop charges against three other people.
  16. ^ "Radical Gets 20-Year Term in 1983 Bombing of U.S. Capitol". The New York Times. 1990-12-08. Retrieved 2007-12-01. A left-wing radical received a 20-year sentence Thursday for bombing the Capitol and conspiring to set off seven other explosions that a prosecutor called acts of terrorism.
  17. ^ "Enemies of the State" (pamphlet). Enemies of the State: An Interview with Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoners: David Gilbert, Laura Whitehorn, Marilyn Buck. Toronto, Montreal: Arm the Spirit/Abraham Guillen Press. 2001.
  18. ^ "Nathaniel, "Tanny" Whitehorn". New York Times (newspaper). January 4, 1992. p. 27. |section= ignored (help)
  19. ^ a b Green, Sam & Siegel, Bill (2002). The Weather Underground (DVD)|format= requires |url= (help) (video). The Free History Project.
  20. ^ Whitehorn, Laura (1997). "Surviving Solitary". Retrieved 2007-12-02.
  21. ^ Sonja DeVries (2000). OUT: The Making of a Revolutionary (DVD)|format= requires |url= (help) (video). Third World Newsreel.


  • Women's School (Cambridge, Mass.) records. (1971–1992). Archives and Special Collections, Northeastern University Libraries.