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Judith Clark: How Ideology Can Ruin a Life

Ronald Radosh

The incredible story by Tom Robbins about Judith Clark that appears in today’s New York Times“ — an advance posting of a feature in their coming Sunday Magazine — tells the story of Clark, one of the four arrested on Oct. 20, 1981, after a failed attempt to rob a Brink’s truck in a shopping mall in Nanuet, New York. The action led to the murder of one black and one white police officer, in what Robbins correctly calls “one of the last spams of ’60s-style, left-wing violence.”

Clark was part of an offspring of the Weather Underground that they called the Republic of New Afrika, a non-existent utopia that Robbins writes “existed mainly in their fevered dreams.” She was part of those young people whom Peter Collier and David Horowitz termed the “destructive generation,” the movement of those who had turned against everything America had given them, and proceeded to ruin their lives trying to build a revolutionary movement that would bring the United States down as they rebuilt their native land along a Stalinist-Maoist model.

Clark had grown up in a Communist household. Her late father was Joe Clark, once the foreign editor of the Communist paper The Daily Worker. After the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, Clark joined with his colleague Joe Starobin and the paper’s editor John Gates in an effort to move the Communist Party towards a new anti-Soviet position. Within a few years, all had left its ranks.

I knew all three fairly well. They had evolved to advocates of social-democracy and had become firm anti-Communists of the Left, who ended up as Clark did on the editorial board of Dissent magazine. I never met Judy Clark, but her infant daughter — whom she left with a sitter as she went off to perform her duty for the revolution — attended P.S. 87 on W. 78th Street in New York City, the same public school my son Michael attended in which she was in the same grade.

What is amazing about the profile of Clark is that unlike other leftist terrorists inexplicably freed by President Bill Clinton in the amnesty he granted to Silvia Baraldini in 1999 and to Susan Rosenberg in 2001 — one of the last acts carried out before he left office — Clark acknowledges thoroughly and honestly the depth of the crime she committed. Those Clinton pardoned, including the Puerto Rican terrorists who had tried to kill Harry S. Truman, have never said anything to indicate any regrets for their crimes.

Journalist Robbins’ article is a powerful example of the effect that ideology can have on young people, who in effect give up all that God has granted them in an American life to serve the dictates of the warped revolutionary ideals they believe in. After years of acting like a hardened revolutionary who spouted rhetoric in an attempt to prove her fidelity to the cause to her comrades — a woman who could condemn Vietnam War vets she spoke with for would-be murder of our enemies in wartime, and yet sanction the blood-curdling murder of police officers with young families by her own comrades — Clark was a model of a deluded young person consumed by ideology.

Judy Clark believed for a time that she was “the keeper of the flame that flickered out in her parents’ lives” instead of realizing that perhaps her parents had something vital to teach her about disillusionment, and hence believed that “anything less than total commitment to the cause was betrayal.” What shattered the core of her belief system was her daughter, whose existence slowly led her to realize that she had to abandon her loyalties to become anything of a mother.

Clark did not kill anyone herself; she was driving what was supposed to be a getaway car for her comrades. Her comrade Kathy Boudin pleaded guilty and got 20 years to life, and was paroled in 2003. Clark refused to follow Boudin’s path, and hence received the harshest sentence possible, although Boudin was as guilty if not more so than Clark. Eventually, a sociologist visiting the prison made her comprehend that she did everything she suffered to herself, and that she had no right to cry for her own daughter “and not see that the children of the men who were killed cried the same way for their fathers.”

No longer using her radicalism to “avoid confronting her own doubts” and walling herself off in “the safety of doctrine,” she acknowledged that what she believed was crazy. As Clark told Robbins: “I’ve experienced so much loss, and created so much loss, for the sake of an illusion.“ (My emphasis.) She eventually found her once-neglected Judaism and attended Jewish services. After her father died of a heart attack in 1988, she spent Yom Kippur “alone, walking and thinking about the crime and about my father.” She also said aloud the names of those who had been killed by her comrades, and realized that “there were nine children who were a lot younger than me grieving for their fathers. And I was responsible for that. There was the human toll. It was a terrible truth, but it was my truth.”

Clark, to put it starkly, is the opposite of those like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who to this day revel in their revolutionary ideology, and have never seen fit to apologize for anything they and their movement wrought. Clark’s sentence stemmed most not from her crime — since she herself did not kill anyone — but from her arrogant pantomime of a revolutionary that she played in court.

The parole board has received hundreds of letters asking that she now be pardoned. As one of her lawyers argued, clients who committed brutal murders received sentences of 25 years to life and some are now even free. Clark received 75 years to life, and is not eligible for parole until 2056, by which time she will no longer be alive. Among those favoring her release are the former warden of the prison in which Clark resides. Elaine Lord, the prison superintendent, told Robbins that “she is not the person who was involved in that crime.” Lord called her “one of the most perceptive, thoughtful, helpful, and profound human beings that I have ever known.” Robert Dennison, state parole board chairman during the governorship of George Pataki and a member of the Conservative Party in New York State, called her “the most worthy candidate for clemency that I’ve ever seen.”

The relatives of the dead police officers are not so forgiving. Any governor contemplating releasing Clark would have their wrath, and they are, as one would suspect, skeptical that she has been rehabilitated. They see Clark’s stance as phony, a staged play meant to get a groundswell of support for her release.

Robbins, who says he too was skeptical that Clark had changed at first, now too has “come to see her differently.” Inmates he interviewed told him how she had helped them, and he too thinks in prison she learned who she was.

My friend David Horowitz, whom I talked with on the phone after he read the article, also thinks she has not really changed. Horowitz points out that as part of the May 19 Communist Organization, a breakaway splinter from the Weather Underground at an earlier period in the 1970s, Clark and her comrades backed the actions of the so-called Black Liberation Army that engaged in the murder of two black and white police teams who had been honored in the black community in Oakland, California.

Horowitz’s point, which is solid, is that Clark may well know who did what in various attempted assassinations and bombings that her comrades engaged in during the late 60s and early 70s that to date no one from the Weather Underground milieu has owned up to — aside from the snide bragging engaged in by Bill Ayers in his memoir, in which he acknowledges that he is guilty as sin and yet “free as a bird.” Does, in fact, Clark know anything at all about what her comrades in past “revolutionary” ventures actually did? What bombings were they responsible for? Who pulled the triggers that killed the cops murdered by the BLA, and supported by the May 19th group?

Remember that of all the defendants arrested after the Brinks job, Clark was the single most radical and rhetoric filled of all of them. The rest of them, like Boudin, were wise enough to take legal help and get out early, despite their own guilt. A true revolutionary knows that one can lie for the cause, and using the legal system one wants to overturn is one tactic available so they can play the system they despise and even be released without any repentance at all. True, Boudin helped AIDS victims in prison. That is not exactly rectitude for acts of murder.

Yet, unlike her cohort David Gilbert — the father of Boudin’s child who was raised by Ayers and Dohrn — Clark has shown repentance. Gilbert still plays the revolutionary, and unlike her, seems willing to live his entire life in prison in service to the Communist revolution he still believes in.

So after reading Robbins’ article, decide what you think. I come down on the side of leniency. We must have a different standard than those whose politics we abhor, and acknowledge that sometimes prison can result in rehabilitation and remorse, even for the horrible crime in which Clark took part. In my eyes, she has served her time for the crime of which she was guilty, and deserves the few years left to spend with her daughter out of the limelight and out of prison. I would feel differently if Clark herself had pulled the trigger, although by her silence, she helped those who did.

Nothing will bring back the lives of those who were murdered, and who served the community of Nanuet with valor and love. I understand the feelings of vengeance that motivate their children, colleagues, and offspring. But at times, compassion too has to be considered. Clark has taken steps that her other comrades have never taken. She could go further, and should be urged to do so. It is not “informing” to bring to justice those who too may have got away with murder, and about whose actions she may have some knowledge. Perhaps Judith Clark should consider making clear what, if anything, she has to offer about knowledge of such past actions her old comrades have to date got away with.

Still, I think she has served enough time. She is no longer a threat to anyone, and is not by any mark any kind of a revolutionary or a leftist. I understand those who differ with my judgment, but I opt on the side of release.

Update:
David Horowitz is posting his own response at Frontpagemag.com. I reprint it below:

The NYT Times Shilling for Leftwing Murderers Again
The New York Times which played a key role in getting convicted and unrepentant murderer Kathy Boudin a parole has now published a similar massive plea posing as a news story for her accomplice Judy Clark. The piece is maliciously titled “The Radical Transformation of Judy Clark” as though Clark, understanding the heinous nature of her crime which left 9 children fatherless, is prepared to renounce the life that led to it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course Clark is in her sixties now and regrets her separation from the infant she abandoned to commit the crime (her last crime not her only crime). Her daughter is now 31 and she would obviously like to be able to share the kind of life with her that her victims cannot share with their dead fathers. And, of course, being old and gray she no longer thinks Amerikkka is on the brink of a violent revolution and liberation. Unlike Boudin, moreover, she does seem to have given some thought to the enormity of what she did to those nine fatherless children. But that said, there is no indication that her parole plea is anything but self-serving, or that she has turned her back on the progressive terrorists — Boudin, Bill Ayers, and Bernadine Dohrn among them — who were her comrades-in-arms through the twelve years of armed warfare she conducted against her country and its citizens, which left more than a handful of people dead.

To begin with, Clark and her mouthpiece at the Times, present the culprit as an absent-minded accomplice to the one crime for which she was convicted, the Brinks robbery in Nyack NY in 1981. According to Clark, her participation was an “obligation” — the fulfillment of a promise she had made to participate as a getaway driver in a robbery she thought would never take place. This is baloney. Clark was part of a group that called itself “The Family,” which was a working alliance between the Black Liberation Army and the May 19th Communist Movement (so-named in part to commemorate the day the BLA murdered a black and white police team in New York for no reason other than that they were a black and white officer working together).

The May 19 gang was mainly women (among them Boudin, Clark, and Susan Rosenberg) who served as the getaway team for the BLA in a string of bank robberies in which people were killed. One attempted assassination of a New York judge was unsuccessful. All these crimes were committed in the name of the revolution, which in the perverse eyes of progressives like Judy Clark, justified them. The Family had also sprung a cold blooded killer — Assata Shakur — from federal prison. Clark’s role in the May 19th organization was not the beginning of her criminal career but its fulfillment. Previously she had spent seven years as one of the most fanatical members of the Weather Underground, helping to conduct many bombings and kill at least three people, and probably also two police officers whose deaths are still under investigation.

A guilty person who understands their guilt and has genuine remorse begins by accepting responsiblity for what they did and for all they did — and not pretending (as Clark does in this article) that they became radical only after they were arrested as a result of guilt for not having been revolutionary enough. Or that their participation in the one crime they were apprehended for was actually the result of inattention or some other excusable offense.

Far more important, a truly remorseful terrorist will feel obligated to turn his back on his fellow terrorists and their supporters and do the innocent a service by revealing what they know, and who their networks are, and what they actually did — not just what they got caught doing. This kind of truth-telling is an authentic form of atonement and would protect others — and particularly young radicals just starting out who may become involved in criminal ventures just as Clark did when she was young and the tragedies she caused were still in front of her.

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