In 2004, former Hollywood heartthrob Robert Redford executive-produced The Motorcycle Diaries a cinematic love letter to the young Ché Guevara. In 2007 he directed the talky anti-war bore Lions for Lambs, starring himself as an activist professor who is appalled when two of his students enlist and fight in Afghanistan instead of protesting our involvement here at home. The 2010 movie The Conspirator was Redford’s thinly-veiled attack on Bush’s war on terror posing as a docudrama about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Now Redford sets the sights of his cinematic activism on idealizing the domestic terrorists of the Weather Underground.
Redford, founder of the Sundance Institute, and a progressive activist with connections to the leftist puppetmaster George Soros, produced and directed the new film The Company You Keep from a screenplay adapted from a 2004 novel by Neil Gordon. In addition, Redford also stars in the movie as an attorney whose former identity as a Weatherman radical is exposed by a pushy journalist hungry for a career-launching story. Still wanted thirty years later for a deadly bank robbery in his militant past, Redford goes on the run to prove his innocence by finding the real shooter and convincing her to give herself up.
Along the way he reaches out to old comrades, fugitives like himself who have also created new identities and lives for themselves, like the professor who teaches Marx and anti-colonialist Frantz Fanon in his popular class. They are all – including the two women (played by Julie Christie and – surprise! – Code Pink ally Susan Sarandon) who are the most unrepentantly violent of the gang – painted as idealists who simply got carried away in their resistance to the United States government, which they believed was committing genocide abroad and murderous suppression of dissent at home. “We made mistakes, but we were right,” a smug Sarandon’s character tells the journalist.
That quote could sum up the theme of the movie. The Company You Keep pays lip service to rejecting the movement’s violent excesses; for example, when the journalist himself begins to display an empathy with the radicals after listening to Sarandon’s moral pontification, an FBI agent warns him, “Terrorists justify terrorism. Don’t get confused here.” But at the same time the movie absolves those who participated in that violence – and who would do it all over again – by minimizing it as passionate excess. “People make mistakes,” says Redford’s character, who is clearly the voice of moral authority in the film. Of course people make mistakes – this is the most facile truism of all time. But most people know better than to set off bombs to kill innocent people, which is not simply a bad choice or youthful indiscretion – it’s terrorism, and those who try to absolve them of it are terrorist sympathizers.
Redford’s sympathy for the domestic terrorists shows throughout the movie. His character tells the young journalist, “A smart guy like you? Thirty years ago you would’ve been part of the movement.” Right, because smart, idealistic, capable people naturally drift toward radical, anti-American violence. The murderer played by Julie Christie is depicted as a passionate idealist whose principles never flagged even after all these decades on the run. When Redford’s character urges her to turn herself in, she responds defiantly, “I’ll turn myself in when the politicians and corporations turn themselves in for all they’ve done.” Spoken like a true member of Occupy Wall Street.
Redford’s co-producer on the project, Nicolas Chartier, described The Company You Keep as “an edge-of-your-seat thriller about real Americans who stood for their beliefs, thinking they were patriots and defending their country’s ideals against their government.”
Real Americans who stood for their beliefs? Patriots? The Weather Underground never considered themselves patriots. They penned a Declaration of a State of War against America – or as they spelled it, AmeriKKKa. They advocated the overthrow of capitalism. They aspired to take over the U.S. government, establish re-education camps for their opponents, and were prepared to kill as many as 25 million “diehard capitalists” who were incapable of being reformed. They sought to launch a race war. They weren’t “defending their country’s ideals” – they were seeking to eradicate them.
As The Blaze notes, some of the terrorist group’s most prominent members remain belligerent and unrepentant to this day, including its co-founder Bernadine Dohrn, who calls the American government “the real terrorist” in this interview from November 2010. Her husband, Weather Underground co-founder and President Obama’s old friend Bill Ayers, now a radical academic like his wife, still has not denounced the group’s violence. “I don’t regret setting bombs,” he famously said in 2001. “I feel we didn’t do enough.”
Despite this, they are now considered influential and respected members of the academic community, which speaks volumes about the ideological slant of our institutions of higher learning. Ron Radosh points out in his piece about the movie that Weatherman Kathy Boudin — who served 22 years for her role as the getaway driver in a deadly 1981 Brinks robbery — was recently made adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and also appointed a scholar-in-residence at New York University. Radosh quotes David Horowitz as pointing out that Boudin, on whom Susan Sarandon’s character is obviously based, is a “murderess who betted the cold-blooded massacre of three law-enforcement officers, including the first African-American on the Nyack police force; a woman whose actions left nine children fatherless and who has shown no genuine remorse for that.”
Robert Redford knows that today’s young generations learn about history, when they learn about it at all, from either Howard Zinn or Hollywood. The progressive propaganda that runs through movies like The Company You Keep shapes their perspective on the past. Considering that the movie has earned barely half a million dollars in its first two weekends, it’s not shaping that perspective for very many people – so far. But it will live on, on DVD and television, and perhaps be recommended in classrooms, further rehabilitating the reputations of unrepentant killers.
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