The Weathermen turned to violence largely in opposition to the Vietnam War and out of their desire to help militant blacks like the Black Panthers. These commitments lent an immediacy to their violence, irrespective of the group’s larger revolutionary ambitions. With its bombings of military and police targets, Weatherman was able to provide at least moral and political censure of the war in Vietnam and the state’s assaults on people of color in the United States. The group, in short, could moderate its approach to, and eventually withdraw from, violence with some sense of accomplishment. Former members typically concede that violence failed miserably as a revolutionary tactic but defend its integrity and limited utility as a response to the Vietnam War and to institutional racism. Issues of identity contributed to the group’s restraint in another sense.
Weatherman’s desire to match the sacrifices of blacks and Vietnamese fueled the group’s initial belief in the singular value of violence. Weatherman’s violence, in this aspect, was a volatile and often vexed effort of members of the white middle class to confront and somehow renounce their structural privilege. In the mid 1970s, the Weathermen broadened their conception of revolutionary politics and reassessed what kind of practice would be most beneficial, given their backgrounds. Chiefly, they recognized the need to organize other whites, for which nonlethal violence and the distribution of conventional propaganda was a more promising approach than a literal guerrilla war. By the time the group asserted the need to build a mass movement, it was far too small and too isolated to play a leading role on the left. Nonetheless, by revising their sense of mission, the Weathermen avoided mistaking themselves for the causes they meant to serve.