On Aug. 30, 2014, MSNBC anchor Alex Wagner and former White House chef Sam Kass got married at a private wedding north of New York City. It was widely reported at the time that President Obama, a longtime friend of the groom, attended the ceremony with his family. There were two other notable guests, however, whose attendance has been successfully kept secret: Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, the former campus radicals whose loose association with the Obama family over the years has inspired countless Fox News fever-dreams and led to Sarah Palin’s famous accusation that Obama “pal[s] around with terrorists.”
We recently heard that Ayers and Dohrn, both former leaders of the Weather Underground, the militant left-wing group best known for bombing empty government buildings in the 1970s, were also present for the Wagner-Kass celebration at the Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant and event space in Pocantico Hills, New York.
While the fact that Obama was literally partying with former advocates of violent struggle against the U.S. government will no doubt be taken by his critics as further evidence that he hates America, the most interesting thing about the wedding is the shocking proof it offers that—at long last!—Obama truly no longer gives a fuck about keeping up political appearances. It’s unthinkable that the Obama of the 2008 or 2012 campaigns would have been permitted to go anywhere near Ayers or Dohrn, for fear of fueling the unhinged right-wing narrative that he is a radical leftist.
Ayers and Dohrn were likely invited due to their connection to Kass. Though the nature of their relationship with him is unclear, Kass resided for several years in Chicago, where Ayers and Dohrn live, and appear to have close mutual friends. In 2012, for example, the trio attended the same 22-guest wedding at a San Francisco art gallery.
It is difficult to say much beyond that, however, because the principals have refused to comment on the event, refusing repeated opportunities to deny that Ayers and Dohrn were present. Ayers, Dohrn, Kass, and Wagner did not acknowledge multiple requests for comment. The White House and MSNBC were similarly reticent. “It was a private event and we are not going to comment any further,” an MSNBC spokesperson told Gawker via email. White House spokesperson Jennifer Friedman declined to comment, citing the fact that the wedding was a private event—but the White House has commented on private events in the past, to the point of confirming the presence of certain guests.
Ayers and Dohrn, who are 70 and 73, were linked to dozens of bombings of evacuated buildings belonging to the U.S. government and financial institutions, and helped design much of the Weathermen’s philosophical framework. The pair went into hiding between 1970 and 1980 after a bomb—allegedly prepared to maim Army soldiers at New Jersey’s Fort Dix—prematurely detonated in the basement of a Greenwich Village townhouse used by Weathermen to stage guerrilla attacks. Neither were ever charged for their involvement in any specific Weathermen bombing, but Dohrn—who spent three years on the FBI’s Most Wanted list—eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated battery. Ayers went on to become a well-known scholar of education, and Dohrn became a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law and co-founded the school’s Children and Family Justice Center.
Obama has played down his association with the couple since 2008, when a variety of critics in both the Republican and Democratic camps began suggesting that he had formed his beliefs in the mold of Ayers’s revolutionary politics. This accusation arose from the fact that Obama and Ayers lived in the same neighborhood, Chicago’s Hyde Park, for a period of time in the 1990s. The two men and Dohrn attended the same parties, and had some of the same friends, but otherwise did not develop a close friendship.
Still, Obama’s first presidential campaign was forced to “condemn” the Weathermen—and, by extension, Ayers and Dohrn—after Ben Smith, then at Politico and now the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, reported that Obama had launched his 1995 campaign for the Illinois State Senate at the couple’s home in Hyde Park, with the grace of their mutual friend and outgoing state senator Alice Palmer, who named Obama as her successor at the gathering.
“Obama’s relationship with Ayers is an especially vivid milepost on his rise, in record time, from a local official who unabashedly reflected a very liberal district to the leader of national movement based largely on the claim that he can transcend ideological divides,” Smith wrote.
The implication that Obama was influenced by the architects of the Weather Underground remains absurd. The group was formed in 1969 in response to the American invasion of other countries, particularly Vietnam, based on the Leninist conviction that the struggle between the world’s major imperial powers and the people who labored under their domination would inevitably catalyze a global Communist revolution. Needless to say, a sober evaluation of Obama’s political career indicates little, if any, of Ayers’s or Dohrn’s alleged influence.
Indeed, in 2013, Ayers argued that every U.S. president should be prosecuted for war crimes—in Obama’s case for his wanton use of drone strikes in the Middle East. Early into Obama’s first term, Dohrn said that the “the real terrorist is the American government.”
Due perhaps to the prominent profile of the bride and groom, the Wagner-Kass ceremony was unusually secretive; with the exception of the president and his family, and now Ayers and Dohrn, the identities of the other attendees remain unknown. There are no publicly available photos of the event, nor were we able to locate a single post on social media—including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram—that was published by an attendee. Because of this we can’t say with certainty whether Obama danced, conversed, or even interacted with either Ayers or Dohrn at the wedding, which could have had a maximum of 260 guests, to judge by the Stone Barns’ capacity.
While the Obama White House obviously no longer cares about serving up softballs to the Drudge set—indeed, the decision to party with Ayers borders on active trolling—his Secret Service may have taken a different view. According to the Washington Post, the agency typically bars “people with...arrests or convictions for assault and related offenses or any history of mental illness...from having any access to the president.” Even though Dohrn can hardly be regarded as presenting a threat to anyone these days, her conviction for aggravated battery—reportedly related to an attack on a police officer at a Chicago protest in 1969—is the sort of history that the president’s protectors would normally take an interest in. The Secret Service declined to answer questions about the wedding.
Of course, the people taking the biggest risk in showing up at the wedding were Dohrn and Ayers, who have now been revealed as willing to briefly set aside their anti-war principles so they could hang out with someone they regard as a war criminal.
Top image by Jim Cooke, source photos via AP and Getty