William Ayers Stirs up Controversy in Fresno

FRESNO, Calif. William Ayers will speak at Fresno State Friday. He's a controversial figure because he led the Weather Underground, a radical group that set off bombs at the White House, the Pentagon and many other targets in the early 70's to protest the Vietnam War.

Nobody was hurt in those blasts, but Ayers radical past, and his more recent association with Barack Obama makes him a target of Tea Party protestors, who showed up at a Fresno Church where he spoke on a documentary film about the Weather Underground.

About 50 members of the Tea Party Movement came to protest Bill Ayers appearance in Fresno.

Mark Ratchford said, "I don't like what's going on. This man and Obama are friends and I don't like what they stand for. It's not American."

John Smedley said, "I'm fed up with all of this government takeover. And Bill Ayers is one of Obama's buddies, and I don't like it and he doesn't belong here and he can go home."

Inside, before members of Peace Fresno, Ayers got a warm welcome and said he didn't quite know why the Tea Party folks are mad at him. He said he shares their distrust of government.

William Ayers said, "I actually think there are many things we would agree on, including a skepticism of the government. Which I'm very skeptical of. I think I'm more skeptical of corporate America than they are, but nevertheless I think we probably share more than they imagine."

Ayers says his commitments are the same as they were 40-years ago. Just as he opposed Vietnam, he wants to see an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says he also works now for social and racial justice. He's discouraged that protestors who claim to support the constitution and the rights of free speech want to keep him quiet.

"Being invited to give a talk here in Fresno is in no way an endorsement of what I might say. It's an opportunity for a conversation. Conversation is good. A clash of ideas is good. Sharing of experiences is a good thing, and in a democracy if you don't have that then you don't have one of the basic pillars of a democratic life."

But, its' clear, when he speaks at Fresno State, more protestors will follow.

Shirley Gonsalves said, "I'm in protest of Bill Ayers being in Fresno. He's an avowed communist and I don't believe we need that type of person around here. He's going to be at the college tomorrow and indoctrinate some of our children. Bill Ayers can go home and stay home."

William Ayers is now and educator and a respected member of the Chicago community, where he got to know Obama, before he became president. Ayers speaks at college campuses on a regular basis. But after protests, the University of Wyoming recently cancelled an upcoming appearance. A lawsuit has been filed to allow him to speak there.

So far, his address at Fresno State is expected to go on as scheduled Friday afternoon.

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