October 5th, 2008
09:00 AM ET
2 years ago

Fact Check: Is Obama 'palling around with terrorists'?

Gov. Palin commented about Sen. Obama and William Ayers at a rally in Carson, California Saturday.
Gov. Palin commented about Sen. Obama and William Ayers at a rally in Carson, California Saturday.

The Statement: Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin said Saturday, October 4, that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is "someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country."

Watch: Is Obama a terrorist's pal?

Get the facts!

The Facts: In making the charge at a fund-raising event in Englewood, Colorado, and a rally in Carson, California, Palin was referring at least in part to William Ayers, a 1960s radical. In both appearances, Palin cited a front-page article in Saturday's New York Times detailing the working relationship between Obama and Ayers.

In the 1960s, Ayers was a founding member of the radical Weather Underground group that carried out a string of bombings of federal buildings, including the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol, in protest against the Vietnam War. The now-defunct group was labeled a "domestic terrorist group" by the FBI, and Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn - also a Weather Underground member - spent 10 years as fugitives in the 1970s. Federal charges against them were dropped due to FBI misconduct in gathering evidence against them, and they resurfaced in 1980. Both Ayers and Dohrn ultimately became university professors in Chicago, with Ayers, 63, now an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Obama's Chicago home is in the same neighborhood where Ayers and Dohrn live. Beginning in 1995, Ayers and Obama worked with the non-profit Chicago Annenberg Challenge on a huge school improvement project. The Annenberg Challenge was for cities to compete for $50 million grants to improve public education. Ayers fought to bring the grant to Chicago, and Obama was recruited onto the board. Also from 1999 through 2001 both were board members on the Woods Fund, a charitable foundation that gave money to various causes, including the Trinity United Church that Obama attended and Northwestern University Law Schools' Children and Family Justice Center, where Dohrn worked.

CNN's review of project records found nothing to suggest anything inappropriate in the volunteer projects in which the two men were involved.

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told CNN that after meeting Obama through the Annenberg project, Ayers hosted a campaign event for him that same year when then-Illinois state Sen. Alice Palmer, who planned to run for Congress, introduced the young community organizer as her chosen successor. LaBolt also said the two have not spoken by phone or exchanged e-mail messages since Obama came to the U.S. Senate in 2005 and last met more than a year ago when they encountered each other on the street in their Hyde Park neighborhood.

The extent of Obama's relationship with Ayers came up during the Democratic presidential primaries earlier this year, and Obama explained it by saying, "This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood ... the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago - when I was 8 years old - somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense."

The McCain campaign did not respond Saturday to a request for elaboration on Palin's use of the plural "terrorists."

Verdict: False. There is no indication that Ayers and Obama are now "palling around," or that they have had an ongoing relationship in the past three years. Also, there is nothing to suggest that Ayers is now involved in terrorist activity or that other Obama associates are.


Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Fact Check • Sarah Palin
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