The group started out as a nonviolent collective called Students for a Democratic Society, but several members splintered off and became the Weathermen. Spearheaded by Dohrn and vowing to "bring the war home," the Weathermen first took to the streets of Chicago in a 1969 demonstration known as "the Days of Rage," smashing storefront windows in an upscale shopping district as an emblematic middle finger to the bourgeoisie. Through archival newspaper clippings, photographs, film footage, audio, FBI documents, and recent interviews with former members, the film chronicles the group's efforts to kick-start a revolution. When student protests began to wane in the early '70s, the Weathermen went underground and changed their strategy from vocal and physical protest to an all-out terrorist campaign against American injustice.
The Weather Underground became a name that buzzed around the counterculture with a mixture of curiosity and fear. Its followers managed to pull off the bombing of police headquarters in New York City and the U.S. Capitol mailroom. But their most notable stunt came in 1970, when they helped LSD guru Timothy Leary escape from prison and flee the country with a forged passport. For years, the members of the Underground eluded capture (after Dohrn and her husband, Bill Ayers, turned themselves in in 1980, charges were dropped on technicalities). As righteous as their efforts might have seemed at the time, they faced criticism from the left and the right. Many felt that the Weathermen bombings were just an extension of the bloodlust of Vietnam. Interviews with Dohrn, Ayers, and Flanagan, as well as ex-members Mark Rudd, David Gilbert, Laura Whitehorn, and Naomi Jaffe, show the erstwhile terrorists as respected middle-aged teachers, lawyers, professors, and authors residing in affluent suburbs, giving Dohrn's taped 1969 message that "freaks are revolutionaries and revolutionaries are freaks" an odd echo.