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My Interview with a Terrorist
January 30, 2021
by William P. Meyers

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Red Army Fraction, Pershing Missiles

It was a different time, one hard to understand now. I never wrote anything for publication about the incident, my memory of it is fading, and I long ago lost my written notes. Because parts of it were as dramatic as a spy-thriller movie, those parts still stand out in my mind.

It was 1983, in the fall. I was in Hamburg, Germany, part of a group of Americans, the World Without Imperialism Contingent, mostly younger than myself. We were there to participate in the protests against placing American Pershing II and cruise missiles in bases in Ronald Reagan's escalation of hostilities with the Soviet Union. I was 33 years old and an aspiring writer and journalist. I was covering the protests for Northwest Passage, a Seattle alternative monthly paper, and the Revolutionary Worker, the mouthpiece for the Revolutionary Communist Party, or RCP. Neither paid. In fact, I had never been paid for my writing, and before this trip had seldom been published.

The interview had been arranged by the RCP. As instructed, I stood at a particular street corner of Hamburg late at night. A black sedan pulled up in front of me. A door swung open and a man said, "Get in, get in!" As I got into the back seat I saw he was masked. "I have to blindfold you," he said, holding out a blindfold. As he put it over my eyes the car was already accelerating.

I had already considered the situation I would be in. The Fraction was considered a terrorist organization by all Western governments, and they did have a reputation for violence (killing people, not breaking windows). The RCP had been around long enough that likely it had been infiltrated with police agents. I was supposed to be meeting with someone from the Red Army Fraction (often mistakenly "faction") also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Like the RCP the Fraction was well past its heyday, it was surprising that it still existed. And if it did exist, it might be infiltrated by the German police, or the KGB, or the CIA. And, of course, in the hotbed of suspicion that is the radical left, someone might think I was a police agent, and hence disposable.

I was strangely calm as the car sped this way and that through the streets of Hamburg. It felt like we were moving fast, turning fast, stopping fast. It seemed like a great deal of time passed. When the car finally stopped and I was ordered out, the blindfold stayed on. Someone, presumably the guy from inside the car, carefully patted me down. Then I was led by the elbow, heard a door close behind me, gently positioned, and told to sit in what I thought was a chair. But which turned out to be an old couch. Footsteps left, then footsteps approached. "Welcome, comrade," said a woman's voice with a slight German accent. She pulled off the blindfold.

I said something bland, possibly used the comrade word. There was an ordinary, old, low coffee table in front of me, with a ashtray, complete with ashes. I realized the room smelled of tobacco smoke as I took in the woman. I will not describe her except to say she looked pretty ordinary, an any-German woman, aged between 30 and 40, like you might see in the street. She was dressed in ordinary clothes, nothing that would say radical. Her arms were bare. I was dressed for the outside cold, not the room, but left my jacket on, most likely.

I wish I could remember our specific dialog, though it might bore readers, or appear to be a parody. She spoke good English, but largely in Marxist jargon. At that time most of the Leninist and Marxist-influenced groups used a vocabulary and style of argument that we would now call inside a bubble. In any case we talked about the protests, the newly formed Green Party that she (and the RCP) characterized as petty-bourgeoisie, and other class elements within Germany, including the immigrant Kurd and Turkish workers. We also talked about the anarchists and the Autonomen movement, which was huge in Germany at that time. She did not have a specific message for the RCP, but she did ask me what I personally thought of their lines (positions).

At some point she thanked me and said she had to blindfold me again. I got up from the sofa, turned around so she could do the blindfold. This time she walked me to the door, where someone else, presumably my original escort, took me back to the car. Then it was back to a zig-zag path that eventually brought me to my origination point. It was about 2 AM.

My RCP contact then made me repeat what I could remember of our conversation. The next day, after sleeping, I took some notes with the intention of writing an article for the Revolutionary Worker. However, I was told they did not want the article, nor should I write about the interview for Northwest Passage (which probably would have rejected it as problematic). And of course, back then admitting to talking to a Red Army Fraction member, even as a journalist, could get you into a lot of trouble with American security agencies.

My best guess, my analysis, is that this strange event was a feeler about cooperation between the RCP and the RAF. Both organizations had been steadily losing members. The RAF never had many to begin with because it was formed as a fighting organization, which tends to scare people off. In the mid 1980s rival groups began to merge. In 1985, in Seattle, there were perhaps 10 Trotskyist groups, 2 Maoist, 4 Stalinist, plus some odd groups claiming the Tito or Albanian or whatnot brand. They had all been much larger back in 1970. Then, with the Vietnam War going badly and the Soviet Union and China fomenting revolution in former British, French, and American colonies, various forms of Leninism seemed to offer a sensible path forward, even in the United States. After the military draft and war ended, most of the radicals of the 1960s found other things to do. So in the 1980s groups were looking to merge or form broader coalitions.

In the bubble there is always hope. The protests against the new American missiles gave new hope to the most radical Germans in the mid 1980s. Even in the U.S., even as the tide went out on Leninism and Marxism, there were occasional waves, usually around particular issues like the situation in El Salvador or some injustice nearer home.

The RAF dissolved in 1998. The Revolutionary Communist Party, U.S.A., still exist, at least on paper, or at least as a web site. I wrote an expose of the RCP in another leftist paper, Ideas & Action, in the late 1980s. But no point kicking a dead horse today.

Peace and Solidarity.

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