(CNN) — Anti-Vietnam War activist William Ayers spoke out for the first time Friday, calling the Republican effort to tie him to President-elect Barack Obama during the election campaign a “dishonest narrative” with the intent of “demonizing” Ayers.
William Ayers spoke to ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday.
Republicans pushed Democrat Obama’s “association” with Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground, which bombed the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol and other targets in the early 1970s.
Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin repeatedly accused Obama, who met Ayers in 1995 when the former 1960s radical was a professor at the University of Chicago, of “palling around with terrorists.” Sen. John McCain frequently called on Obama to “come clean” about his relationship with the “unrepentant terrorist.”
But in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Ayers told anchor Chris Cuomo that he doesn’t know Obama any better than “thousands of other Chicagoans” and that “a secret link” between the two men is a “myth.”
“I became an issue unwittingly and unwillingly in the campaign, and I decided that I didn’t want to answer any of it at that moment because it was such a profoundly dishonest narrative,” Ayers said.
Asked about the issue in his final debate with McCain, Obama, who was 8 years old at the time of the Weather Underground bombings, said he has “roundly condemned those acts.”
“Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign, he has never been involved in this campaign, and he will not advise me in the White House,” he said.
During the campaign, Republicans zeroed in on Ayers’ 2001 quote, “I don’t regret setting bombs; I feel we didn’t do enough” to stop the Vietnam War, and accused Obama of launching his political career in Ayers’ living room — at a 1995 coffee gathering as he began his campaign for the Illinois state Senate.
“I don’t think we did enough,” he added, “just as today, I don’t think we’ve done enough to stop these wars, and I think we must all recognize the injustice of it and do more.”
Since the coffee meeting, Ayers and Obama served together on the boards of the Woods Fund of Chicago and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Ayers said the relationship was never more than civic-minded and professional.
“This idea that we need to know more, like there’s a dark hidden secret, a secret link, is just a myth,” Ayers said. “And it’s a myth thrown up by people who kind of wanted to exploit the politics of fear, and I think it’s a great credit to the American people that those politics were rejected.”
On Wednesday, Palin told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Obama’s relationship with Ayers is “an association that still bothers me.”
“I still am concerned about that association with Bill Ayers,” Palin said. “And if anybody still wants to talk about it, I will, because this is an unrepentant domestic terrorist who had campaigned to blow up, to destroy our Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol.”
“I don’t buy the idea that guilt by association should be any part of our politics,” Ayers said Friday. “And the interesting thing is ,as much as this was created as an issue in the campaign, it appears for most people it was — it had no traction; it had no meaning.”
Ayers turned himself in to federal authorities in 1980 to face charges of inciting to riot and conspiring to bomb government buildings, but charges against him were dropped.
The Weather Underground bomb at the Pentagon went off in a women’s restroom on the Air Force wing, causing extensive flooding that destroyed some classified computer tapes. The Capitol bomb was set in a men’s restroom and caused about $100,000 in damage.
Both bombs were preceded by warnings that they would take place and caused no injuries or deaths, as was the case with about 20 other bombings for which the group claimed responsibility.
Three Weather Underground members were killed in 1970, however, when the bomb they were building exploded prematurely.