A pensive tale of the Old Left and the New, and of the political and personal struggles that shaped four generations of Americans.
Newsday reporter Jones was four when the FBI hauled his father, Jeff Jones, off to jail The reason? A fire inspector had seen pot plants growing near a window. But for the feds, drugs were secondary: Jones had been a fugitive for a decade, wanted for his role in the political violence of the Weather Underground. Thai Jones has gone by many pseudonyms, like River Phoenix’s character in the movie Running on Empty, which might as well have been made about the lives of his family—parents born into middle-class comfort turned armed revolutionaries, grandparents and great-grandparents who had variously learned their politics in the shtetl or on the Kansas prairies or in the Garment District. Thai traces these strands through the Depression—when, he writes of his grandmother Annie Stein, “There was a wide range of political opinion available: one could be a Socialist or a Communist”—and into the days of the Red Scare, when Annie’s husband refused to name names before HUAC. (Jones cites the FBI dossier on his grandfather’s crimes: In a six-year period, he had illegally parked, had a burned-out headlight, and run a stop sign, total fines: $10.) The narrative gathers power when Jones brings it into the time of his parents, who found each other at the end of a tormented path. Formerly a California surfer type, Jeff had become one of the leaders of the SDS splinter group that would become known as the Weathermen; its path turned ever more violent after the police murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Chicago, but the Weathermen swore off attacks on civilians just about the time they went on the run. “No middle-class white American was educated for a career in constructing and operating an underground network for the purpose of overthrowing the government,” Jones writes, but his parents were willing students.
One of the best forays into the Days of Rage—event, prequel, and sequel—to have appeared in years.