Ayers grew up in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago in a highly privileged family (his father, Thomas Ayers, was Chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison) and attended Lake Forest Academy. According to Ayers' memoir Fugitive Days, he became radicalized at the University of Michigan. During his years there, he became involved in the New Left and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
Ayers went underground with several comrades after their co-conspirators' bomb accidentally exploded on March 6, 1970, destroying a Greenwich Village townhouse and killing three members of the Weather Underground (Ted Gold, Terry Robbins, and Diana Oughton, who was Ayers' girlfriend at the time). He and his colleagues invented identities and traveled continuously. They avoided the police and FBI, while bombing high-profile government buildings including the United States Capitol, The Pentagon, and the Harry S Truman Building housing the State Department. Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn raised two children, Zayd and Malik, underground before turning themselves in in 1981, when most charges were dropped because prosecutorial misconduct during the long search for the fugitives. They also adopted a son, Chesa Boudin, who is the biological son of former Weathermen David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin.
Ayers published his memoirs in 2001 with the book Fugitive Days. In his book he boasts that he "participated in the bombings of New York City Police Headquarters in 1970, of the Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972." His interview with the New York Times to promote his book was published on September 11, 2001, and includes his reaction to Emile De Antonio's 1976 documentary film about the Weathermen: "He was 'embarrassed by the arrogance, the solipsism, the absolute certainty that we and we alone knew the way,' he writes. 'The rigidity and the narcissism.'" In this interview, he also was quoted as saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."
"Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's really at."
During the 2008 presidential election season a relationship was uncovered between Senator Barack Obama and Ayers. They served together for three years on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago; and, in 1995, Senator Obama attended a political event at the home of Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. Ayers had given Obama a $200 donation for his political campaign for state senator in Illinois.
"People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both."