August 25, 2003
New Book Explores a Radical Mind
ore than 10 years ago, Jean Boudin suggested that her friend Susan Braudy, a journalist and author, write a book about her daughter, Kathy Boudin, who was serving a sentence of 20 years to life for her role in an underground radical group's deadly robbery of a Brink's armored car in Nyack, N.Y.
Now the younger Ms. Boudin is set to be released on parole after 22 years; Ms. Braudy has finished the book, "Family Circle," and her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, is rushing it into print. But it may not be what Jean Boudin had in mind.
Based partly on interviews with Jean Boudin, who died in 1994, and the Boudin family papers, Ms. Braudy's book explores the psychological roots of Kathy Boudin's actions, mainly in her relationship with her father, the prominent liberal lawyer Leonard Boudin, who died in 1989. Ms. Braudy portrays him as an inveterate philanderer with an eye for Kathy's friends.
But Ms. Braudy's book also tries to undermine the arguments
Boudin's legal defense and parole, arguing that her troubled
relationship with her father drove her far deeper into radical acts of
violence than she has acknowledged. Ms. Braudy described her book's
contents in an interview and Knopf provided a partial manuscript to The
But Leonard I. Weinglass, a lawyer who represents Ms. Boudin and who has not yet seen the book, disputed its accuracy. He argued that Ms. Braudy has distorted the facts because she had an emotionally fraught relationship with Ms. Boudin that dated back 40 years to their days at Bryn Mawr College.
"Susan is a somewhat frustrated and repressed person who has never been able to outgrow her awe of Kathy," Mr. Weinglass said. "For various reasons, which another discipline — not law — could probably provide an answer to, she feels the need to take Kathy down and further her writing career. Her methodology reflects her sense of angst around Kathy Boudin."
Ms. Braudy, however, said she started out as sympathetic to Ms. Boudin, hoping to write a book about her generation's lost idealism. At Bryn Mawr, she said, she lived across the hall from Ms. Boudin, and she had marveled at Ms. Boudin's proud bearing and political analysis. "She was very haughty," Ms. Braudy recalled. "She would sometimes use her politics as a club."
Even then, Ms. Braudy recalled in an interview on Friday, she sometimes overheard Ms. Boudin shouting over the phone at her father that courtroom victories could never do enough to feed the hungry or right injustice.
But she said it was not until she began researching the book about a decade ago that she started to have doubts about Ms. Boudin. Researching the family's past, Ms. Braudy began to see enduring contradictions in its history of professional-class radicalism. Ms. Boudin's great-uncle, Louis B. Boudin, was a prominent labor lawyer and a scholar of Karl Marx. He was sometimes frustrated, Ms. Braudy writes, that radical groups like the Industrial Workers of the World excluded him because of his relative affluence.
"Louis's life was buttressed by the objects of class privilege, and this anomaly led him sometimes to talk as if he were trying to destroy himself," Ms. Braudy writes. "Seventy five years later, Kathy Boudin claimed to see her birth to a family of well-to-do whites as an agonizing defect to be obliterated by rationalization, violence and self-deprivation. Kathy wanted above all somehow to discipline her mind and body into being a member of the black working class."
Ms. Boudin was also the niece of the radical journalist I. F. Stone. But it is Leonard Boudin who emerges in the book as the most influential family member in shaping his daughter's past.
He grew up disdained by his own father for a lack of athletic prowess and tortured by a humiliating lisp, Ms. Braudy writes. Her book devotes extensive attention to what she describes as his complicated sexuality during his years at City College of New York. He later matured, she writes, into a long string of extramarital affairs during his marriage, including liaisons with his daughter's close friends. Ms. Braudy describes a trove of illicit love letters that turned up in his office after his death. (Jean Boudin suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide when her daughter was a child.)
But Leonard Boudin greatly admired his uncle Louis, and he, too, became known for his intellectual virtuosity, courtroom charisma and defense of radicals. His list of clients included Paul Robeson, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Daniel Ellsberg and the Cuban government.
His love of the law became the basis for his deep pride in his son, Michael Boudin, who rejected the family's left-leaning political traditions to become a prominent conservative jurist and judge on the First Circuit Court of Appeals. By the time Ms. Boudin was in college, Ms. Braudy writes, her brother had eclipsed her in her father's eyes. Judge Boudin could not be reached for comment.
"A father who spoiled his daughter, Leonard was paradoxically unable to focus his dazzling attention on her for very long," Ms. Braudy writes.
In the interview Ms. Braudy argued that Ms. Boudin's agonized relationship with her father stirred a welter of contradictory emotions that led to her crime. Ms. Boudin wanted to attack the sanctity of the law that her father held dear, Ms. Braudy said. But she also argued that Ms. Boudin wanted to win as a client the attention she missed as a daughter. She may have also wanted "to see him trumped by a case he could not win," Ms. Braudy said.
These irrational impulses, Ms. Braudy argues, led Ms. Boudin over many years to plunge more deeply into radical violence than she has acknowledged in court or in parole hearings. To make her case, Ms. Braudy draws on law enforcement and court records, documentaries and publications of the underground movement, and also interviews with Jean Boudin. "Jean would say, `what a birthday gift that was when Kathy bombed the Capitol,' " Ms. Boudin has said that she was never directly involved in violent acts, nor was she involved in the bomb-making that led to an explosion in 1970 in a Greenwich Village town house where she was staying. But Ms. Braudy writes that shortly before the explosion Ms. Boudin had taken from the public library a book called "The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives," by Jenny L. Davis.
Ms. Braudy also attacks the centerpiece of Ms. Boudin's initial defense and request for parole in the Brink's case. Ms. Boudin and her lawyers argued that she was merely enlisted as a white decoy driver in the Brink's robbery, with little involvement in its planning. And her lawyers argued that she had already surrendered at gunpoint to the police by the time the robbers killed two officers at a roadblock, allowing her to plead guilty to one murder instead of three. (The other participants, including her husband at the time, each received three consecutive sentences.)
Ms. Braudy, however, dismisses this argument. She relies instead on the testimony of at least one officer that Ms. Boudin asked officers to lower their guns and tried to escape.
"This was a very aristocratic, very privileged family," Ms. Braudy said in the interview. "It is because of that privilege that she is not serving three consecutive terms."
Mr. Weinglass, Ms. Boudin's lawyer, said Ms. Braudy's allegations were discredited long ago. "Her facts are belied by the official record compiled by the district attorney and the state and local police," he said.
As for Jean Boudin, she might dispute some of these conclusions as well, Ms. Braudy said. "I do feel Jean would defend Kathy even through Kathy's revisionism," she said. Without realizing that she was contradicting her daughter's legal strategy in appealing for parole, Ms. Braudy said, "She told me a lot of things."