Publishing heiress Patty Hearst was studying art history at UC Berkeley when she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army on February 4, 1974. She resurfaced a short time later as Tania -- a full-time urban guerrilla and sometime bank robber who had cast off her old bourgeois life and joined the SLA. Hearst quickly became the Bay Area's most famous "leftist," and posters of her wielding a sawed-off carbine in front of the SLA's seven-headed cobra popped up on kiosks and apartment walls throughout Berkeley.
But once she was arrested and tried for her participation in the 1974 holdup of a San Francisco bank, Hearst began portraying herself quite differently. Ever since, she has depicted herself as a serious student who was not interested in -- and even ignorant of -- the radical politics of the times. When lawyer F. Lee Bailey defended Hearst for her role in the crime, he portrayed her as a typical nineteen-year-old college student concerned primarily with her studies and her upcoming marriage.
But the basics of revolutionary thought weren't exactly new to Hearst, although this was never pointed out at her trial or in the pages of her 1982 autobiography. Hearst studied revolutionary thought as a first-year student at Menlo College, the Atherton junior college she attended before transferring to Cal. The publishing heiress is even alleged to have wisecracked to her professor that participating in revolutionary activities would be a sure way to rankle her own famously conservative parents.
Now, Hearst is likely to be at the center of yet another SLA trial -- this time as a star witness for the prosecution. And the lawyers who are representing her former SLA colleagues are all but certain to use the contradictions in her accounts of those days as a key part of their defense strategy.
On January 16 this year, former SLA members Emily "Yolanda" Harris, Sara Jane Olson, Michael Bortin, and Bill "General Teko" Harris of Oakland were arrested for the slaying of forty-two-year-old Myrna Opsahl during the robbery of the Carmichael branch of the Crocker National Bank on April 21, 1975. A fifth suspect, James Kilgore, remains a fugitive.
In Every Secret Thing, her 1982 autobiography, Hearst accused Emily Harris of firing the shotgun blast that killed Opsahl. She also wrote that Bill Harris, Olson, Bortin, and Kilgore were participants in the robbery. Hearst, who admits driving a getaway car, was granted immunity in the case years ago, freeing her to testify in the forthcoming trial but once again shining the spotlight back on her. The forthcoming case could hinge on Hearst's credibility as a witness.
"Given that the only person naming anybody individually is Patty Hearst, her testimony seems to be a central issue in everybody's trial," said Stuart Hanlon, Emily Harris's attorney. "She's really, in many ways, the entire case."
The SLA, which never counted more than a dozen soldiers in its ranks, emerged in Berkeley in 1973. Escaped convict Donald DeFreeze -- known as General Field Marshal Cinque -- led a gang of young, white, well-educated, middle-class zealots who declared war on the US government, pledging to stamp out "competition, individualism, fascism, racism, sexism, and imperialism," according to one of the SLA's innumerable propaganda documents. With "Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people!" as its battle cry, the SLA was well-armed and violent. Its first public act was the assassination of Oakland school Superintendent Marcus Foster on November 6, 1973.
Hearst's conversion was a huge publicity coup for the SLA, which had a knack for attracting media attention. Despite its lack of support from mainstream leftists, the SLA had apparently wooed to its side a symbol of the hated ruling-class elite -- the granddaughter of the Hearst publishing empire.
But Hearst, who condemned virtually all aspects of her former life while on the run with the SLA, reversed herself after being captured. In fact, she later argued that she couldn't have been a more inappropriate choice to be a celebrity revolutionary. In Every Secret Thing, she portrayed her life at Cal with fiancé Steven Weed as decidedly apolitical. "Berkeley was known far and wide as the fountainhead of the student rebellion and campus uprising of the '60s, a haven for radicals and revolutionaries, a hotbed of communism, Marxism, socialism, and whatever -ism might be current at the moment," she wrote. "But by the time Steve and I moved to Berkeley in the fall of 1972, almost all that had withered away. ... Serious students simply did not have time for the protests of the '60s."
After being abducted from her Ben-venue Avenue apartment, Hearst received a crash course in revolutionary theory from her captors, who she said briefly dubbed her "bourgeois bitch" and Marie Antoinette, because she "lived in her own cocoon of ignorance."
"He mentioned country after country and [named] each of the revolutionary groups involved, and when it became apparent that I did not know what he was talking about, he berated me for being so ignorant of the 'people's movements' in all parts of the world," Hearst wrote of one of her early sessions with General Field Marshal Cinque.
Hearst's image as a political neophyte also was stressed in her 1976 trial for participating in the Hibernia Bank robbery. The flamboyant F. Lee Bailey told the jury that Cinque had given Hearst a simple choice: "Do what I say or I'll blow your head off."
But Hearst actually took a somewhat more active role in her revolutionary education. After graduating a year early from Crystal Springs High School, she enrolled at Menlo College in the fall of 1971 and attended history professor Joseph Bertrand's course "History of Revolution."
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