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The SLA: Unity Through Violent Action?

Patricia Hearst kidnapped, a media mogul's ransom, and the FBI
By VIN MCLELLAN  |  March 30, 2009

This article originally ran in the March 26, 1974 Boston Phoenix.

San Francisco — A picture of Patricia Hearst from the Symbionese Liberation Army insignia and shows her holding what is described as an automatic weapon.

From Mu, a lost land of legends, they march on America (or at least San Francisco) — the Symbionese Liberation Army, probably not more than a dozen "soldiers," and among these at least one Field Marshal and one General. They choose as their symbol the seven-headed cobra, the Naga of Lemuria: in fact they rip out a page of Colonel James Churchward's book The Sacred Symbols of Mu and reprint it for their pamphlets.

Roots so strange are only one of the confusing aspects of this new terrorist group uncovered in a two-week investigation, but here, in the bewildering thickets of the mysticism so dear to many Californians the logic of the SLA is surprisingly clear.

Churchward's three books on Mu, often racked beside Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy in paperback book stores is a legend of an early land, a continent lost to the world centuries before Atlantis was born; he writes in dry, anthropology through the sacred legends a vision of creation roughly based upon Brahmidic legends of India. Brahmic mysticism divides earthly evolution into seven racial epochs; it is only in the third, the Lemurian Epoch, that man took physical form. It was the age according to the myth, in which the Negroid race reached its cultural zenith. (The fourth epoch, the age of Atlantis, saw the mongoloid Asian races at their zenith. We're now in the fifth epoch, and have been for centuries, the age of Europe, with the Caucasian race rising to its apex and the inevitable fall. The sixth epoch will see a hybrid — tawny skinned blondes ruling the world from the Pacific basin area. The seventh epoch, a long way off, will find man only in spirit, invisible.)

An SLA leaflet explains that the Naga, the ancient symbol for god and life, was chosen as their emblem to signify the strength of the oppressed united, "because our forces are from every walk of life, every religion, and every race..." In fact, according to well informed sources, the SLA actually consists of primarily middle-class whites in their late twenties led by a charismatic black escaped convict, Donald David DeFreeze, "General Field Marshal Cinque."

A General Field Marshal, another General (a woman), and perhaps another ten "soldiers"! An army! There is little that is of normal scale in all this furor, not in the SLA itself, not in any of the events that have transpired since the "Symbionese Federation" declared war on the fascist corporate-military-capitalist state, and certainly not in the enormous media happening that all this has become, a media event uniquely manipulated by the SLA itself.

The Symbionese Liberation Army is now holding captive nineteen-year-old Patricia Hearst, daughter of conservative media czar Randolph A. Hearst, chairman of the corporation that owns the Herald American and the nationwide Hearst chain of newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations, and Mrs. Randolph Hearst, a member of the conservative Board of Regents for the multi-campus University of California.

Patricia Hearst was kidnapped by two black men and a white woman Feb. 4 from the apartment she shared with her lover in the student section of Berkeley, the site of the enormous U.C. Berkeley campus and a city adjacent to San Francisco.

...the SLA took Patricia Hearst "prisoner of war" because of the "crimes" of her parents, the series of communiqués from the SLA, fulsome yet widely published in full at the request of Hearst, have set off a historic and bizarre series of "pre-negotiation" negotiations and "pre-ransom" ransoms. The SLA asked not for money, but for a "gesture of good faith" from Hearst — the distribution of millions of dollars of groceries to the poor — before negotiations can begin for the release of his daughter. The SLA trapped much of the left, catching it from an unexpected angle and forcing a number of organizations to become involved almost against their will, when they named a dozen local left groups and asked them to oversee the distribution of food.

Now, after several nearly-aborted efforts to distribute food, a process that has been clumsy and irritating to those receiving food, those distributing it, the Hearsts and the SLA, time is stretching out and the bumbling of both the demands for food and the distribution has increased the tension. On all sides the pressures seem to be becoming more focused, like sunlight through a magnifying glass. And under all that focused pressure is nineteen-year-old Patricia, nearing the end of her second month in captivity, undeniably (if one is to take her messages on the SLA tape recording for her thoughts) angry and upset at the delays. The pressure increases daily on Patricia, on the SLA (whose resources are apparently limited and must be getting scarce), and the pressure is increasing on the Hearst family, who at the moment have to come up with something that will convince the SLA that the funds the family has available are much more limited than either the SLA or Patricia Hearst thought them to be (Hearst has said he cannot personally meet the new demand for $4 million more) or get the money from somewhere. And Hearst at the same time, must keep his unique control over the FBI, which as Patricia Hearst has stated repeatedly and with increased bitterness, is not noted for restrained tactics that place the security of the hostage all that far above the apprehension of the kidnappers. ("Normal procedure" for the FBI would indicate the necessity of "going in to get her." But after such a long time has passed it would seem reasonable to expect the kidnappers to kill rather than free her.) But this is a unique event, an American political kidnapping, thus far with no money ransomed. There are no FBI precedents.

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Related: Brass balls and cold steel, Review: The Hot Club of San Francisco's Bohemian Maestro, Terror incognita, More more >
  Topics: Flashbacks , California Council on Criminal Justice, Crime, FBI,  More more >
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