The Saga of Patty Hearst

Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army

Patricia Campbell Hearst was born in San Mateo, California on the 20th of February, 1954. Her father was Randolph Apperson Hearst, son of the famous newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. Heiress of the famous Hearst family, hers was a life of affluent luxury growing up in the wealthy San Francisco suburb of Hillsborough.

However, it was the events on and following February 4th, 1974 that would thrust Patty Hearst into the headlines of newspapers across the world and popular American culture. On this February day, just over two weeks before her 20th birthday, Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the militant radical group the Symbionese Liberation Army.

The Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) was a revolutionary terrorist organization who saw themselves as fighting the fascist corporate powers that were in control of America. They saw themselves as struggling for the common man, in particular African-Americans although they never had more than two African-American members.

“Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people,” was the motto of the SLA. Their symbol was the seven-headed hydra, representing the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. This symbol would be made famous in publicity images featuring Patty Hearst standing in front of the hydra holding a weapon in her hand.

After losing one of their members in an arrest after their first action, the assassination of Dr. Marcus Foster, superintendent of schools in Oakland, California, the SLA decided to kidnap a prominent member of society in order to negotiate a prisoner swap. The target: 19 year old Patty Hearst.

Attempts a prisoner exchange failed, however, and the group then demanded ransom from the Hearst family: a donation of $6 million worth of food to the poor of the San Francisco Bay area. The donation was made, but Patty Hearst was not released. Her father, Randolph Hearst, went so far as to publish the group’s writings for public viewing, however further negotiations ceased when the SLA made it clear they would not be releasing their prisoner.

A few days later, the SLA would commit the armed robbery of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco’s Sunset district. In reviewing photographs and security videos of the event after the fact, it was learned that one of the five SLA criminals was none other than kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, brandishing an assault rifle.

Patty was now referring to herself as Tania, and had made statements declaring she believed in the goals and ideology of the Symbionese Liberation Army. This was something completely unheard of: a victim of kidnapping joining the terrorist organization that had robbed her of her freedom. She would remain a member of the group until she was ultimately arrested in September of 1975.

Patty Hearst and Stockholm Syndrome

The trial of Patty Hearst began on January 15th, 1976, and would be a media sensation was just as the rest of her saga was.

Upon her arrest, Hearst immediately began decrying the views and actions of the SLA, and claiming that she had been tortured and abused by the group since her original incarceration. She told stories being locked in a closet, blindfolded, sexually abused and threatened with execution. Her participation with the SLA was achieved through brainwashing.

This was one the most prominent and pronounced case of Stockholm Syndrome, a condition where a hostage comes to identify with their captors. Its name comes from a case in Stockholm in which a number of people were held captive during a 5 day standoff in a bank robbery. To the amazement of everyone involved, the hostages in the bank empathized more with their captors than police, and believed that the police were only trying to start trouble.

Hearst’s claims to being a victim of brainwashing and Stockholm Syndrome did not impress the courts and she was convicted of bank robbery on March 20th, 1976.

Her arguments did impress others, however. In 1979 her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter and she was released from prison. On the final day of his presidency in January, 2001, President Bill Clinton gave her a full presidential pardon.

Patty Hearst: The Legacy

Released from prison, Patty Hearst went onto live a somewhat normal life. She married her husband, Bernard Shaw on April 1st, 1979 (she is now Patricia Hearst-Shaw). She has two children: Lydia Hearst-Shaw and Gillian Hearst-Shaw.

After her release Patty released her memoir, Every Secret Thing in which she recounted in detail her version of the events during her time with the SLA. She has gone on to star in a number of movies such as Serial Mom and Cecil B. DeMented .

Although the Patty Hearst/SLA saga is long over, it continues to keep a hold on the mind of popular American culture. Numerous films, songs and television shows have made reference to her story, including a 1988 movie called Patty Hearst where she was played by Natasha Richardson and a 2004 documentary: Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst .

The story of Patty Hearst is a unique one, and will continue to capture the imagination. It is perhaps the most famous kidnapping case in the history of the United States, and will be remembered for years to come.

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