Patty Hearst

The Hearst Patty Hearst

(updated April, 2021)

I was in my mid-twenties and living in Kenya when Patty Hearst was kidnapped by SLA in February of 1974.

There was so many generation shaping events of the 60s and 70s.  Civil rights and antiwar demonstrations, hippies and the Summer of Love, the assassination of MLK, JFK, and Bobby Kennedy held my attention for months, if not years.

The kidnaping of an hairiest did not remain on my mind for very long.

I discovered much later Patty Hearst was the granddaughter of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.   The elder Hearst inherited the San Francisco Examiner and bought the New York Journal.  He later served two terms in US House of Representatives and ran for President.  At one point in his life he owned 42 newspapers.

Without a doubt his heirs, including Patty Hearst, were born into the privilege of money, notoriety, and influence.  Not at all hippies or leaders in the counter culture movement.

The Kidnapping of Patty Hearst

On February 4th, 1974 Patty Hearst was a nineteen year-old with all the promise and advantage one could possess.  She was in her well appointed apartment with her fiancé  Stephen Weed.  Intruders entered the apartment and beat up Weed.  The carried the blindfolded Hearst outside and shoved her into the trunk of a car and drove away firing their weapons.

It was not until three days later that the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) announced that they had kidnaped Hearst.  There demands were surprising for kidnapers, but no so surprising for a leftist, extremist group of the time.

They demanded that the Hearst family provide every needy person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles $70 worth of food.  The family complied by giving away 2 million dollars of food.  The SLA countered demanding 6 million more.

Patty Hearst Participates in robbery

When two months later I read about Patty Hearst taking part in the Hibernia Bank robbery, my radar was activated.  I read all the sources I could find about the story.  I was intrigued and also secretly cheering for her.  I mean there she was – a rich heiress who had bonded with a revolutionary band – setting herself against all the privileges she had once embraced.

The audio in the film is not great, but she is saying, “I am Tania.”   She orders customers to the floor.  “We are not fooling around.”

After the robbery the SLA after released a tape in which Hearst says: “Greetings to the people, this is Tania.  Our actions of April 15 forced the Corporate State to help finance the revolution.  As for being brainwashed, the idea is ridiculous beyond belief.  I am a soldier in the People’s Army.”

After a long manhunt and full media coverage, Hearst was captured with Wendy Yoshimura on September 18, 1975. When she filled out the booking forms, she listed her occupation as “Urban Guerilla.”

She instructed her attorney to take the following message to the press:  “Tell everybody that I’m smiling, that I feel free and strong and I send my greetings and love to all the sisters and brothers out there.”

Her story changed five months later when she was brought to trial.  In a court ordered affidavit she claimed that SLA members had used LSD to drug her and forced her to take part in the bank raid.

Patty Hearst Found Guilty

Hearst was found guilty was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in prison, but was only held in prison for about two years.  Her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter and as his last act before leaving office, President Bill Clinton granted her a presidential pardon.

The flipflop in Patty Hearst’s statements of her complicity in SLA activities has been widely discussed.  Of course, on one had you have those who believe that she used the brainwashing defense to attempt to save herself from incarceration.  Then their are others who see her as a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome.

Renown authority on prisoners of war, Margaret Singer, sided with the later viewpoint.  Singer, who has studied terror victims including Maryknoll priests recently released from the People’s Republic of China, strongly pleaded for understanding on Hearst’s behalf before, during and after the trial.

Court appointed doctor Louis Jolyon West as well as interviewers Drs. Robert Jay Lifton and Martin Theodore Orne agreed.  Lifton went so far as to state after a 15 hour interview with Hearst that she was a “classic case,” of the Stockholm Syndrome.

He went on to say that Hearst was “a rare phenomenon (in a first world nation)… the first and as far as I know the only victim of a political kidnapping in the United States.” He noted that SLA leader, Donald DeFreeze, also known as Cinque, had used a rather coarse version of a classic Maoist formula for thought control.

Hearst’s lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, argued that she had been coerced or intimidated into taking part in the bank robbery.  I would have loved to hear Patty’s first-hand account of her time with the SLA, but, she refused to give evidence against the other captured SLA members. This was seen as complicity by the prosecution team.  Hearst invoked the 5th amendment 42 times in the trial.

Hearst quickly became the Bay Area’s most famous “leftist,” and posters of her wielding a sawed-off carbine in front of the SLA cobra popped up on kiosks and on the walls scholars and hippies apartment walls throughout Berkeley. The caption read: “WE LOVE YOU, TANIA.” ” from Patty Cakes, Terror, nostalgia and the SLA, By Gordon Young

Another Patti, Patti Smith, in her 1974 cover of Hey Joe changes the words to sing of Patty Hearst.

Patty Hearst Participated in these Criminal Activities

Here is a list of events that Patty Hearst took part in with the SLA:

  • February 4, 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst
  • April 15, 1974 Hibernia bank robbery
  • May 16, 1974 Mel’s Sporting Goods shot up
  • May 17, 1974 LA shoot out most members are killed
  • April 21, 1975 Crocker National Bank robbery

Interview With Larry King

In another post I will give a brief overview of the SLA.


By Chowning

Richard Chowning was a teenager during the 60s. Being a Southern California resident during those years, he experienced many of the events and trends that distinguished those times.

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