N.Y. Times Magazine, June 2, 1974
In the fall of 1973, I returned to live in Berkeley, California, after a nine-year absence. I found my old friends who had been activists in the Sixties preparing to go back to school or work. The kiosks in town were covered with ads for psychic healing, acupuncture, meditation, kung fu, red-pepper cures, sex therapy and dream control. Former S.D.S. members were talking about building a new Communist Party. “We’ve rediscovered the Old Left,” one said. “We’ve rediscovered communism and socialism.”
Men were baking bread, women were sawing wood. Almost all those I knew were tending gardens and raising children with names like Circle, Lorca, Fidel and Butterfly. They were, in short, settling in for the winter, for the long, slow road to revolution, when on a still November night, the Oakland Superintendent of Schools, Marcus Foster, was shot and killed.
In rapid sequence, a terrorist band called the Symbionese Liberation Army claimed responsibility for killing Foster; the group kidnapped Patricia Hearst, granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst; Patty Hearst announced she was joining the band and appeared with them in a robbery of a San Francisco bank. Then on May 17, a bungalow in Los Angeles where the S.L.A. was ambushed by police erupted in flames, killing all known members except Patty and Bill and Emily Harris.
The acting head of the S.L.A. was a black ex-convict, Donald DeFreeze, known as General Field Marshal Cinque. The leading soldiers and theoreticians were young white women. The youngest was Patty, twenty, who took the name Tania and in a voice with the same refined, airy softness as that of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, vowed to fight for the “freedom of all oppressed people.”
The unfolding of the S.L-A.-Hearst drama shocked me out of a two-year stupor, an indifference to the news that even Watergate could not disturb. The affair seemed to set off in me and everyone I encountered powerful fantasies and fears. It was a screen which reflected our private plots, and it was a screen on which the movie was always changing, the images constantly reversing themselves.
Because I could see myself in Patricia, Mizmoon, Randolph Hearst, in all the characters, I spent weeks prowling around the settings, looking in windows and talking to strangers. What I have come up with are fragments, shards of pathos and humor, and a suspicion that the symbols in this drama may be more potent and meaningful than the reality.
It is noon at Sproul Plaza, the University of California. No card tables, no speakers, no leaflets are to be seen. No major demonstration has occurred in three years. In the sun by the fountain, students are playing music. A grinning fat man is blowing bubbles from a jar, and a quartet of girls in gym shorts leap by.
At the edge of campus near Telegraph Avenue, wooden booths are set up each morning to sell fruit juices, Chinese food, falafel and donuts. In the Fruity Rudy stand, painted orange with a green awning. Nancy Ling Perry, who liked to be called Ling, worked for a year and a half.
Everyone in the community must have bought juice from Ling. I know that I did. She was the most visible and accessible of those who have been identified as S.L.A. soldiers. With Ling, as with everyone in this story, there is no detail to be culled from her past that explains what sent her over the edge. She is described by people who were intimate with her as a kind, honest person with strong humanist convictions, “not the type to be violent.”
Ling was twenty-six, and like the other S.L.A. women, overqualified for the work she did. Ling held a degree in English from Berkeley and took graduate courses in chemistry. But she saw her profession as a revolutionary, which meant not taking the first steps up a bourgeois career ladder. It meant working at marginal jobs. (Mizmoon Soltysik was a janitor; Emily Harris, a clerk-typist.) It meant living in a dingy rooming house in Oakland, wearing clothes scavenged from free boxes on the street and hitch-hiking for transportation.
Ling was four feet eleven inches, wiry and fast. She would squeeze juice for hours and never gossip or flirt with customers. She had been through a period of experimenting with drugs and once painted her fingernails green. Noel McCloud, who worked with her at Rudy’s, says she did not like exchanging small talk with people who weren’t “political.” She also scorned leftist “old-timers from the Sixties,” whom she viewed as lame and dissipated.
Ling had a strong attraction to blacks. She lived among them, spoke their language and for six years was married to a jazz musician. It was a stormy relationship with periodic separations, and after the last, in early 1973, Ling looked for an outlet for her political passions.
She began visiting inmates at Soledad, San Quentin and Vacaville. By the summer, she had connected with an odd karass of desperadoes and dreamers—Cinque, Mizmoon, Camilla Hall, Russell Little, Willie Wolfe, Joe Remiro, Angela Atwood, Bill and Emily Harris—who with a few others were training for guerrilla combat. Two of them, Remiro and Harris, had been taught to kill by the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
The group adopted code names, rented hideouts, stole ammunition, collected wigs and practiced shooting with BB guns. They formed security rules such as “Keep your handgun with you” and “Always know where your shoes are.” They wrote reams of propaganda and drafted a constitution for a grand Symbionese Federation.
In October, Ling rented a ranch house in Concord which the S.L.A. used as a base until January 10, the night Remiro and Little were picked up by police and charged with murdering Foster. Ling herself set fire to the house “to melt away fingerprints.”
Soon afterward, she disclosed her identity to the world: “My name was Nancy Ling Perry, but my true name is Fahizah.” Her tone was exalted, her faith in her own rhetoric absolute. “I have learned that what one really believes in is what will come to pass.”
When Rudy Henderson, proprietor of Fruity Rudy, first saw Ling’s picture on the front pages, he says, “It didn’t surprise me. She talked a lot about prisoners and the poor people, but she never mentioned guns.”
Ling and Rudy had grown close during the time she worked for him. Ling told her friends she was in love with Rudy. He is a tall black man of forty-seven with close-cropped silvery hair, known as an eccentric who can be snappish and surly. He operates four Fruity Rudy stands, teaches tennis and lives a block from campus in a hotel with stained carpets and strange odors.
Rudy used to play drums and would take Ling to jazz clubs. “Ling liked me and I didn’t sort of care for her,” Rudy says. “One time she shouted in the street, ‘Don’t you know I love you!'” He shakes his head. “She was trying to rush me into something and I was a cold fish.”
Ling knew Rudy wanted a color TV set, so she tried to find a scam—some way for him to acquire one cheaply. When two men picked her up hitchhiking and offered her a stolen set, Ling ran to find Rudy on the tennis court. He paid the men $150 in cash and triumphantly carried the box to his hotel room. When he and Ling opened it, they found wood and bricks inside. “See what you brought me!” Rudy said. Ling cried.
Noel McCloud recalls, “Ling felt so guilty about it that she told me, ‘Maybe I’ll go in the city and turn a few tricks.’ She wanted to make the money to pay Rudy back.” Noel, a twenty-one-year-old who studies communication and public policy, adds, “This shows me Ling had a conscience.”
Ling did repay Rudy with money borrowed from relatives. When people asked why he accepted the money, Rudy grumbled, “She’s like a sister to me but she has to learn.”
Thinking back, Rudy says he feels badly about the way he treated her. “I liked her more after she made her move,” Rudy says. “You get to know a person better after a thing like this. I know she was serious about revolution, about helping the poor. She was not playing games. She was an out-of-sight girl.” Rudy folds his arms across his chest. “I tell you, I love the girl now.”
We will never know what happened during the final hours in that yellow house in Los Angeles, but it is clear that the six inside had passed through some alchemical psychic process and come out ready to die. They strapped bandoliers across their chests, stationed machine guns in the living room and slipped knives into special pockets sewn in their jeans.
They did not sleep for days before the shoot-out, and lived on soft drinks and beer, cheap white bread sandwiches and cigarettes. Up to the end, they were trying to recruit “strong brothers and sisters” for the revolution. When they found themselves absurdly outnumbered, they gave no thought to surrender. They took the offensive and fired.
“You are witnessing the biggest gunfight in the history of the West,” one of the news correspondents shouted into his beeper phone. Could the battle have been staged for the evening news? The shooting began at 5:50 P.M., Pacific standard time, and the fire erupted at 6:30 P.M. The camera crews had been given two hours’ notice to prepare for live color coverage.
All the players were speaking lines from B movies. The FBI called Patricia a “fugitive” who was “armed and extremely dangerous.” James Johnson, eighteen, says Patty told him, “They’ll have to kill me before I go back.” Another witness told police the S.L.A. “lived by night,” and Randolph Hearst’s own San Francisco Examiner came out with this headline: “They Died By Fire.”
In California, the S.L.A. shoot-out seemed an event almost as gripping as a presidential assassination. People stopped strangers on the street to ask if Patty was all right, and called friends to tell them to turn on the television. At the Student Union in Berkeley, groups gathered around monitors, staring at the incongruity of palm trees and flame.
When I stepped outside my door after the news, I expected to see shotguns and fire, but the sky was clear and my neighbors were pruning roses. I thought of Tom Matthews, the eighteen-year-old from Lynwood High School, who was kidnapped by Patty, Bill and Emily Harris before the shoot-out. After spending the night with these three people that the entire state law-enforcement apparatus was seeking, he drove home to play in a championship baseball game. I imagined what he was thinking all that night, crouched under a blanket, cursing his luck and hoping he’d get out of this in time to make the game. He did, and they won, 2-0.
When the fire was extinguished and the body count final—six of the nine known members dead—the FBI said they believed the S.L.A. had been “decimated.” Charles Bates, head of the San Francisco bureau, said, “Anything can change from day to day on this, but we feel the death of six people has taken its toll on the organization.”
Others, however, worried that it was not the end, that new terrorist groups would surface in the future. Joe Remiro had said in prison on Easter Sunday: “The S.L.A. ain’t nothing, man. The revolution is on with or without the S.L.A. … if the entire S.L.A. and everybody who relates to the S.L.A. would be killed tomorrow, the next day they’d have to kill a lot more.”
As I drive down Telegraph Avenue, I stop for a little girl in a sailor dress standing in the street with her thumb out. She is six years old. “You’re the youngest hitchhiker I’ve ever seen,” I tell her.
“That’s the way it goes,” she says. “I’ve been hitching since I was three. My mom taught me.”
I am on my way to see Michael Kossman. Me is thirty-tour and something of a Berkeley fixture: leader of the Free Speech Movement, crusader for educational reform, and, at the moment, he says, “I’m working with kids, writing and doing sex therapy.” Michael greets me with a bear hug, notes that my shoulders are tight and shows me an exercise to unlock tension.
Michael says he never knew anyone connected with the S.L.A. “In one sense, it’s ten or twenty isolated people, but in another sense it’s ten or twenty million people, because that’s us there! We contributed the energy the S.L.A. is running on. It’s clear where those ideas come from: women’s liberation, lesbianism, the black struggle, the Vietnam veterans, prison reform, the Black Panther food program.”
I ask how the S.L.A. makes him feel. “Crazy and confused,” he says. “The S.L.A. says to me: where are you with your passions of the Sixties? Remember bygone days when you marched for the downtrodden, the poor, the blacks? Well, look around, buddy, the war isn’t over. All the problems in America are still there and you, buddy, what are you doing?”
He mimics the answer: “Oh, I’m sitting on my cushion meditating, studying acupuncture and teaching kids to stay open. I’ve grown mature. I know how long things take. I’ve learned revolution is complicated, that it’s not a simple matter of good guys and bad guys.”
Michael slams his hand on a chair.
“There’s still a part of me that feels the need to do something right now.”
Russell Little, who is twenty-four, has written his autobiography for the underground San Francisco Phoenix. Every other sentence ends with an exclamation point. (“My father grew up in Alabama!”) In hit-and-run prose, Russell describes his working class, Southern cracker background, his political awakening at the University of Florida and his transformation to a “long-haired, pissed-off radical!”
By accident ot birth, Kusseil missed out on the Sixties and came of age just when the New Left hit a slump. Russell describes what happened when he drove across country to Berkeley in 1971. “I expected things to blow up all over California but they didn’t . . . The era of riots and demonstrations had passed . . . People started talking about educating the people again. Bullshit to that. What about all the people who had been educated in the Sixties?”
Russell decided the only revolutionaries “who didn’t die or go underground by the Seventies” were in prison. He joined the Black Cultural Association (B.C.A.) at Vacaville, a group set up to give convicts pride and prepare them to re-enter society. There he met Cinque and a number of young white visitors who reinforced each other’s urges and frustration. Russell says, “We grew tired of waiting … we decided to seize the moment.” They would form a guerrilla army and fire the first shots, because “revolutionary violence is necessary, is practical—it works!”
The American left, in its entire spectrum, disputes Russell Little on this point. Angela Davis, Cesar Chavez, Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Huey Newton, the Black Panthers, the Communist Party and the Maoist Venceremos organization have denounced the tactics of the S.L.A.
Dan Siegel, a radical lawyer, tells me he sees the S.L.A. as a “threat and a setback. The S.L.A. gives a picture of the left as wanton, crazy killers, and we’re at a time now—because of the economic crisis, the energy crisis and Watergate—that radical-left ideas could flourish. The S.L.A. was trying to be a guerrilla army without having any mass base. They took actions that people couldn’t support or even understand, and the result was they were murdered.”
The killing of Foster caused almost universal anguish. Members of the S.L.A. claim they assassinated Foster because he supported a plan to introduce identification cards and guards in the schools. What they do not mention is that Foster, with the backing of community groups, withdrew the plan from the School Board agenda on October 9, almost a month before he was shot.
The S.L.A. has not justified the Foster killing to anyone outside its ranks. Carolyn Craven, a black reporter who grew up in the Movement, says, “Black folks have never been given enough power in this country to be No. i on anybody’s hit list. Why Foster? Why not the head of Standard Oil of California, or Union Oil or Bank of America? By what standards do you kill one of the few black superintendents of schools in the country? You go down on East Fourteenth Street in Oakland and explain it to the people, because the S.L.A. hasn’t bothered!”
Carolyn’s feeling is echoed by Popeye Jackson, who has spent twenty of his forty-four years in prison and heads the United Prisoners Union, a group working to change the penal system.
Popeye wears a black leather jacket and black straw hat and speaks in a muffled volley. “If I were in the S.L.A., there’s no way in hell I would have shot Foster or kidnapped Hearst,” he says. “If they’d kidnapped the head of the California Adult Authority, that would have been different. They could have gotten all the prisoners out of jail.”
Popeye knows most of the identified S.L.A. members. He worked on an educational film strip with Mizmoon and Camilla Hall and saw them as “two regular sisters,” no different from hundreds who volunteer to tutor prisoners. There are five women to every man in the prison movement, he says, “and they’re not interested in the problems of women prisoners. They’re only interested in the men. Most of them get involved in a romantic trip. When they talk about violent revolution, they’re living in a dream world! We don’t have no nuclear weapons, we don’t have no jets. We can’t buy one tank. How we gonna have a revolution? We have to educate the people first.”
After he watched the “incineration” in Los Angeles, Popeye said he was furious. “The pigs burned them alive and that was not called for. They murdered the S.L.A. because they didn’t want the S.L.A. to come forward and talk about why.”
What happened to Patricia Hearst, and why? If she had been able to return home to Hillsborough, what would she have gone back to?
To a white, twenty-two-room house with Greek columns and pots of orchids always in bloom. To Etruscan vases, Persian carpets, candelabra and burnished mahogany. To quiet, opulent Santa Ynez Avenue, where nothing happens outside all day except that in the afternoon, ladies with pearl necklaces may drive by in their Country Squire wagons.
Perhaps the Hearsts would have taken her to rest at San Simeon. The Hearst castle there is a state museum, but hidden behind it in a vale swarming with butterflies is a Gothic house the family still uses. Or they might have sent her north to Wintoon, the baroque alpine estate overlooking the McCloud River which Phoebe Apperson Hearst had built by craftsmen brought here from Bavaria.
What would Patricia say to her parents and they to her? A young man who is a close friend of the family describes dinners he would have with them before the kidnapping. “It was relaxed and cordial, but there were subjects everyone tacitly agreed not to bring up. Sooner or later, Mrs. Hearst would voice some absurd opinion like, ‘We’ve got to stop nudity.’ She had seen a nude ballet and was terribly upset. Among the young people, it got to be a game: Who in the room would flinch, or be the first to change the subject?”
Patricia, he says, had a rebellious edge and caused a minor family scandal when she moved into an apartment with her boyfriend, Steven Weed. It was from this apartment on February 4 that she was kidnapped—an act which so violated the genteel, insouciant pattern of her life that such order might never be restored.
There are numerous clues about the process of Patty’s conversion to the S.L.A. The tapes she made suggest that Patty came to believe her parents betrayed her, let her down, sacrificed her for the sake of money. This impression may have been planted by the S.L.A., but toward the end, Patty believed it.
In the first tape, February 12, Patty said: “I just want to get out of here and see everyone again and be back with Steve … I just hope that you’ll do what they say, Dad, and just do it quickly.”
The S.L.A. was asking Hearst to give seventy dollars’ worth of food to every poor person in the state. Hearst protested this would cost hundreds of millions. In her second tape, February 16, Patty told her father the S.L.A. was not trying to make unreasonable demands. “They have every intention that you should be able to meet their demands … so whatever you come up with basically is O.K. Just do it as fast as you can . . . Take care of Steve and hurry.”
Hearst offered to put up two million dollars for the poor. The S.L.A. demanded four million more. Hearst threw up his hands. This was beyond his financial capability, he could negotiate no further. Later, however, the Hearst Corporation was able to produce the additional four million, to be held in escrow until Patty’s return.
Hearst’s withdrawal from negotiation must have been a bitter blow to Patty. Surely she felt that her father, with his influence and connections, could have raised any sum he wanted.
Weeks went by. In her third tape in mid-March, Patty said: “I don’t think you’re doing everything you can, everything in your power. I don’t believe that you’re doing anything at all. You said it was out of your hands; what you should have said was that you wash your hands of it. … If it had been you. Mom, or you, Dad, who had been kidnapped instead of me, I know that I and the rest of the family would have done anything to get you back. . . . I’m starting to think no one is concerned about me anymore.”
In her fourth tape, on April 3, announcing her decision to “stay and fight,” Patty turned on her parents with stinging words. She accused them of playing games all along, “stalling for time—time which the FBI was using in their attempts to assassinate me. . . . Your actions have taught me a great lesson, and in a strange kind of way I’m grateful to you.”
I have no doubt that the Hearst family believes they did everything they could to get Patty back. But it is also easy to see how Patty could have been vulnerable to believing they did not.
From the date of the kidnapping, there have been sexual innuendos surrounding the case. People speculated that Cinque was a figure like Charles Manson who kept the women around him in a sexual trance. During call-in shows to a black radio station, people predicted Patty would become involved with Cinque. One woman said, “Some black dude has kidnapped a rich white girl. What else is gonna be going on! And Cinque is a handsome black dude.”
In Berkeley, it was known that Cinque was sleeping with Mizmoon, Ling and Emily Harris. Emily wrote to her father in Illinois on January 30, describing her affair with Cinque: “A beautiful black man has conveyed to me the torture of being black in this country and being poor.” Emily said she and Bill had opened their marriage, “so that it no longer confines us, and I am enjoying relationships with other men. I am in love with the black man . . . and that love is very beautiful and fulfilling.”
The bank robbery, however, reversed the illusion. Four women marched ahead of Cinque into the bank while men waited in the getaway car. People who had known Cinque at Vacaville, such as David Inua, one of the founders of the Black Cultural Association, said, “Cinque is not a bright man. He has no ability as a teacher or a leader. Those were not his phrases on the S.L.A. tapes —that’s not the way he talks.” Now it seemed the S.L.A. might be a regiment of women—two of whom were known to be lovers— using Cinque as a figurehead to carry out their plans.
When I first learned of the kidnapping, I remembered that as a young girl I often had dreams of being kidnapped and falling in love with one of my captors. I also remembered Temple Drake, the heroine of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary, who chose to live with her abductor, a hood named Popeye, in a Memphis whore-house before being “saved” and returned to a decaying social order.
The possibilities for speculation are endless, but it is realistic to assume that some relationship developed between Patty and the S.L.A. Patty celebrated her twentieth birthday among the S.L.A. They gave her books to read, like George Jackson’s writings from prison. They exposed her to conditions of blacks, Chicanos and the poor, and initiated her into knowledge of the evils of American foreign policy. They nursed her when she came down with a cold, showed her karate and taught her to shoot a gun. They offered her a heroic name, a rebirth.
I have known many women who came to Berkeley from conservative, moneyed families and almost overnight took new identities. Anne Weills, thirty-two, was a child of wealthy parents in Marin County. She met and married a New Left leader, Robert Scheer, became a radical feminist, separated from Scheer and is at present working to build a revolutionary organization in the working classes.
Anne says she understands the leap Patty seems to have made. “Once you see the way poor people and racial minorities live, you feel terribly privileged, and if you have any social conscience, you feel guilty,” Anne says. “What can you do to make up? If you’re surrounded by blacks who are furious and want retribution, and by strong, committed women, you can get a lot of energy. You become alienated from your family because you see yourself as so special, so different and morally right.”
When you’re young, she adds, you also feel invulnerable.
In Patty’s case, when the time was right, the S.L.A. gave her a choice: Go back to your own kind (who’ve already abandoned you) or join us.
In her good-by tape, Patty said she had discovered a new kind of love. She told Steven Weed: “I’ve changed, grown. I’ve become conscious and can never go back to the life we led.” (In how many homes across the country recently has a woman delivered that message?)
After the FBI had labeled her a criminal, people continued to pray for Patty. She has proven to be a transcendently sympathetic figure, like certain actresses whom the audience always roots for even when they are cast in unattractive roles. In her tape, Patty said: “Love doesn’t mean the same thing to me anymore. My love has expanded as a result of my experiences to embrace all people.”
Colston Westbrook has been marked by the S.L.A. as an enemy to be “shot on sight.” He was outside coordinator of the Black Cultural Association and teaches linguistics at Berkeley. The S.L.A. claims he is an FBI informer and worked as a “torturer” for the CIA in Vietnam.
It is 10 P.M., and I am meeting Westbrook outside a Japanese restaurant on San Pablo Avenue. He pulls up in a blue Volkswagen with the license plate NGOMBE, parks and watches me from the rear-view mirror.
When he gets out, he says we’re not going to the restaurant but an office next door. It is a small storefront with peeling plaster and fluorescent lights. We sit on folding chairs in the debris. He makes two phone calls to two “sets of police,” then takes an electronic device from his pocket and speaks into it: “Machine, I’m at M.C.’s.”
Breathing hard, Westbrook takes a beer from a brown paper bag. He is a burly man wearing a black and white knit cap with a tassel. He seems to thrive on publicity, on playing verbal chess with reporters and drawing a cloak of suspicion about him. He speaks six languages and will receive a master’s this June in black English dialectology. “It’s a brand new field, my own field, I made it up,” he says.
I ask why he went to Vietnam. “Money, why else. I was told by the American Embassy in Tokyo I could make ten thousand dollars working in Vietnam. They said it pays to be black in Nam.” He smiles. “I’ve never been a torturer. But I know how to do it. I know how to cut a cat’s throat.”
Westbrook was teaching at Berkeley in 1971 when he was asked to work with the B.C.A. They ran classes for inmates in everything from Swahili and nation-building to astrology. On Friday nights there were cultural meetings, which several hundred outsiders attended. They opened with a flag ceremony: the tri-color of the Republic of New Africa was paraded on stage accompanied by music and black-power salutes. There were speeches, poetry readings, plays and debates. It was at these meetings that Cinque met most of those who were to form the S.L.A.
Westbrook worked with Cinque and says he never had trouble with him. “It’s the white women in the S.L.A. who were against me. They accused me of taking lewd pictures and sexy-looking black women wearing high miniskirts into the prison. Sure I took some foxes, some of my prime stock in there. And I took Jet calendar pictures. Because if you want to dangle a carrot in front of the inmates to get ’em to learn and come to meetings, you don’t dangle communism. You dangle fine-looking chicks they’ll think maybe they can get next to.
“The S.L.A. women say I tortured the inmates by taking in chicks they couldn’t do anything to. That’s why those lesbians were mad at me.”
I ask if he feels out of danger now.
“No! Nothing’s changed until they find out who’s controlling this. There are people who haven’t come out of the woodwork yet. I know—that’s why they want me dead.”
Who does he think is controlling the S.L.A.?
He gives me a hard stare. “You really want to get me in trouble, huh?”
Is it a man, I ask.
“As far as I know.”
Someone known to the public?
“Yes.” He finishes his beer. “At the right time, you expose your hand.” He waits a beat. “There’s a theory that I’m No. 1, because I haven’t been killed.”
I tell him I’m no good at these games.
“Are you really a reporter?” he asks. I’m wondering myself.
“How would you like to join the CIA? You’d be a natural.”
As I’m leaving, he suggests I visit a psychic he knows. “You might break the story. Find the head of the S.L.A.”
If I did, I’m not sure what I would do.
No, I wouldn’t tell you.
He leans forward, eyes wide, and whispers, “How do you know I don’t already know?”
The names, word play and coincidences in this drama have sent writers and conspiracy buffs into reverie. DeFreeze takes the name Cinque, but calls himself Comrade Cin, undoubtedly aware this will sound the same as Sin. “Devoto” runs through the S.L.A. web. Members often use it as an alias.
Tania, in whose name Patty steps forward, was a German woman in love with Che Guevara. She fought and died with his guerrilla band but was suspected of being a spy for the Soviet establishment. Joe Remiro claims he is related to Joseph Alioto, Mayor of San Francisco, “in the grandparents somewhere.” Alioto claims the S.L.A. attempted to kidnap four of his grandchildren.
The seven stated aims of the S.L.A. are identical to the seven principles of conduct set forth years ago by Ron Karenga, founder of US—United Slaves. Karenga sits in jail in San Luis Obispo for the shooting of two Black Panthers at U.C.L.A., but two of Karenga’s men, George and Larry Stiner, happened to escape from San Quentin this past March. The Panthers have a feud with both US and the S.L.A. They assert that DeFreeze was a Government agent paid to foment trouble and create an atmosphere of terror.
Patty Hearst’s use of the word “ageist” brought a moment of comic relief. After Patty called her fiance, Steven Weed, a “sexist, ageist pig,” the San Francisco Chronicle ran a box headlined:
“The Latest Word. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines ‘agist’ as a verb meaning ‘to take in (livestock) for feeding or grazing and to collect the amount due therefore.'”
The metaphor seemed strained. Was Patty the livestock? Was Steven grazing her for money? The next day, the Chronicle corrected itself. “Ageist,” they had learned, is the latest Bay Area political insult, applied to someone who discriminates against any age group, particularly the old.
“Eat the Rich”
The words are painted on Charming Way, just below Shattuck. This block has a mystique in radical circles, and until recently was the home of a ten-foot-high, red, papier-mache fist. People who live here in decrepit Victorian houses crawling with wisteria and rhododendrons feel it is a special place. They’ve built a bulletin board and installed chairs on the sidewalk. There’s a coffeehouse in someone’s spare room and a free box on the street with clothes and cast-off items.
Until the S.L.A. brought police to the block, life was easy on Channing Way. Few people worked, because they could get by on almost nothing. In the summer, they would plant vegetables and sunbathe nude in overgrown backyards. On warm nights there might be a block party where everyone would take Quaaludes and dream about the coming of the revolution.
Camilla Hall and Mizmoon Soltysik both lived on Channing Way. I am talking about them with Kate Coleman, an outspoken woman who has been in Berkeley on and off since 1960.
“I think I understand their motivation,” Kate says. “It’s frustration, it’s failure, we all feel failure whether we’ve failed or not. Do you realize how many people who went to college with us are out in the woods, croaking on their communes because the revolution didn’t happen and they can’t get back in the economy because they’ve been out so long?”
Kate says many women she knows who are political have “nothing happening in their lives. The left is fragmented, dying, and the S.L.A. women probably felt they had to do something to set people on fire. It’s the nihilist blaze of glory: you start the revolution with six people and don’t worry about organizing the masses. You must live the revolution even if you’re before your time. The appeal is very powerful.”
Kate says she could never join an underground group because “my nature is so up-front and flamboyant. But the S.L.A. loved the secrecy and the plotting. They knew they weren’t infiltrated because they didn’t have a broad-based organization. But that was also their downfall. Because if they survived, how could they grow? They could only build up myth.”
All over Berkeley, political families are closing up apartments and loading their cars. Some will drift to the country until the heat is off. Some will continue working on small contained projects like a home-birth center or a school election. Some will do what Dan Siegel has done—move into neighborhoods like East Oakland to connect with working people.
Siegel is twenty-eight, an attractive, modest-looking young man in a sports shirt and slacks. In 1969, when he was student-body president at Berkeley, he gave a speech that sent thousands surging down Telegraph Avenue to reclaim People’s Park. Bob Dylan was singing from speaker vans: “You can have your cake and eat it too.” Marvin Carson was writing: “That high feeling—when you’re relating to each other as brothers and sisters—that’s the revolution! That’s what’s worth living for and dying for.”
Siegel is sitting this morning in the smoggy sun near the Oakland Superior Courthouse. “I don’t think you’ll ever see thousands marching in support of the S.L.A.,” he says. “I imagine the S.L.A. believed it was doing real revolutionary acts that threatened the existence of the state. But the people in it were inexperienced, naive and idealistic.”
He muses: “I remember how arrogant we used to be. I remember thinking how great it was that we didn’t need ideology, strategy or the working class. Young people would be the revolutionary force in America. Then the New Left fell apart, and it was probably good for us.”
Siegel says he no longer has “the illusion that revolution will be easy or that a few gallant people can do it. Winning the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of people—that’s what making revolution is about.”
He walks toward the courthouse, where he is preparing a test case in which the community is suing the district attorney, and he says that it’s funny but in some ways, he feels old.