One of the big news events of 1974, aside from the daily revelations of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal, was the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst by a group calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. The kidnapping and the semi-frequent “communiqués” via tape recordings left outside radio station KPFK, featuring various members of the group, along with Patty Hearst herself – who went from nervous and terrified to becoming known as “Tania”, was an interesting scandal for 19 months, from the time of the kidnapping in February of 1974 to Hearst’s capture in September of 1975.
The tapes, which KPFK made available to news outlets all over the county, were filled with rants and epithets – the members of the group painting much larger pictures and numbers of members than they were in actual fact. Describing themselves as part of a Combat Unit, gave impressions they were in the hundreds, if not thousands.
The reasons for the kidnapping and the unfolding story were vague in places – it was never really clear what the group wanted and how they wanted it to happen on concrete terms. Things got serious when an incident at a sporting goods store in Los Angeles led to discovery of an SLA hideout and the resulting gun battle left all members of the group in the house dead and the house reduced to ashes.
Although it was a radical departure from most of the anti-war/anti-establishment protests at the time, the violence associated with it didn’t seem that out of bounds or all that unusual. We had bombings and armed assaults by groups before, throughout the later 60s and 70s – one more group claiming to have revolutionary leanings was on the horizon and what was going to be different about them?
In the end, Hearst was captured as were the remaining members of the group. Hearst claimed brainwashing or “The Stockholm Syndrome” where captives would actively participate in the group’s behavior as a way of staying alive.
It’s highly doubtful that many people have heard the entire contents of these tapes. The most striking factor are the words from Patty Hearst herself. But the long and rambling edicts from other members of the group are fascinating to hear as well – they give you some idea of the background and the climate in which this drama was taking place.
This was one of several tapes – and by this time Patty had changed her name and she was no longer the terrified daughter of a newspaper publisher, she was a hardcore radical who held her family in contempt.