Patty Hearst with Rifle Inside Bank
Patty Hearst with Rifle Inside Bank
Date: April 15, 1974
Source: "Patty Hearst with Rifle Inside Bank." AP Images, 1974.
About the Photographer: This photograph was taken by a security camera at the Hibernia Bank branch in San Francisco, California, on April 15, 1974.
On February 4, 1974, Patricia Campbell (Patty) Hearst was kidnapped from her Berkley apartment by members of the urban guerrilla group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Hearst was the twenty-year-old granddaughter of the newspaper magnate and millionaire William Randolph Hearst, a scion of the American establishment.
The SLA grandly called themselves an Army, but were in reality never more than a ragtag brigade whose membership never exceeded twenty-five and whose crimes had until then barely registered a flicker of media attention. The most notorious of the pre-Hearst crimes came in November 1973, when the SLA murdered the Oakland Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Marcus Foster, and seriously injured his deputy, Robert Blackburn, as they left an Oakland school board meeting. Their premise was that Foster's plan to introduce identification cards into Oakland schools was "fascist." Yet in kidnapping Hearst and apparently converting her to their cause, they captured global attention in a story that dominated the American news media for more than two years.
While the SLA had a knack of obtaining publicity that went far in excess of its small membership base, its aims were confused. They claimed to propagate Maoism, although Maoism when described by even its most articulate backers was well known to be merely an incoherent form of revolutionary socialism. (The fixation with Maoism has been attributed to the fact that several SLA members came from the defunct Maoist group Venceremos). Indeed the SLA's very name hinted at its confused outlook: "Symbionese" was taken from the word symbiosis, which they defined as the merger of dissimilar parts within a body harmonizing in its best interests. In practice, they extolled a mishmash of contrary ideas, including black power, sexual freedom, collectivist economics, and anarchism.
Initially, the SLA made demands that the Hearst family distribute millions of dollars of food relief amongst the poor of San Francisco in exchange for Patty's release. These efforts were abandoned when her freedom was not forthcoming and riots broke out at food distribution points.
Rather than tapping into the Hearst family wealth, the SLA's reasons for targeting Patty Hearst were largely publicity orientated. As her family owned many of America's largest newspapers and her father was himself a San Francisco newspaper editor, the SLA were guaranteed thousands of column inches from which the rest of the American news media would take its lead.
Two months after Hearst's capture, however, the SLA had an even bigger publicity coup in store. Days after the abandonment of the food distribution program, Patty Hearst made a statement in which she announced that she had renounced her family, joined her abductors, and adopted the name Tania [after the mistress of the South American revolutionary, Che Guevara].
Whether this statement was made under coercion was initially the subject of some debate, but the SLA were soon to put this beyond doubt. On April 15, a black man and four white women walked into the Hibernia Bank branch in San Francisco's Sunset district before producing semiautomatic guns from their long black coats. They ordered staff and customers onto the floor while two of the women raiders rushed to the cash drawers and began emptying them of cash. Another woman proclaimed "We're from the SLA", and gestured over to another and shouted: "This is Tania Hearst!"
PATTY HEARST WITH RIFLE INSIDE BANK
See primary source image.
Despite the apparent incontrovertibility of the photographic evidence against Patty Hearst (more than 1,200 security pictures were taken during the five-minute raid), there was initially furious debate about whether she had willingly participated in the robbery. The FBI only issued a warrant for her arrest as a "material witness" but at the same time charged her four companions with bank robbery. The FBI believed the raid was a macabre stunt designed to demonstrate that the SLA had tightened its grip on the millionaire. Her father, Randolph A. Hearst, appeared on television as an anguished figure proclaiming: "It's terrible! Sixty days ago, she was a lovely child. Now there's a picture of her in a bank with a gun in her hand."
Invariably, a number of speculative theories abounded about Patty Hearst's involvement in the robbery. These included the notions that she had been killed and the bank robber was an imposter; that she was an SLA member all along; that fearing she might be killed she had "pretended" to convert to the SLA; or that after two months of intense psychological pres-sure she had been brainwashed into joining her captors.
The FBI's search for Hearst came to assume the complexion of an odyssey and was one of the most widely publicized manhunts in history. Over the following seventeen months, they would arrest or shoot most of the members of the SLA before finally catching up with Patty Hearst in September 1975.
When the case came to trial in January 1976, Hearst renounced her willing involvement with the SLA and her defense claimed that she had been physically and sexually coerced into membership and that she had been intimidated into her part in the bank robbery. It was widely debated whether Hearst suffered from "Stockholm Syndrome," a term given to victims who become psychologically dependent and attached to their abusers (this is most often applied to battered wives). However, by common consent, Hearst's defense gave a poor showing and she was convicted of bank robbery. President Jimmy Carter later commuted her sentence, and she was freed from prison in February 1979. President Bill Clinton granted her a full pardon in January 2001.
Hearst's case and particularly the issue about her culpability in the bank robbery has retained resonance since her release. Her memoir, Every Secret Thing, maintained her court argument that she was a victim of the SLA, but she also included a critique of the American social structure that gave rise to the organization and offered views on class and race which could be construed as sympathetic to the SLA. Her then fiancé, Steven Weed, was just another individual involved in the case who put his memories into print: one of a score of books published on the case. In 1988 Every Secret Thing was made into a film called Patty Hearst. A documentary of the case, Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, premiered in 2004.
The wider significance of the Hearst case was that it showed how a well-thought-out and publicity-conscious act of extremism could bring minority political views—no matter how incoherent or repugnant—into the mainstream. By degrees, the acts of individuals like Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, and Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber, continued the tradition set by the SLA when it targeted Hearst. Both of these men held marginalized political views that gained worldwide publicity through acts of violence.
Hearst, Patty, with Alvin Moscow. Every Secret Thing. London: Methuen, 1982.
"The Hearst Nightmare." Time (April 29, 1974). 〈http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,911211,00.html〉 (accessed March 5, 2006).
Mental Health Matters. "Stockholm Syndrome." 〈http://www.mental—health—matters.com/articles/article.php?artID=469〉 (accessed March 5, 2006).