on August 2nd 2016
Published by Doubleday Pages: 368
From "New Yorker" staff writer and bestselling author Jeffrey Toobin, the definitive account of the kidnapping and trial that defined an insane era in American history.
On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, a sophomore in college and heiress to the Hearst family fortune, was kidnapped by a ragtag group of self-styled revolutionaries calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. The already sensational story took the first of many incredible twists on April 3, when the group released a tape of Patty saying she had joined the SLA and had adopted the nom de guerre Tania.
The weird turns of the tale are truly astonishing the Hearst family trying to secure Patty s release by feeding all the people of Oakland and San Francisco for free; the bank security cameras capturing Tania wielding a machine gun during a robbery; a cast of characters including everyone from Bill Walton to the Black Panthers to Ronald Reagan to F. Lee Bailey; the largest police shoot-out in American history; the first breaking news event to be broadcast live on television stations across the country; Patty s year on the lam, running from authorities; and her circus-like trial, filled with theatrical courtroom confrontations and a dramatic last-minute reversal, after which the term Stockholm syndrome entered the lexicon.
The saga of Patty Hearst highlighted a decade in which America seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown. Based on more than a hundred interviews and thousands of previously secret documents, "American Heiress" thrillingly recounts the craziness of the times (there were an average of 1,500 terrorist bombings a year in the early 1970s). Toobin portrays the lunacy of the half-baked radicals of the SLA and the toxic mix of sex, politics, and violence that swept up Patty Hearst and re-creates her melodramatic trial. "American Heiress "examines the life of a young woman who suffered an unimaginable trauma and then made the stunning decision to join her captors crusade.
Or did she?"
I was twenty-four years old and living in the Bay Area when Patty Hearst was kidnapped. It was without a doubt one of the strangest things to happen during the counter-culture movement of the late sixties – early seventies.
Toobin retells the story of Hearst’s kidnapping and her conversion to an SLA member. He has unusual insight into Hearst’s motives and actions. I believe that his telling of the story and his insights are 100 percent accurate.
Toobin believes she willingly became a member of the SLA and I agree with that.
“The shoot-out at Fifty-Fourth Street cemented Patricia’s transformation into a committed revolutionary. She was kidnapped on February 4. On March 31, she convinced the comrades of her worthiness to join the SLA; on April 3, she sent the communique in which she vowed to “stay and fight” under her new name of Tania; on April 15, she participated in the robbery of the Hibernia Bank; on April 24, she sent the communique that mocked the idea that she had been brainwashed; on May 16, she fired her machine gun (and another gun) at Mel’s to free Bill Harris from the clutches of his pursuers; on May 17, she watched her comrades, including Willy Wolfe, die excruciating deaths.”
“If you look at her actions … over the following year, you see the actions of a revolutionary, not a victim,” Toobin says. “There was some glamour to what she was doing, the swagger of wearing berets, of carrying machine guns — the romance of revolution was an undeniable part of the appeal of the SLA.”
What intrigues me is what would happen today if Patty Hearst did what she did forty years ago? Would we be so forgiving? Would she be considered a domestic terrorist?
‘American Heiress’ Author: ‘You Cannot Overstate the Terror that Patty Hearst Faced’