Monday, February 4, 2008

TANIA: 33 YEARS LATER

(Patricia Campbell Hearst, known at the time as Tania, robs the Hibernia National Bank at 1450 Noriega Street in San Francisco at 9:40 a.m. April 15, 1974. During this incident, two civilians were shot. Image from Famous Pictures)

In 1979, while I lived in San Francisco, I was visited by my old friend Mary, a DJ and photographer from Dallas. One day at dusk I was driving her around the city in my little red Honda, showing her different neighborhoods and landmarks that she would occasionally photograph. We were driving a very steep hill through Pacific Heights, ogling the mansions on either side.

On driving up such hills, you hope to creep into the pedestrian crosswalk at the crest next to a stopsign, especially in a standard transmission vehicle. Otherwise, when it's time to go again, you have to simultaneously lift your foot clamped down on the brake, hit the clutch and the accelerator in order to avoid a sickening lurch backward from gravity. It's hard on the nerves and the gears.

On this hill, I was fudging my front bumper into the pedestrian space as I came to a stop, but a young woman was leaving the sidewalk right next to me and I had to oblige her right of way. As she reached the middle of my car, she turned and gave me a glare through my windshield, lit brilliantly by the headlights I had already turned on for the day.

"Tania!" I gasped.

Mary said "Who? Do you know her?"

"It's Tania!" I babbled, watching her avidly. "I mean -- Patty Hearst!" I beseeched Mary to hop out of the car and get her photograph, telling her it would be the most prized thing I owned. Mary, however, with far more ethics and maturity than I had, adamantly refused, saying the woman's right to privacy was her most prized possession and she deserved to have it undisturbed for the rest of her life.


(SLA members, L-R, Donald DeFreeze "Cinque", Patricia Soltysik "Mizmoon" and Patty Hearst "Tania" robbing Hibernia Bank in Francisco on April 15, 1974)

My obsession with Tania -- Patty Hearst -- and the SLA began 33 years ago today, on 4 February 1974 when 19-year-old Patty, granddaughter of "Citizen Kane" William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped from her Berkeley student apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Her fiancé Steven Weed, with her at the time, was beaten senseless. At that time I was a college freshman at North Texas State University, living in an unheated off-campus room, not eating enough because I didn't have the money, alienated from most college life because I was a closeted lesbian, and having trouble with my honors classes because I was spending most of each day glued to my black and white TV watching the Watergate hearings.

The attempt by a President to ignore law and establish himself as a dictator was shocking at that time. We couldn't believe what was emerging. On January 4, Nixon had refused to turn over subpoenaed tapes and documents to the Senate Watergate Committee, citing executive privilege. (Sound familiar?) On January 30th, G. Gordon Liddy was found guilty of Watergate charges. That same day, in his State of the Union Address, Nixon had declared that "One year of Watergate is enough". He hoped, but he was wrong. At that point, we still had a Congress who, Democrat and Republican alike, were willing to honor law and the will of the American public.

I was 18 years old, one year younger than Patty. In every other regard, our lives were completely dissimilar. But there was some part of me that longed to be swept into revolution. I was not yet radical in the way I would become (and remain); I had not yet acquired the influences or vocabulary. And my working-class, gun-loving upbringing was not yet transformed by pacifism.

Most compelling to me was that two of the members of the SLA, including one of the founders, were openly identified as lesbian lovers: Patricia Soltysik and Camilla Hall. Camilla gave Pat the name of "Mizmoon" which is how many of the news reports referred to her. Camilla had moved to Berkeley to be an artist and a lesbian. I cut their photos from the newspaper and carried them in my wallet for at least a decade afterward. Within the SLA, Mizmoon was also known as Zoya and Camilla as Gabi.

(Camilla Hall, "Gabi")
(Patricia Soltysik, "Mizmoon" and "Zoya")

I followed the ensuing story of Patty's captivity and the SLA's ransom demands even more avidly than I did the Watergate hearings, although the two became somewhat intertwined in my mind. Most of the information I used to refresh my memory in the following timeline comes from several Wikipedia entries and from the PBS American Experience website on Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst.

On February 12, in a taped communique delivered to KPFA Radio in Berkeley (which would four years later become "my" community radio), Patty announced she was alive and all right. Cinque from the SLA then demanded Randolph Hearst, Patty's millionaire father, deliver a ransom of $70 worth of food to every needy Californian -- an operation that would cost an estimated $400 million (in 1974 dollars, which would be at least four times as much in current dollar value)

Dialogue about the ransom continued over the next several days. On February 19th, Randolph Hearst gave in and agreed to form People In Need (P.I.N.), a food distribution program that would spend $2 million dollars to feed 100,000 people for a year.

The following day was Patty's 20th birthday. Cinque repeated an earlier statement that Randolph Hearst's contribution should reflect both Hearst's capabilities and the need of the people. He upped the ransom amount to $6 million dollars and also asked Hearst to prove he will stop committing "crimes against the people".

Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, stated that no one would take food from P.I.N. But on Thursday, February 22, food distribution began, and ended in riots. Randolph Hearst used the riot to claim that $6 million dollars was beyond his capabilities. A representative for him offered to pay direct ransom totalling $4 million dollars.

A woman who later became one of my best friends went to the food distribution and came home with badly needed cheese and rice. Future P.I.N. giveaways went off without a hitch on February 28, March 5, March 8, and March 25, distributing food to tens of thousands of people in each case. Reagan stated that the poor people lining up for groceries were "aiding and abetting lawnessness."

On March 1, former aides of the President, known as the Watergate Seven — Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Charles Colson, Gordon C. Strachan, Robert Mardian and Kenneth Parkinson — were indicted for conspiring to hinder the Watergate investigation.

On March 29, 1974, the last American troops left Vietnam.

On April 3, two months after being kidnapped, Patty announced on an audio tape sent to a radio station that she had taken the guerrilla name Tania, swearing her allegiance to the SLA and denouncing her family. Her family immediately declared that she had been brainwashed.

On April 7, 1974, the Watergate grand jury indicted Ed Reinecke, Republican lieutenant governor of California, on three charges of perjury before the Senate committee. On April 5, 1974, former Nixon appointments secretary Dwight Chapin was convicted of lying to the grand jury.

On April 15th, Tania and four other members of the SLA robbed the Sunset Branch of the Hibernia Bank at gunpoint in San Francisco and were caught on video. Tania was filmed wielding a cut-down M-1 carbine loaded with a fully automatic banana clip and is one of those who screams "On the floor, motherfuckers!"

On April 23rd, the FBI issued a Wanted poster with Tania on it. The following day, on another audio tape, Patty insisted she participated fully in the bank robbery, under no coercion, says the idea of her being brainwashed is ridiculous. She called her family the "pig Hearsts". She denounced her fiancé Steven Weed as "an ageist, sexist pig."

On April 29th, increasingly cornered about Watergate, Nixon released edited transcripts of the conversations that were recorded in his office.

On May 9th, the U.S. House of Representatives opened formal and public impeachment hearings against Nixon. The committee's opening speeches included one by Texas Representative Barbara Jordan that catapulted her to instant nationwide fame. I remember sitting and listening to this with a sense of revolution having at last reached my door. She was Texan and a woman. I did not yet know she was also a lesbian.

On May 16th, William and Emily Harris went to Mel's Sporting Goods Inglewood, California, to shop for supplies for their safehouse. While Emily made the purchases, Bill tried to shoplift socks. When a security guard confronted him, Bill brandished a revolver. The guard knocked the gun from his hand and placed a handcuff on Bill Harris's left wrist. Tania, on armed lookout from the group's van across the street, began shooting up the store's overhead sign. Everyone in the store took cover and the Harrises drove off with Tania.

On May 17th, I had just gotten home after class and turned on my TV when live coverage of the SLA slaughter by the LAPD began. I'll use the Wikipedia entry on the topic to tell the story:

'...An anonymous phone call to the L.A.P.D. stated that several heavily armed people were staying at the caller's daughter's house. That afternoon, more than 400 Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.) officers, under the command of Captain Mervin King, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, California Highway Patrol, and Los Angeles Fire Department surrounded the neighborhood. The squad leader of a Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) team used a bullhorn to announce, "Occupants of 1466 East 54th Street, this is the Los Angeles Police Department speaking. Come out with your hands up!" A small child walked out, along with an older man. The man stated that no one else was in the house, but the child reported that several people were in the house with guns and ammo belts. After several other attempts to get anyone else to leave the house, a member of S.W.A.T. fired tear gas projectiles into the house which was answered by heavy bursts of automatic gunfire, and the battle began.

'Two hours later, the house caught fire. The police again announced, "Come on out! The house is on fire! You will not be harmed." Two women left from the rear of the house and one came out the front (she had come in drunk the previous night, passed out, and woken up in the middle of a siege); all were taken into custody, but were found not to be S.L.A. members. Automatic weapons fire continued from the house. At this point Nancy Ling Perry and Camilla Hall came out of the house. Investigators working for their parents would claim they walked out intending to surrender and that they were unarmed but police later stated that Camilla Hall was shot in the head by police as she charged towards them and Perry was providing covering fire. After Camilla Hall's body fell to the ground, it was pulled back inside the burning house by Angela Atwood. Nancy Ling Perry followed Hall out of the house, but she was shot twice in the back. Her body remained outside of the house.

'The rest died inside, from combinations of smoke inhalation, burns and multiple gunshot wounds. According to the coroner's report, it was concluded that Donald DeFreeze committed suicide. After the shooting stopped and the fire was extinguished, nineteen firearms, including rifles, pistols, and shotguns were recovered. Several thousand rounds were reported fired into the home by police and they reported thousands of rounds being fired out of the house by the S.L.A. This remains one of the largest police shootouts in history with a reported total of 9,000 rounds being fired.

'The bodies of Nancy Ling Perry ("Fahizah"), Angela Atwood ("General Gelina"), Willie Wolfe (who was reported to be Patricia Hearst's lover and who bore the S.L.A. alias "Cujo"), Donald DeFreeze ("Cinque"), Patricia Soltysik ("Mizmoon," "Zoya"), were found, most of them huddled in a crawl space under the house, which had burned down around them.'

At the time, nobody immediately knew who was in the house and had died. Most folks assumed one of the bodies was that of Patty Hearst. As it turns out, Tania watched the same TV coverage I did with William and Emily Harris in a hotel room in Anaheim. They returned to the Bay Area and recruited new members.

On June 7, in a seventh tape-recorded message, Patty Hearst offered a eulogy for those killed in the shootout, proclaiming her love for Willie Wolfe and vowing that the SLA would continue to fight.

On July 27, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Nixon could not withhold subpoenaed White House tapes and ordered him to surrender them to the Watergate special prosecutor. From this point over the next three days, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee adopted three articles of impeachment charging Nixon with obstruction of justice, failure to uphold laws, and refusal to produce subpoenaed material.

On my nineteenth birthday, August 5, 1974, one of the tapes was revealed and became the "smoking gun" tape. Recorded on June 23, 1972, it contained Nixon and Haldeman discussing using the CIA to block an FBI inquiry into Watergate. After this came out, Nixon's support in Congress collapsed. Pretty awesome birthday present.

Three days later, on August 8, Nixon announced his resignation effective August 9, to avoid being removed by impeachment. Ford became President. One month later, Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office, setting the stage for the continued malfeasance and "we can get away with it" attitude of those in our current Presidential administration -- some of whom are/have been the same individuals.

In the November 5th elections, voters punished the Republican party by voting in Democrats during the midterm Congress election.

Public interest in Patty Hearst began to wane with the New Year in 1975 as no news was heard of her. This changed briefly when on 21 April 1975, the remaining members of the S.L.A. robbed the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California and killed Myrna Opsahl, a bank customer, in the process. Later, Patty claimed to have been sitting in the getaway car.

I learned that Mizmoon was responsible for the killing of Marcus Foster, and that she was bisexual rather than lesbian as I defined it. I began to question whether Tania had, in fact, been brainwashed instead of welcoming rescue from her owning class family. I began to find sources for lesbian-feminism, which decried violence and the male-dominated left equally.

On April 30, 1975, the Vietnam War finally ended with the Fall of Saigon and the collapse of South Vietnam. I stayed home from school that day, watching TV coverage and weeping.

Then, on September 18th, Tania was arrested in San Francisco with Bill and Emily Harris and Wendy Yoshimura. When asked for her occupation while being booked, Tania said "urban guerrilla."

(Mug shot of Patty Hearst at the time of her arrest on 19 September 1975. Image Image from Famous Pictures)

In a strange connection, a woman who had been bookkeeper for the People In Need food distribution and an admitted FBI informant, someone described as a white suburban matron obsesses by Patty/Tania -- Sara Jane Moore -- four days after Tania's capture tried to shoot President Ford in San Francisco.

The Hearsts threw all their money and influence into Patty's trial, claiming Stockholm Syndrome and rape, and hiring the infamous F. Lee Bailey as her defense attorney. They have her locked up tight with a body guard named Bernard Shaw, a former San Francisco police officer. Going against Tania are all those taped communiques, her chance to escape at the Mel's Sporting Goods incident, and, mostly, the Hibernia Bank robbery. On March 11, 1976, Tania was found guilty of armed bank robbery and sentenced to seven years in prison. She served almost two years before her sentence was commuted by then President Jimmy Carter.

Patty Hearst resumed her life as a wealthy heiress. That's when I spotted her on the streets of Pacific Heights. But, with that sighting, my connection to Tania was not yet done.

From 1979 through 1981, I was a core member of a group called Lesbians Against Police Violence. Working in contradiction to the (mostly white) gay male groups like CUAV who wanted increased police presence in queer communities and gay admission to the police academy, LAVP recognized that the primary role of the police is to protect property, and secondarily to selectively protect individuals (of the right race, class and gender) from violence by those at the bottom end of the rights scale. We therefore agitated against police presence (which usually equaled violence) in women's, lesbian, working class and/or people of color communities.

In 1979, Patty Hearst announced she was getting married to her former body guard, Bernard Shaw. (Stockholm Syndrome redux.) That March, Bernie's former buddies in the S.F. Police Department threw a bachelor's party for him that spilled out of its cop tavern onto a motorized streetcar -- where the rowdies were said to have urinated off the back platform into traffic -- and ended with them raiding Peg's Place, a working class lesbian bar at 12th and Geary.

The owners of this bar were Lynda Symaco, a short Filipina, and Allene (can't remember her name), a tall white woman. The drunken cops began immediately verbally harassing the women there, demanding to play pool without waiting their turn, and breaking furniture. As the place cleared, the Lynda tried to jolly the guys into easing up while Allene called the police. Before help arrived, however, one of the drunk cops attacked Lynda with a pool cue, and when Allene tried to defend her, she was beaten up as well.

When the (non-drunk) cops arrived, Lynda and Allene were arrested while Bernie and his buddies were put in cabs and shooed off.

Police assaults on lesbians and people of color were as common then as they are now. However, Peg's Place fought back, with a civil suit against the main perpetrators, which they eventually won. (Neither of these were Bernie Shaw -- his connection to the case and to the Hearsts was interestingly absent from newspaper coverage.) I attended that trial, and the police presence was intense. Women who were visibly lesbian were photographed in the hall outside the courtroom by a cop with a big flash camera.

The cops who had to pay damages to Lynda and Allene were retained on the police force and continued to have intermittent complaints of violence brought against them. Their victims were almost always women and/or people of color.

Patty Hearst has two children, one of whom, Lydia Hearst-Shaw, was named 2007 Model of the Year by Michael Awards. Bernie Shaw is head of security for the Hearst Corporation. They live in Wilton, Connecticut, one of the most affluent communities in America.

Randolph Hearst died in 2000. Shortly before his death, Forbes Magazine set Randolph Hearst's wealth at $1.8 billion and listed him as No. 150 of the 400 wealthiest people in the country.

Happy anniversary, Tania.

ADDITIONAL ONLINE RESOURCES:

Barbara Jordan's Statement on Impeachment

SLA Chronology

Watergate Timeline

Wikipedia article on Patty Hearst

According to her brother Fred Soltysik, this wav file is the voice of his sister Mizmoon


6 comments:

shadocat said...

What a post--chock full of info! I've always been a "Tania" buff myself, partly because, at the time, I was told I looked like her---similar bone stucture, plus we both wore aviator -type glasses from time to time. When I was on my honeymoon, I even went to tour the Hearst Castle--as luck would have it, someone claiming to be part of the last vestiges of the SLA bombed one of the guest "cottages" (bigger than the biggest house in my neighborhood) the night before, therefore preventing us from touring it. I always doubted the whole brainwashing story myself....

Liza said...

Fascinating. I hadn't thought about the SLA for years. Love the connection to you passing Tania on the street. Sometimes even the most casual interaction can be filled with meaning. I'm glad you didn't bother her, though. The memory is all the purer for that.

peterjohn said...

Do you know that On April 3, two months after being kidnapped, Patty announced on an
Audio Tapes sent to a radio station that she had taken the guerrilla name Tania, swearing her allegiance to the SLA and denouncing her family. I recommend that this should not happen in future.

Anonymous said...

I remember the SLA firefight very well, and have a good story.

When I was ten years old, my 5th grade teacher inexplicably stopped teaching, plugged in a radio, sat at his desk and listened to the live broadcast of the SLA firefight from a LA news station. His name was Fred Soltysik, a brother of Patricia Soltysik. He had been trying to track down his sister for years in an attempt to get her out of the organization and back into society. He later published a book of his experience called "in search of a sister".

My birthday is also August 5.

Spooky...

John Hendricks said...

For about 20 years I have been searching for a quote from Tania during her SLA period. I had read the first SLA manifesto printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, and found it to be mindless. When I heard Patty had joined the SLA, my interest was reignited. I bought the Chronicle that contained the last SLA manifesto (I think it was the 10th), so I could read what Tania had to say. One thing she wrote stuck in my mind. If I remember correctly after four decades, she said something like the following: "I am privy to a tacit plot among the wealthy in this nation. The wealthy elite were afraid of a left-wing surge when Senator McCarthy ran against Nixon. So they agreed to work together to ship our factories overseas, and to automate factories. By putting the middle class out of work, they would cause the middle class to fight against each other for those few jobs that remained, and thereby keep the plebs from working together in a spirit of community." I have tried to find this quote in microfilm of the Hearst papers. I think I found the correct paper, but the microfilm was all blurred (INTENTIONALLY?). Do you have access to the original? I would love to check my memory to see if what I recall is true. Thank you, John Hendricks (starfire.humboldt1.com).

Anonymous said...

All i can say is long live the legacy of mizmoon. Given a chance she would have made a real difference to the under privileged