leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
In the post-9/11 world, the Symbionese Liberation Army is lucky to be remembered as a sick, sad footnote to the history of celebrity scandal, the toy soldiers who kidnapped and brainwashed photogenic newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. But between 1973 and 1975, it waged literal war on the American establishment and held the national news media in its thrall. The SLA's founding members were an incongruous mix of Bay Area-based black convicts and middle-class white radicals whose imaginations were a movie-made mix of "steal from the rich, give to the poor" idealism and revolutionary fervor. Their bond was forged in the white-hot passions of the 1960s: disgust at the war in Vietnam, frustration at the lingering legacy of racial segregation, fury at growing corporate influence over social policy and political decision-making, and the bitter conviction that the American government was in the hands of self-serving hypocrites and murderers. They coined the word "symbionese" to imply a mutually beneficial union of diverse oppressed groups and renamed themselves, assuming cloak-and-daggerish titles and aliases. Their first mission was the assassination of Dr. Marcus Foster, the first African-American superintendent of the Oakland public school system. Foster's crime: supporting mandatory IDs for high-school students. SLA members Russ Little's and Joe Remiro's arrest for Foster's murder triggered the kidnapping that made the group famous; 19-year-old Patricia Campbell Hearst was abducted in hopes that she could be used in a "prisoner exchange" that would free Remiro and Little. But after two months in captivity, during which Hearst's parents catered publicly to the kidnappers' every whim, she announced that she had joined her captors and was caught on surveillance tape helping rob San Francisco's Hibernia Bank. Six members of the SLA died in a fiery shootout with the LAPD in 1974, covered live by a mob of TV crews when such coverage was still a novelty; the remaining members, including Hearst, were arrested later that year. Though Hearst is the hook, Stone's unwavering focus is on the heady mix of social and personal dynamics that spawned the SLA, complete with the seeds of its own downfall. His assured use of archival materials, notably contemporary news footage, vividly evokes the sense of barely suppressed panic in the air during the early and mid-1970s, and the extensive interviews with SLA founding member Russ Little and later recruit Mike Bortin provide thought-provoking perspectives on recent history.