[sixties-l] Justice or Revenge: The SLA and the War on Terrorism (fwd)

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    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Justice or Revenge: The SLA and the War on Terrorism

    Justice or Revenge: The SLA and the War on Terrorism


    The government is gaining momentum for their war on terror both at home and
    abroad. A recent conviction for a crime committed in the heat of the 1960s
    proves a point in case for activists to be wary of the new tide proclaiming
    activists as terrorists.

    by Ron Jacobs

    On October 31, 2001 Sara Jane Olson <http://www.saraolsondefense.com/> pled
    guilty to conspiring to firebomb some police cars in 1975. Ms. Olson was
    supposed to have conspired with other members of the Symbionese Liberation
    Army (SLA) and the New World Liberation Front (NWLF) in the mid-1970s when
    the attempted bombings occurred. Although no cars were ever burned or blown
    up, Ms. Olson was arrested and convicted on these charges almost 30 years
    later despite the lack of evidence that linking her physically to the acts.
    At her sentencing
    <http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/1/18/172706.shtml> in
    January 2002 she was notified of new charges stemming from the murder of
    bank customer Myrna Opsahl that was allegedly committed by members of the
    SLA during a holdup in Carmichael, Calif. in 1975. Four other former SLA
    members were also charged with this murder. Their names are Bill and Emily
    Harris, James Kilgore, and Michael Bortin.
    Although the murder made little political sense when it occurred, like many
    of the SLA's actions, one has to question the curious timing of the
    arrests. Since the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001
    the hysteria surrounding so-called terrorists has shaped virtually every
    act of law enforcement and the ruling elites in the US. Indeed, part of the
    draconian anti-terrorist law
    <http://www.epic.org/privacy/terrorism/hr3162.html> passed by the US
    Congress, known by its acronym the USA-PATRIOT actin November 2001, created
    the new crime of domestic terrorism. Under this new law, many direct action
    tactics (lockdowns, street blockades) may be viewed as domestic terrorism.
    The act also allows for anyone providing assistance to a "domestic
    terrorist" to be charged with harboring a terrorist. Not only does this law
    create a new crime, it makes it possible for the state to retroactively
    prosecute suspected individuals for crimes decades old as there is no
    statute of limitations.
    Who Were the SLA?
    The SLA's origins are vague, to say the least. Never more than a dozen
    individuals, it burst on the US political scene in November 1973 when two
    of its members murdered the Oakland, Calif. superintendent of public
    schools, Marcus Foster. Foster was tremendously popular in the primarily
    black and Latino community the Oakland school system served. His murder was
    mourned by thousands and disavowed by virtually every other radical
    organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. His moderately progressive
    ideas were opposed by many in Oakland's ruling elite, a city that ran
    itself much like a racist city in America's old South, and supported by
    many grassroots leftist groups such as the Oakland chapter of the Black
    Panther Party. The reasons given by the SLA for the assassination focused
    on Foster's plans to require all public school students to carry school
    identification cards and to plant uniformed police in certain schools in
    the district.
    The murder drew attention to the SLA from law enforcement, the media, and
    the Left. Almost immediately, the Black Panther Party began an
    investigation into the group's origins. Their investigation brought up
    several interesting leads that all too often brought the investigators back
    to the Criminal Conspiracy Division of the Los Angeles Police Department
    and the Criminal Investigation Division of the California Highway Patrol.
    Both of these units are well-known for their infiltration of radical groups
    and street gangs and their use of informers.
    Although it is not my intention to delve into conspiracies here, it is
    worth mentioning that one such informer who had been on the payroll of
    these and other law enforcement agencies at different times throughout his
    adult life was the leader of the SLA, Donald DeFreeze. Furthermore,
    DeFreeze had documented contact with a Louis Tackwood, who was well known
    to the Los Angeles Black Panther chapter as an informer. After an unusual
    transfer from Soledad Prison to the Vacaville state prison and medical
    facility, DeFreeze first met the future SLA members in a state-sponsored
    program to promote literacy in California's prisons. His participation in
    the program was at the behest of prison officials.
    The program, known as Unisight, had been infiltrated by many white radicals
    who were interested in the revolutionary potential of prisoners, especially
    those of color. This interest had been on the rise since the late 1960s and
    had created revolutionaries like the murdered Black Panther George Jackson
    <http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/index-beb.html> and the men of
    the failed September 1971 <http://www.talkinghistory.org/attica/> rebellion
    at Attica Prison in New York. The Black Panthers did not trust the
    Unisight program and considered it a way for prison officials to keep tabs
    on outside radicals who were interested in prison organizing. The (mostly
    white) radicals from the outside were from the Venceremos group, which had
    developed out of the Bay Area Revolutionary Unions, which in turn had
    derived from the 1969 disintegration of the Students for a Democratic
    Society (SDS). Venceremos had minimal training in the use of arms and spent
    much of their time proselytizing the uninitiated and arguing with other
    ultra-left sects in the Bay Area over various and often arcane aspects of
    Marxist-Leninist theory. After a number of Unisight group meetings at
    Vacaville prison, the SLA and its program of revolutionary terror was
    developed. DeFreeze walked away from Vacaville prison near Sacramento,
    Calif. in March 1973 -- a feat that was not particularly easy and gives
    further credence to the theory that he was working for the police as a
    provocateur, and meet up with his fellow SLA members in Berkeley.
    A series of spectacular acts followed, including the kidnapping of
    newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst's daughter Patty and the
    subsequent ransom payment of millions of dollars of free food to the poor
    neighborhoods in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. A few weeks after
    her kidnapping, Patty joined the group, which then went on a robbery spree
    through California. This series of "appropriations" resulted in large
    newspaper headlines, increased police harassment of street people in cities
    like Berkeley and Santa Cruz where large numbers of movement and
    counterculture adherents made their home, and a final showdown in Los
    Angeles on May 4, 1974 between six SLA members and hundreds of Los Angeles
    police. The showdown ended in the deaths of all six SLA members inside
    their safe house. It was followed by a months-long underground journey by
    Patty and other SLA members that traversed the continent and brought down
    the wrath of the FBI as it raided communes in the countryside known to be
    populated by new leftists and city dwellings that housed food coops,
    underground newspaper offices, and other oppositional political organizations.
    It was during this period underground that the bank robbery in Carmichael,
    Calif. took place and Myrna Opsahl <http://www.myrnaopsahl.com/> was
    killed. Patty was captured in September 1975 along with another SLA member
    named Wendy Yoshimura. Yoshimura's association with the group had begun
    after the debacle in Los Angeles and is notable mostly for two things: 1)
    her parents were interned in the World War Two internment camps set up by
    the US government after the Japanese navy attack on Pearl Harbor and 2) it
    was through Yoshimura that the SLA connection to the radical sports critic
    and teacher Jack Scott <http://www.pattyhearst.com/jackscott.htm> was made.
    Scott was well known in US sports circles for his anti-capitalist critique
    of college and professional sports in US society and for his unconventional
    approach to sports education and coaching. Although never conclusively
    proven, Scott was believed to have provided shelter to the SLA members
    while underground and it was through Scott that basketball star Bill Walton
    (known for his antiwar/antiracist and counter cultural views) was also
    implicated. Other SLA members, including Sara Olson were also underground.
    Very few leftist groups supported the SLA, even when they were under heavy
    attack by the police. Much of this hesitation stemmed from the heightened
    paranoia prevalent amongst leftist political and counter-cultural activists
    in 1974-76. That paranoia can be traced to the increased public awareness
    of the State's repressive tactics that were coming to light in the wake of
    revelations surrounding the Watergate scandal. Some of the revelations
    eventually forced President Richard Nixon to resign under threat of
    impeachment and an almost certain conviction.
    In fact, the only widely published statements of support came from the
    Weather Underground and Yippie activists Stew Alpert and his partner Judith
    Clavier Alpert. Both of these sources decried the Left's attempts to
    distance themselves from the SLA. The statements urged other movement
    people to "not do the work of the state" and to recognize the SLA as fellow
    fighters in the struggle, in spite of its terrorist tactics and curious
    origins. Ironically, the police and the system they protect did not
    acknowledge any difference between the SLA and other parts of the movement,
    preferring to place them all in the camp of the "terrorists." One support
    group did arise, calling itself the New World Liberation Front (NWLF).
    These individuals issued statements of support for the SLA and carried out
    actions to support them. It was the NWLF that claimed responsibility for
    other police car fire-bombings that occurred around the same time as the
    attempted ones that Olson is now serving time for.
                         The War on Terrorism and Political Repression
    Ever since those planes hit the towers on September 11, the political
    climate amongst the United States' elites is one of consolidating power and
    abrogating liberties most US citizens take for granted even though they
    don't use them. Given this, most citizens either support the curtailment
    of their liberties or, since they never use them, are unaware of how this
    curtailment affects these liberties' fragile existence. Of course, the
    rulers have taken full advantage of this confusion and the fear many
    Americans feel since the terrorist acts of September 11. To this end, they
    have locked up more than a thousand men of Middle Eastern, Pakistani, and
    Afghani origins, and increased their harassment of those who speak out
    against the so-called war on terror. This increased harassment includes the
    general isolation of all political prisoners in US prisons, greater police
    violence and intimidation at demonstrations, and actual raids of
    organizations and individuals offices and dwellings in supposed searches
    for "terrorist" materials.
    These moves are less about terror and more about control. Before the
    occurrences of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent combat overseas, the
    US corporate plan for economic hegemony was under attack. The protests and
    riots in the streets at every meeting of the world's capitalist leaders
    were but the most obvious aspect of this opposition. Just like the number
    of protestors in the streets at these meetings, overall opposition was
    growing. It was growing so quickly, in fact, that the governments and
    corporations who had much to lose from the growing popularity of the
    protestors' demands had to do something. The use of live ammunition by
    police in Gothenburg and the killing of a protestor in Genoa
    <http://www.infoshop.org/news6/genoa.html> were indications of what lay
    ahead for protestors planning on attending the demonstrations against the
    IMF and World Bank in Washington, DC on September 29, 2001 --meetings that
    were cancelled in the wake of September 11th. The bullets used by the
    police and fences constructed around these meetings are a metaphor for the
    legislation demanded by the corporations of the governments they control.
    It is necessary to silence the protestors by any means necessary. The
    terrorist attacks gave the authoritarians the opening they needed.
    The Sara Olson trial was underway well before September 11th and Ms. Olson
    was planning on challenging the charges before a jury, figuring that she
    would be found innocent given the flimsy and circumstantial nature of the
    evidence. She abruptly changed strategy after the World Trade Center
    disaster, however, afraid of the climate of fear running rampant through
    the country and the prosecution's certain manipulation of that fear,
    something easily done by reminding jurors that the SLA were "terrorists."
    Olson then pled guilty despite her denial of the charges. Her plea was
    accepted with reservation by the court and she was asked to reconfirm her
    guilt at sentencing because of statements she had made while free on bail
    and awaiting sentencing. These statements cast doubt on her guilt and
    focused on her inability to get a fair trial in post-911 America.
    Unfortunately for Olson, she was charged with murder soon after she was
    sentenced to ten years on conspiracy and possession of bombing materials
    charges. The murder charge was related to a robbery conducted by the SLA in
    Sacramento where an innocent bystander (Ms. Opsahl) was allegedly killed by
    a masked SLA member. Olson was one of four SLA members charged with
    murder. The trial has yet to begin. According to law enforcement sources
    quoted in various mainstream media, these charges were being prepared
    before Olson pled guilty to her other charges. Olson and many others
    believe that her inclusion in the indictment is an attempt to force her to
    turn state's evidence and tell the prosecution whatever she knows about the
    SLA, the Weather Underground, and any other groups and individuals she came
    in contact with during her involvement in revolutionary politics.
    This opinion is not without basis. There has been an ongoing campaign by
    the ultra-right in the United States to undo the legacy of the 1960s and
    1970s. Some of this campaign's most dogged soldiers can be found in the
    right wing of the Republican Party and include at least two former New
    Leftists, David Horowitz and Peter Collier, both former staffers of the New
    Left journal Ramparts and supporters of the ultraleftist elements of the
    New Left. Other participants in the drive to discredit the radical left of
    America's past include former FBI agents who were fired from the agency for
    committing illegal break-ins and other activities in their pursuit of
    leftist and antiwar/antiracist activists, and a variety of former
    prosecutors and just plain old demagogues who make their living off of
    attacking anyone to the left of George W. Bush and his cabal.
    Now that the new crime of domestic terrorism has been created, this
    campaign has the potential to dig up a lot of bones from the graveyard of
    the movements of the 1960s. Like the storm surrounding former radical
    Joschka Fischer's
    activities in Germany during the same time period, the US may find itself
    in the same position as it tracks down former radicals. The law is sure to
    also cause trouble for the activists of today. In addition, the
    protagonists in this campaign to eradicate the legacy of the New Left and
    imprison its former leaders appears to have the support of the current
    regime in Washington, something that makes the US scenario quite different
    than that in Germany, where Fischer and his fellows are the current rulers
    and his detractors are in the minority.
    As for the US Left, both old and new, support for Olson and her cohorts has
    been minimal. Like much of the US populace, popular movements have a short
    memory. The history of the 1960s and 1970s is already ancient history to
    most grassroots activists today. Despite a rash of books and articles
    covering that period from a variety of political angles, there is still an
    overwhelming ignorance of the politics of that period, its principal
    players and its roster of martyrs and political prisoners. Add to this the
    general lack of support for the SLA in its heyday and one can see the
    possibility of these folks getting much harsher sentences than someone else
    convicted of the same crime under non-political circumstances.
    What Does the Future Hold?
    To be brutally honest, it doesn't look good for the Ms. Olson and her
    fellow defendants. In all likelihood, they will all be convicted of the
    murder charges against them, despite the fact that only one person (who may
    or may not be one of those indicted) actually pulled the trigger that
    killed Opsahl. Under California law, however, anyone who was involved in
    the planning of a crime where a murder occurred is liable for the murder.
    It is expected that Patty Hearst will testify at the murder trial and, even
    though both Harrises have already done some prison time for their actions
    while with the SLA, their fate and the fate of their co-defendants is not a
    hopeful one.
    Indeed, the current climate in the US is one that does not bode well for
    anyone who the state labels "terrorist," and the definition of that word is
    expanding to include more and more of the government's opponents. While it
    would be easy to blame their lack of support from groups and individuals
    usually involved in political prisoner support entirely on the methods and
    rhetoric the SLA employed during its existence, to do so would be letting
    these organizations off too easily. The murder of Ms. Opsahl, an innocent
    bank customer who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, was,
    and remains, a reprehensible act. Despite this, one has to wonder if the
    zealotry on the part of the state in its desire to pursue these
    prosecutions is, while not without precedent, a harbinger of the future at
    least as regards the repression of the State's enemies. If so, the US left,
    Black liberation, and anarchist movements would do well to come up with a
    strategy to combat such a future. The SLA case might be a good place to start.

    Ron Jacobs is an activist and writer who works in a library. He is the
    author of The Way the Wind Blew:A History of the Weather Underground

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