[sixties-l] SLAs legacy a violent void (fwd)

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Date: Sun Nov 24 2002 - 17:54:42 EST

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    Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2002 14:39:21 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: SLAs legacy a violent void

    SLA's legacy a violent void


    Late arriving on revolutionary stage with no lasting message

    by Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Monday, November 11, 2002

    The Symbionese Liberation Army, a 1970s radical
    group back in the news because four of its graying
    members have just pleaded guilty to a long-ago
    murder, was a violent, revolutionary gang that had
    almost no political message and was known chiefly
    for kidnapping Patty Hearst.
    It was the gang that came to the '60s revolutionary
    party just as everyone was leaving, joining the
    mainstream and putting away their protest signs,
    experts say, and the SLA never understood that
    much of the reason for that era of protest was over.
    "The SLA was so over the edge that nobody wants to
    relate to them," said Terry Anderson, a Texas A&M
    University historian who wrote "The Movement and
    the Sixties." "By 1974, when the SLA kidnapped
    Patty Hearst, most historians felt the Movement had
    extinguished itself. Congress had approved the Equal
    Rights Amendment.
    The troops were coming home from Vietnam. The
    Paris peace accords had been signed. I just see
    these SLA people as leftover radicals."
    Now, a new generation of the young, many of them
    toddlers when the SLA was in its heyday, knows the
    group mostly as the bank robbing band that, 27
    years ago, killed a 42-year-old housewife delivering
    church receipts.
    Last week, four SLA members, including Sara Jane
    Olson, already in custody on a 1975 attempted
    bombing offense, pleaded guilty to second-degree
    murder in the death of Myrna Lee Opsahl during the
    April 21, 1975, robbery of a bank in the Sacramento
    suburb of Carmichael. Now in their mid-50s and
    leading the kind of sedate bourgeois lives they railed
    against 30 years ago, William Harris, his ex-wife
    Emily Montague and Michael Bortin are about to go
    off to state prison for terms of six to eight years.
    This morning, a fifth member of the SLA, fugitive
    James Kilgore, is scheduled to appear at an
    extradition hearing in Cape Town, South Africa,
    where he has been working as a researcher and
    teacher. In 1976, he was an associate of the SLA
    and was wanted then, as he is now, on federal
    explosives charges. Kilgore, now 55, married and
    with two young children, faces up to 10 years on the
    federal charges and another six on the state murder
                       WITH TIME, A NEW PERSPECTIVE
    Back in the early '70s, however, Kilgore was a fiery
    young radical, freshly minted from UC Santa Barbara,
    where he had met and become the lover of Kathleen
    Soliah (now Olson), a former high school pep rally
    leader who, like Kilgore, had become radicalized in
    the heady ferment of antiwar and civil rights fever then
    sweeping American campuses. They came to
    Berkeley and soon joined other radicals who would
    ultimately form the SLA.
    Although reams have been written about the group,
    given what many say was their near-genius knack for
    publicity in kidnapping the granddaughter of colorful
    newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, perhaps
    the best way to figure out what the SLA wanted to do
    is to listen to their own words. In court the other day,
    they were contrite and humble, profusely apologizing
    for the death of Opsahl.
    But in April 1976, when they gave an "as told to"
    interview to New Times magazine, their cant was
    clearly different.
    "The SLA was based on the need to develop a
    guerrilla front with the idea that armed actions along
    with above ground political organizing educates and
    mobilizes people in support of revolution," SLA leader
    William Harris told the magazine. Harris talked about
    the "War Council" and the "Symbionese Federation,
    " consisting of "autonomous combat units that would
    operate underground (SLA) and an aboveground
    political support infrastructure."
    One combat unit "operation," as Emily Harris (now
    Emily Montague) put it, was the assassination of
    Oakland schools superintendent Marcus Foster, an
    act that backfired so loudly, because Foster was so
    respected in Oakland, that the SLA had to follow it
    up with something far more spectacular. On Feb. 4,
    1974, they kidnapped Patricia Hearst from her
    Berkeley apartment.
    "The heinousness of what they did (by killing Foster)
    was obscured by the fact that they went on to kidnap
    Patricia Hearst," said Todd Gitlin, a Columbia
    University professor and author of "The Sixties: Years
    of Hope, Days of Rage."
                       SHOOTOUT, BANK HEISTS, JAIL
    Hearst joined the SLA and spent 19 months with
    them, watching six of them die in a Los Angeles
    shootout with police, then helping the remainder of
    the gang hide from the FBI, while continuing to rob
    banks, until she and the Harrises were captured in
    September 1975. Hearst was convicted on federal
    bank robbery charges and spent 22 months in prison.
    The Harrises spent nearly eight years in state prison
    for kidnapping Hearst.
    But after that, the Harrises joined the mainstream
    William Harris became a respected private
    investigator in San Francisco, got married to a lawyer
    and is raising a family; Emily Montague became a
    computer whiz and entered the world of six-figure
    annual incomes, doing computer wizardry for movie
    Bortin married Josephine Soliah, Olson's sister, and
    became a floor contractor in Portland, Ore. The other
    day, in court, when he was pleading guilty and
    apologizing for his behavior a quarter of a century
    earlier, he said that the violence of the SLA had
    damaged the cause of everyone else who was
    peacefully protesting, an admission that piqued
    Gitlin's interest.
    "What Bortin has finally figured out, as was the case
    with the Weathermen and parts of the Black
    Panthers, is that the SLA were the gravediggers of
    something that had been alive," Gitlin said. "That's
    the historical meaning. There was absolutely nothing
    positive about it. It was just pure wreckage."
    E-mail Michael Taylor mtaylor@sfchronicle.com.

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