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Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 14:35:08 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Remembering an SLA Terrorist
Remembering an SLA Terrorist
By Stephen Schwartz
FrontPageMagazine.com | February 20, 2003
The last major figures in the so-called Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA)
have been sentenced to prison for murder. They include a man named Michael
Bortin, aged 54.
Like most Bay Area leftists who were adults at the time, I remember vividly
the explosion of the SLA into public awareness a quarter century ago.
Beginning with the assassination of Oakland school superintendent Marcus
Foster in 1974, the ragtag gang of lowlifes and losers continued their
terrorist campaign by kidnapping Patricia Hearst. Most of them died in a
fire in Los Angeles, unmourned by even the most intransigent members of the
radical Left. But Patty Hearst and others of their hangers-on survived to
commit more crimes. An obvious airhead dressed like a disco queen, Kathleen
Soliah, stood up in a Berkeley park with her silly grin and threatened the
SLA dead would be avenged.
Eleven months after the fiery end of the main terror cell, the remaining
conspirators robbed a bank in Carmichael, Calif., with the participation of
Hearst. A 42-year old bank customer, Myrna Opsahl, was killed by a blast
from a shotgun held by the visibly stupid Emily Harris, today Emily Montague.
Also like most of the Bay Area Left, in which I was very active, I knew
nothing of the SLA or its members. But all of us knew about the milieu from
which it emerged, and nothing we knew was good. We knew that Venceremos, a
splinter from the degenerate Students For a Democratic Society, was a
Maoist cult headed by intellectual gangster H. Bruce Franklin. Venceremos
organized military training and assigned its members to spy on other
leftists; I was among those surveilled. We knew that Vietnam Veterans
Against the War, aligned with Venceremos, had developed a "lumpen"
mentality, emphasizing violent rhetoric and threats to other leftists. We
knew that work with convicts was the focal point of these extremists
groups' agenda, as it is today among the Saudi-Wahhabi agents who use
prisons to recruit for Islamist terrorism. Later we heard that Angela
Atwood, who burned to death in Los Angeles, had been tangentially involved
in the Socialist Workers Party, the largest of the Trotskyist groups. But
the SLA was fundamentally a byproduct of the Bruce Franklin cult. Above
all, we knew that the trash inhabiting the netherworld of Venceremos and
other post-SDS entities considered themselves above all law and all morality.
I took little further notice of these parasites, although I became a friend
of William Randolph Hearst III, and accompanied him to the U.S. Federal
Building in San Francisco when Patty was arrested in 1975. But everything
changed when I heard that Michael Bortin was involved. Michael Bortin I
knew. We are the same age, and he had sat beside me at Lowell High School
in San Francisco in the mid-60s.
The Mike Bortin I remembered then, and whom I recall now as he appeared
when we were teenagers, was the furthest thing from a terrorist, to say
nothing of claiming credentials as a revolutionary. He was a rather
unappetizing smartass of no intellectual distinction and no political
opinions, who made a point of harassing me for my then-Communist views. He
sat in our history class and spread wide his toothy sneer, pressing me with
the argument that nobody could want to be a Communist when one could enjoy
the typical teenage pleasure of drag-racing. His face was fat then.
There were a number of other oafs like him at Lowell High, who made it
clear that radical political nonconformity was repellent to them, and some
of whom were quick with racial insults, since the young Communists and
other radicals of that time emphasized our devotion to the African-American
civil rights movement. Strangely, all three of the worst left-baiters at
Lowell turned into leftist fanatics when they left home. Some, once they
got to college, had been transformed by their experience in SDS, an
organization that we young Communists of a pro-Soviet variety eschewed.
I had also heard of Bortin earlier in 1970s, before the SLA horrors, when
he was arrested in a bombing conspiracy in Berkeley and was sent to prison
for a year. Perhaps it was there that he lost his chubby cheeks.
But with the emergence of Bortin as a major SLA criminal, I began a long
meditation on these topics. Those of us who had pioneered the leftist
upsurge of the 1960s, including David Horowitz and Ronald Radosh, evolved
away from Communism, eventually embracing American patriotism and the free
market system. The Johnny-come-latelies of the Bortin variety sank deeper
and deeper into the depths of nihilism. Was this simply a matter of some
growing up, and some failing to?
I never thought so. Rather, I had observed the sudden transformation of the
Left from a small, marginal affair into a mass movement in 1968 and
afterward. It was clear that as millions of middle-class kids had come into
the milieu, mainly through SDS, the culture of the Left had changed
utterly. With all our errors and weaknesses, those of us who initiated the
^A'60s radical uprising were neither uneducated, nor unconscious, nor
unaware of the dangers of the "lumpen" mentality. We were "red diaper
babies," a label some have turned into an insult, but our Soviet-lining
parents did not bring us up to believe in the Left as a pretext for
We read a lot and thought a lot and, in the first wave, were rather
repressed about sexuality and dope-smoking. Our commitment was terribly
wrong, in that we turned against our native land and the liberties it
embodies, but we were idealists and intellectuals. We gravitated to
universities like Berkeley and Madison because they represented a high
standard, not because they were riot schools, the leftwing equivalent of
party schools although we helped turn them into another, more sinister
kind of party schools.
By 1968 many of the "young pioneers" had personally and professionally
moved on from mindless activism. Horowitz had returned from Britain and
became the hardworking editor of Ramparts magazine. Radosh had published
serious studies of U.S. foreign policy. I was honing my craft as a poet and
translator, and had begun my own evolution away from Stalinism to Trotskyism.
But the tone in the mass movement was increasingly set by the
Johnny-come-latelies, which seems to be an inevitable outcome in leftist
history. They were not big readers or thinkers; their intellect was located
somewhere between their viscera and their sexual organs. They were having
the time of their lives, and nobody was going to get in their way, as the
family of Myrna Opsahl learned, the hard way.
I now believe the speed with which the ^A'60s Left turned utterly rotten had
more to do with a particular ideology than with inexorable historical laws.
Between the Bolshevik revolution and the surrender of the global Left to
Stalinism required the passage of 20 years, the imprisonment and massacre
of numerous revolutionary "pioneers" of that time by the Soviet secret
police, and the rise of Stalinism's homologue, Nazism. Yet with all the
moral evil of Bolshevism, its lies were resisted by many radical intellectuals.
Our lies went unresisted.
We told our generation that the Cold War had been created by the U.S. as a
scheme to perpetuate an undefined "imperialism" a lie echoed today by the
marching morons who parade in defense of Saddam.
We told our generation that the only alternatives were peace or war, i.e.,
acceptance of Russian expansionism or a devastating nuclear conflict.
We told our generation that Martin Luther King, Jr. a true man of God and
righteous leader in the greatest political transformation of the 20th
century, the American civil rights movement, was a weak leader susceptible
We told our generation that petty thugs were selfless heroes. These
included Ho Chih Minh, who had murdered hundreds of Vietnamese Trotskyists
before attacking his neighbors; like Fidel Castro, a whiter version of
Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, in military dress like Franco or any
other Hispanic caudillo; Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a physician who ordered
liquidations in violation of his Hippocratic oath; and Yasir Arafat, who
enriched himself by keeping the Palestinian Arabs in a state of abjection
We told our generation that the Soviet turn toward support of corrupt Arab
regimes did not represent a devil's deal with anti-Jewish hatred, stirred
up in the Soviet camp under the pretext of criticizing Israel.
We told our generation that terrorism was not a crime against humanity.
All lies; and the indoctrination of millions of American young people in
such lies could not but lead straight to Emily Harris and her shotgun,
killing Myrna Opsahl.
For myself, I believe some guilt in this terrible chapter of world history
must be shared by the Stalinist physicists, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer,
"the million-killer," as the anti-Stalinist poet Kenneth Rexroth called
him. They built a bomb in a hurry, to save Russia, and then handed it off,
by espionage, to the Russians, guaranteeing that the peaceful and
constructive world our parents had believed would follow World War II would
be sabotaged by permanent fear. With the shadow of the bomb hanging over
us, how could we be expected to find a moral compass?
Nevertheless, some of us did so. Horowitz refused to lie to protect the
Black Panthers and the murder of one of his acquaintances. Radosh refused
to continue lying to save the reputations of the Rosenbergs, grubby Russian
spies who, had they gotten the chance, would have assembled lists of New
York Trotskyists for liquidation by an American version of the KGB. My
rejection of Communist lies will be detailed at another time and place. But
all of us ended up as defenders of democracy and the West.
I believe there is a psychological element that unites all of us who have
made this journey, and another such factor that unites human dust of the
We who pioneered the leftism of the '60s were wrong, but we swam against
the stream, to use a phrase once favored by the Bolsheviks in describing
the socialists who opposed the first world war. We did not organize or join
mobs. We sought a fresh path, refusing to recognize that it might lead us
into a fetid swamp. And we swam against the stream when we broke with the
Left. Indeed, none of us are predictable functionaries of the "bourgeois
regime" today. We continue to follow our own courses.
Mike Bortin and his SLA "comrades," by contrast, did what they did to be
cool, to be part of the gang. Just as Bortin spoke for the mediocre
majority in high school when he jeered at my Communism, so he spoke for the
mediocre majority in college when he claimed the "revolution" would be
served by terrorism. They did not swim against the stream; they were swept
In a sense, none of us changed at all, at least in our hearts, which is
Bortin and Co. have now been sentenced to prison terms for their
involvement in the murder of Myrna Opsahl. The hysterical Emily Montague
got eight years; her ex-husband Bill Harris, babbling incoherently and
posturing like the punk he is, acted as if he thought impersonating a
homeless person would gain him some form of mercy. But the simian Harris
received seven years. Kathleen Soliah, alias Sara Jane Olson, who had the
aspect of a lobotomy patient, and got six years, as did Bortin. The smirk
he had worn in high school was finally removed from his face.
There remains a major unanswered question in this depressing affair: who
arranged for Kathleen Soliah and James Kilgore to travel to southern
Africa? I have my own sources on these matters, which I am following up.
But will we have to wait for the opening of Cuban archives to learn the
full truth about the malign activities of these rotten adventurers?
Stephen Schwartz, an author and journalist, is author of The Two Faces of
Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror. A vociferous critic of
Wahhabism, Schwartz is a frequent contributor to National Review, The
Weekly Standard, and other publications.
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