07 February 2012

Mind Control

I've just finished the draft of a story (a first draft according to my editors, the Professor and, his sister, Bridgid, that is. They both assure me that it is far from submission-ready.). This unpolished gem is rather loosely based on the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army of the roaring seventies. I'm too young to actually remember them, of course, but I have made something of a study of their antics. As you may know, they hit their high note with the kidnapping of newspaper heiress, Patricia Hearst–a strike directly at the heart of the "fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people"–soaring and repetitive hyberbole was the stardard for radical groups of this era. The kidnapping, in of itself, would not have made the episode so distinctive, rather it was the completely unexpected events that followed that set the nation on its ear: Patty Hearst appeared to morph from helpless victim of a rather terrifyingly single-minded group of self-styled revolutionaries into a full-fledged, gun-toting (and shooting) member! It appeared to be a near incomprehensible evolution. Cries of Stockholm Syndrome rent the highly-charged air!

 The SLA was not much of an army, as it turned out, though they claimed repeatedly to be operating cells nation-wide. In fact, the army that kidnapped Patty consisted of eight people. The only 'cell' they were operating was located in a California prison block where their other two members unhappily resided. These two were serving time for the murder of a school superintendent who had been deemed racist by SLA's revolutionary 'court of justice'. Apparently, actual trials of the accused were not required in their brave new world. They killed his aide, too. The victims were black men that were widely liked and respected in the Oakland, California community. This may you give you some inkling of the SLA's philosophy–possibly too subtle for most of us to comprehend.

The SLA sans Patty
The group that kidnapped, and subsequently "brain-washed" Patty Hearst was made up of three men, two white, one black, and five women–all white. Patty made six; and she was also white. Their leader was the sole black member who went by the assumed name, Cinque ( pronounced 'Sin-kay'), and wore the impressive title, Field Marshal. All of the group adopted what they purported to be African names; their avowed purpose being the destruction of racist, capitalist, fascist, Amerikkka. Yes, that's how they both spelled it and pronounced it. Whatever you may think of this group and its aims, they were certainly a conflicted knot of humanity. Bank robbing came next.

The heist at the Hibernia was well-planned, if not executed. While liberating money from the corporate oppressor they managed to shoot and kill two unarmed people. Everything was captured on the film of the security cameras–including the newest addition to the guerrillas ranks–Patricia Hearst. Wielding a sawed-off M-1 (the rest carried an assortment of automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns) she announced her identity, purpose, and new-found solidarity with the cause of oppressed peoples as championed by the SLA! A legend was born. Patty Hearst was now Tania. This being the moniker of a female revolutionary who died with Che Guevara in Bolivia. Curiouser and curiouser–Alice had certainly stepped through the looking-glass.

Tania (Patricia Hearst)
Fleeing from the intensifying heat they had generated in the San Francisco area, the gang headed south to hole up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Compton. This would turn out to be mistake. After fortifying a small house in this predominantly black, and poor, neighborhood, it appeared some neighbors took note of this sudden influx of heavily armed white people. Took note and grew alarmed despite the SLA's assurances that they were, in fact, there to protect and liberate them. It seems that some did not want the kind of liberation they deduced might be in store for these guerrillas.

Oblivious to these concerns, Tania (Patty), in the company of William and Emily Harris (Now known as Yolanda and Teko… say what?) set out to buy some supplies for their new household. This did not go well. While in the store, Revolutionary Teko decided to liberate some sweat socks that he was in sore need of. Why he did this when they had the requisite cash (Hibernia Bank job, remember?) will never be fully understood by the bourgeois mind. A security officer employed at the store attempted to uphold the reactionary status quo, and a struggle ensued with Teko. Yolanda joined in. Tania, having been left in the van parked out front, became alarmed when she saw that her revolutionary brother and sister were in dire straits. She reacted quickly and decisively by opening fire on the front of the store with a machine gun. This did have the effect of inducing a sense of despair in the security officer, and he chose the better part of valor at this juncture. The dynamic people's soldiers rushed out to freedom and Sister Tania.

In something of a panic now due to the attention they had drawn upon themselves, the rest of the evening and next several days was spent stealing and switching cars. The descriptions of all three were instantly recognized and the L.A.P.D. now knew that the feared SLA was in their town. This was to have repercussions for the folks back at the ranch(er).

As word circulated through the media and the Compton neighbors realized exactly who the new folks on the block were, a few discrete calls were made. So, while Tania and crew tooled around L.A., the FBI and police gathered their forces and laid siege to Cinque's band of not-so-merry pranksters. Though they were repeatedly offered the chance to surrender, this had never been in their plans according to Patricia's 1982 autobiography. A fierce firefight ensued, mostly fought with fully automatic weapons. Tear gas and smoke bombs fired into the house by the police resulted in the building catching fire. This in turn began to set off the crates of ammunition and bomb-making material within. No SLA member offered to surrender and none survived. The house burned down around them.

Tania during Hibernia Heist
The three remaining, at-large, members (including Tania) made themselves scarce upon hearing the news, and went on to reconstitute the SLA with new members, succeed in robbing another bank (during which Yolanda killed a perfectly innocent wife and mother with a shogun blast), and bomb a police car. In the fullness of time, they were at last apprehended and brought to trial. Tania (now Patricia Hearst once more) became the focal point of public, judicial, and political interest: was she a willing participant, or a helplessly brain-washed victim of terrorists? Theories abounded; talking heads chattered.

As for the jury handed her case– they weren't buying it. In spite of her attorney's attempts (a rambling, and almost incomprehensible F. Lee Baily) at convincing the jury that his client was simply another victim of the SLA, they just weren't having it. They found her guilty of robbery and assault and she was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. President Jimmy Carter foiled all this with an order of Executive Clemency after only two years served.

I must admit, that during these amazing chain of events (okay, I am old enough to remember–and a lot more besides) I was of the opinion that the jury got it right. Okay, the bad guys kept her in a closet (and not the walk-in kind) for seven weeks while blasting soul music at her day and night; but what's not to like about Otis Redding; James Brown? I'll also grant that being forced to listen to lectures on her political responsibility for the world's ills (largely because her father was what we now call a one per center) would try the patience of a saint. But joining up? To me, it just didn't add up.

Yet, we have the Stockholm Syndrome advocates. The general theory grew out of a bank robbery gone wrong in (you guessed it) Stockholm, Sweden. The robbers, foiled in their attempt to escape the bank with their loot took hostages. The police went to work trying to negotiate their release. The entire episode dragged on for days (or was it weeks? ) when lo, and behold, the hostages began to take up for their captors, complaining of their treatment by the forces of law and order. Some even went further, justifying the robbers' actions and blaming the police for the entire situation… including the robbery.

Still, in my mind, I'm thinking that's a long way from a hostage taking one of the bad guy's guns and opening fire on the home team. But, remember, Patty's ordeal was far longer and more intense than that of the Swedes: she was subjected to sleep, sensory, and food deprivation, constant threats to her life and that of her family, she was raped. A young woman in her very early twenties, brought up in a devoutly Catholic household amidst private schools and a close family network. Still, I'm thinking…

There's certainly a school of thought regarding behavior modification (Pavlov and his drooling dogs, etc… ) that argues a person's mind can be controlled through various methods. Naturally, as a writer, my own mind leaps to "The Manchurian Candidate"; "A Clockwork Orange". But wait, the would-be zombie hit man of the former defies his programmer in the end; foiling her plans rather decisively. As for the latter fictional example, Alex is not really changed at all, is he? Only his responses are; his violent yearnings remain (in the novel, not the film) forever unsatisfied, and he a clockwork organism pining for better; bloodier, days. Could this have been Patty during her Tania days? Was she acting as programmed while wistfully recalling the peaceful days of her 'other', lost life?

Her autobiography, "Every Secret Thing" would lead one to think so. I read it with a jaundiced eye, indeed. But, I must admit that she did manage to convey the pervasive sense of terror she endured during the initial weeks of her captivity. I thought of my own daughters in such circumstances… then quit thinking about it fast. What wouldn't you do to stay alive?

Ironically, according to Patty, the SLA crew, after granting her membership status (a propaganda coup dreamed up by the Field Marshal), repeatedly asked if she was doing so out of her own free will. This after seven weeks in a closet, blindfolded, threatened and raped. Well, they were liberators, remember, and had an image to consider. Additionally, they drilled nearly everyday for the final showdown with the "pigs" that they were convinced was going to happen. It was made clear to Patty that surrender was not an option. Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecy; talk about ideal conditions for Stockholm Syndrome. Remember Jonestown, anyone?

Okay, so I started moving closer to Patty's version of things. If she was to be believed, then her circumstances appeared pretty compelling. But how do you explain the hardware store incident? Remember Teko's socks? Patty was left alone in the van while her captors were inside the store–she opened fire with a machine gun in order to facilitate their escape.

Why didn't she drive away while she had the best chance she'd been given up till that point? I just couldn't get my mind around it. Had they really, and truly, made her into a convert? Or was she right where she wanted to be? Was it a genuine conversion, or a programmed survival mode she could not cast off? A young woman with no particular political leanings is kidnapped, only to emerge a few monts later as a violent urban guerilla. Things that make you go… hmmmm.

I've got to admit… I'm a little stumped. In the final analysis, the more information I considered, the more I dithered on a definitive answer. The jury was charged with considering Patty's acts while in the company of the SLA and got it right: she did participate in armed and deadly robberies, kidnappings (I skipped over that part as gilding the lily), and the firing of an automatic weapon on the streets of L.A. She did do those things. Why she did them is still up for grabs thirty-seven years later. Her own book never makes the claim that she was successfully "brain-washed"; only that she was very successfully terrified into unquestioning obedience to her captors. What do you think?
JB (Julian Brendan– English teacher, editor)
with JJ (James Joyce– a Big Shot Writer)

The characters you see portrayed here were not members of the dreaded SLA, but the equally feared Professor (see first paragraph) and collegue on an outing in Dublin. I'll let you determine which is which. I've not found a suitable photo of his sister for the line-up, but am working on it.


  1. David, I have far too much to do today to consider what I think of Patty Hearst, but that's probably what I will do off and on all day. Like you, I'm not quite sure which version of Patty I believe, but I haven't thought about it in quite a while. Thanks for waking up my brain this AM.

  2. I was reminded by Leigh that Patty went on to marry her bodyguard, an ex-policeman. If memory serves me correctly, he too, had been a victim of terroists via a bomb attack. In any event, it is an interesting (not to mention ironic)footnote. It might also further the argument that she was very susceptible to the influence of those around her.

  3. For what it’s worth:

    My experiences in the army’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE High-Risk C) course, actually have me siding more inline with the Stockholm Syndrome theorists. I’m not 100% in their camp, but I’m probably close to 98% — particularly since she was a civilian from a soft and insulated background, with no preparation for intense and violent incarceration/indoctrination.

    In SERE school, you spend the last four or five days in a mock POW camp where you’re deprived of sleep, locked in little boxes, have loud music constantly played at you while you’re in a small concrete cell with one light bulb, plus you get interrogated and smacked around, you do some manual labor, and attend “indoctrination” classes/sessions (which are some of the worst parts, believe me). All while getting the chance to eat delicious food — not!

    On the first day of the course, they make you hand in your car keys, and you don’t get them back until 24 hours after being released from the camp. You have to sign a paper agreeing not to drive or take a bath (as students have drowned in the past) during that time, either. Nor, unfortunately, are you permitted to release too many details about camp life, as it might otherwise spoil the fun for those who come later. However, I would point out that the mind can really be put through a ringer by this sort of treatment:

    (1) I never have remembered the PIN number I used for the five years leading up to that time, which my memory completely ditched while in SERE school. And, I knew that PIN like I knew my name!

    (2) About 36 hours after being released, I called my girlfriend (now wife) in Indiana, and told her about my experiences (those I was permitted). She kept saying, “Yeah, I know.” After about the third or fourth time, I finally heard what she was saying, and got sort of ticked-off. “What do you mean you know??? This just happened to me! I haven’t told anyone about it, yet! What the hell are you talking about?” Madeleine said, “Don’t you remember? You called me yesterday. We spoke for over four hours!” I had absolutely no recollection of it. Guess it’s a good thing they took my car keys! LOL

    The above memory problems resulted after only four or five days of the treatment. And I'm not a weak-minded person, and was already a "steely-eyed Snake Eater" at the time. If it hit me that hard, I can sympathize with an unprepared civilian subjected to similar treatment for even longer.

    Anyway, I’m not saying Patty Hearst is blameless. But, I do think such a victim might sit in a van outside a shop, and perhaps even open fire on it, in such a situation. Particularly having come from such a cosseted background, which would mentally and emotionally intensify the effects of her captor’s indoctrination techniques.

    On the other hand, I’m no shrink — and don’t even play one on TV!

  4. That's some interesting info, Dixon, and certainly corresponds with Patty's treatment during the initial seven weeks of her captivity. Reading her own accounts went a very long way to altering most of what I had thought about her extraordinary situation; now your input has certainly reinforced that turn-around.

    The human mind continues to be a dark and fascinating place.

  5. David, your blog opened a fascinating box of information to evaluate. And then when Dix shined his own flashlight of personal experience into the box, it enriched the subject even more. Great topic and column.
    You can think you know someone and how they should react to a situation, and how you think you would react to that situation, but until you are put in that same exact situation, it's armchair quarterbacking. Yet we all still do it.

  6. I have also always been perplexed as to what to believe about Patty Hearst. But it is interesting -- there have been a (terribly) large number of child kidnappings over the years where the victims had many "opportunities" to get away but did not because, for whatever reason, they no longer viewed "getting away" as a viable alternative. We look at those situations and say "well, I would have made a run for it." But nonetheless they didn't. There are some things that go on with the mind that I guess we can't fully comprehend until they happen to our mind. This doesn't mean I necessarily buy Patty Hearst's story -- but, like with many things, I am an agnostic on this one.

  7. While it is difficult to believe Patty Hearst was a victim when she willingly participated in a bank robbery, it is equally inconceivable to believe she would go against everything she believed in prior to her abduction. I can only conclude that the Stockholm Syndrome is real. As Dale points out, many kidnapping victims fail to take advantage of opportunities to escape, and even seem to become a willing party to the situation.

    None of us should judge until we have endured the same conditions she did. I, for one, have no idea how I would react.

  8. I remember the bloody Symbionese Liberation Army. I'm convinced the only common philosophy amongst terrorists is an evil love of killing and destruction.

    I think both the jury and Jimmy Carter got it right. Patty was 'brainwashed' and probably needed both correction and the best mental treatment her family could buy. I've known two people who were raped– no additional brainwashing involved– and they were never the same after that.

    And Dixon, that account is eye-opening. Hell, put me in a dentist's office when I'm short of sleep and raps' blaring on the waiting room telly, and I'm ready to go all Stockholm on someone's ass. Yep, I'm good for 30, maybe 45 seconds.

  9. Dale, you're examples make a very good argument in Patty's defense, I think. Though she was not a child when kidnapped, she was very young and inexperienced, and unlike Dix, had no training whatsoever in resistance.

    And yes, I agree with R.T. and Herschel that we can never completely know, nor should we judge, the inner workings of another's mind.

    Thanks for the input everyone.

  10. Good column and I think Dixon Hill's comment is very relevant. The people who survive arduous confinements seem to be those with strong convictions and/or powerful inner resources. Hearst was also unlucky in that at the time of her capture, the country was riven with dissension and most of the old verities were being questioned. I think it would have been remarkable if she had come through the experience without some changes in her outlook and convictions.

  11. My internet connection went down on Tuesday, so I'm late posting my comment because I only regained access this morning, Feb 9.

    David, great post. I was living in the SF Bay Area at the time, and I believed Patty Hearst was brainwashed up until the incident in the hardware store. I’m still struggling with that part of her ordeal. The jury got it right, she did participate, but Carter I think considered the emotional ordeal she had suffered.

    Cinque is the name of the African slave who led the revolt aboard the ship At the Amistad that was taking him and the others to Porta Prince. He managed to fool one of the owners into believing he was sailing east back to Africa when in fact he sailed west to America, where he and the other slaves were arrested and went through the ordeal of a civil trial focusing on the question of whether they were property or entitled to freedom. Spain wanted them returned to Spain, the prosecution argued they should be turned over to President Van Buren and he should make the decision. The judge in the case ordered them to be delivered to Van Buren to be returned to Africa. Van Buren didn’t like the decision and appealed to the Supreme Court. John Quincy Adams argued their case before the Supreme Court won. The Amistad captives were freed to go where ever they wished.


  12. Thanks, Louis, and I'm glad you liked the post. The Patty Hearst case is truly a fascinating study in the workings of the human mind. Obviously, I'm still thinking about it after all these years.

    I didn't know where the Field Marshal got his name, so thanks for that too--another fascinating piece of history.


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