Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Not Quite an Ordinary Armed Robbery

Forty years ago today, heiress Patty Hearst popped up in a surveillance video of a bank robbery in San Francisco.

It was and remains one of the most famous photographs of her.

Until February of 1974, Hearst had been a relatively unknown newspaper heiress. If she was known at all, it was as the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, supposedly the model for "Citizen Kane." She leaped into national headlines when she was kidnapped by a self–styled revolutionary group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

The kidnapping thrust her into the spotlight, and, at that time, the most famous photograph of her, the one that showed up on the cover of every news magazine and in every crude broadcasting graphic of the day, was the one at right.

It showed her as she apparently was before she was kidnapped — a naive heiress, apparently uninvolved in political causes of any kind, living in an apartment with her fiance.

For awhile, she communicated with her parents and the world via cassette tapes. The tapes were clearly propaganda statements that Hearst's captors forced her to read. In one such tape, Hearst said her captors wanted food delivered to the poor in California as their ransom, but, when Hearst's father, William Randolph Hearst Jr., complied in part with the demand, Patty still wasn't released because the SLA felt the food that was delivered was not very good.

Then the tapes stopped coming, and nothing was heard from Hearst until April, when she popped up again, first in a picture that her captors sent to the media and then in an armed robbery a couple of weeks later.

The picture of her that was released to the media, accompanied by a tape in which she announced that she had joined the SLA and would henceforth be known as Tania, quickly replaced the first as the most recognizable picture of her. That, too, wound up on the covers of news magazines and in broadcasting graphics.

It is the picture you see to the left — Hearst wearing revolutionary garb and holding a weapon. When that picture hit the news, I heard many adults speculating that the SLA would never allow her to hold a loaded weapon. Then, she was photographed participating in the robbery of a branch of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco, carrying a weapon and making no apparent attempt to escape her captivity. After she and members of the SLA were taken into custody in 1975, law enforcement treated her as an accomplice rather than a victim.

After she was taken into custody, it was determined by some of the folks who examined her (as well as some who did not examine her) that she was a victim of the so–called Stockholm syndrome, in which a captive bonds with his/her captor(s).

At the time, I have to admit that I didn't really understand that. The news reports talked about the abuse she had suffered in captivity, and I couldn't reconcile that with the idea that she willingly joined the SLA — unless she had done so with the belief that it would prevent future abuse.

Perhaps it was a self–defense mechanism, but my memory is that any such reference was thinly veiled as something else.

Anyway, the jury believed she had joined the group willingly and convicted her of robbery. She was pardoned by President Carter.

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