The murdering of policemen to protest alleged police targeting of black people is not a new phenomenon. Nor are chants like “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon,” which featured at a Black Lives Matter protest in August. In the 1960s and ’70s, the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army chanted “No more pigs in our community” and “Off the pigs,” and between them they murdered 15 or 20 policemen. Killing policemen has always been at the top of the left-wing terrorist agenda. Policemen were part and parcel of the “fascist insect” the Symbionese Liberation Army called for murdering in its mission statement: “Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people.” Most of us have forgotten the Symbionese Liberation Army; they didn’t have the Black Panthers’ PR or staying power. But September 18 was the 40th anniversary of the arrest of Patty Hearst, an event worth revisiting.
In March 1973, a black radical named Donald DeFreeze escaped from Soledad Prison in California, where he had been serving a sentence for armed robbery. He changed his name to Cinque Mtume—Cinque, for Joseph Cinqué, who led the revolt on the slave ship Amistad, and Mtume, from the Swahili for “prophet.” He hooked up with a radical feminist named Patricia Soltysik, and together they founded the Symbionese Liberation Army, with DeFreeze as “general field marshal.”
Police were a focus from the outset. That November, the SLA took their first “direct action”: They murdered an education reformer named Marcus Foster—Oakland, California’s first black school superintendent—because they believed he planned to bring police into the Oakland schools. (They were wrong.) Foster was killed as he came out of a school board meeting. (Foster’s deputy, Robert Blackburn, was shot, too; he was seriously injured, but survived.)
In February 1974, Patricia Hearst was a 19-year-old living in nearby Berkeley. She was a target for the SLA because she was a granddaughter of capitalist magnate William Randolph Hearst, and because she happened to live quite close to the SLA’s headquarters. On February 4, the SLA burst into her apartment, beat her unconscious, and tossed her into the trunk of a car; they took her to an SLA hideout, where she was bound, blindfolded, and locked in a closet. She was kept in the closet for the better part of six weeks. After failing to trade their hostage for Superintendent Foster’s murderers, the SLA began giving Hearst brief respites from the darkness of her blindfold and closet, in the form of a flashlight and leftist political manifestoes to read. DeFreeze repeatedly threatened to kill her, so—as Hearst put it in her memoir—“I accommodated my thoughts to coincide with theirs.” In late March, Patty agreed to join the Symbionese Liberation Army; her blindfold was removed, and she was given the name Tania, a reference to Che Guevara’s comrade-in-arms “Tania the Guerrilla.” Then she was raped by DeFreeze and one of his lieutenants, William Wolfe.
On April 3, the SLA released an audiotape of Patty Hearst addressing her parents: “Mom, Dad,” said Patty, “tell the poor and oppressed people of this nation what the corporate state is about to do. Warn black and poor people that they are about to be murdered down to the last man, woman, and child. . . . I have been given the choice of one, being released in a safe area, or two, joining the forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army and fighting for my freedom and the freedom of all oppressed people. I have chosen to stay and fight.”
Over the next months, Patty accompanied the SLA in robbing the Hibernia Bank and committing various petty and less petty crimes. In May, six Symbionese members were killed in a police shootout in Los Angeles, prompting the SLA to release another tape narrated by Patty. She described her relationships with the dead terrorists, among them “Fahizah,” who, said Patty, “taught me to shoot first and make sure the pig is dead before splitting.”
As it happened, neither Nancy “Fahizah” Perry nor her comrades succeeded in shooting any policemen the day they were killed. Over the next year, the SLA tried several times to make up for that disappointment by building bombs with which to murder policemen. On August 21, 1975, two bombs (which Hearst had evidently helped assemble) were placed under two LAPD cars and rigged to explode when policemen got in and started driving. Neither went off. Three weeks later, Patty Hearst was captured, and the SLA began its slow drift into obscurity (though the last Symbionese fugitive wouldn’t be arrested till 2002).