American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin Reviewed
As I read this, I could hear punk rock. 2 songs in particular. Judy is a Punk by The Ramones which references the SLA and She by The Misfits which was inspired by Patty Hearst and her story. Both are fitting, 2.00-2.30 long punk songs because the story of Patty was a loud short violent blast.
Everyone knows about the 1960s. It started with JFK and The Beatles and and grew into hippies, peace and love. You had Vietnam, Woodstock, protests, civil rights, marches, protests, riots, and assassinations. People seemed to think they could change the world. They couldn’t. It was up and down and it couldn’t last. By 1969 Altamont and Manson signaled the dream was over.
The 1970s were the hangover. And it was a bitch. Vietnam ground away, Nixon declared a war on drugs, Kent State, gas embargoes, weed turned into smack, bombs were going off in public places all over America. The people who saw that they couldn’t change the world got nihilistic and decided to fuck shit up.
Bear with me, I’m trying to give context with broad strokes.
All sorts of groups popped up. Their mandate was violent. Peace was over, that ship sailed. The Weather Underground, The Black Liberation Army, The Black Guerrilla Army among others rose to prominence. Bank
robberies, assassinations, bombings, kidnappings. These groups have all been well documented.
One group was a bit different. They kind of stood apart. They had style if not intelligence. And what they lacked in intelligence, they made up for it with violence.
They were called the Symbionese Liberation Army. A mishmash of revolutionary styles, they were led by an African American ex-con named Donald DeFreeze and was made up of men and women. This group was
way out there. Their messages and goals were rather muddled. They murdered the superintendent of Oakland Public School in 1973. It was the definition of senseless because he was a good man, did an amazing
job with the Oakland school system. This act ostracized them with other revolutionary groups.
The exact make up of the SLA is fascinating. How they formed and their initial activities, would take too long to describe here. Some of the elements, you’ll just have to read for yourself because of how far out they are.
So the SLA, after assassinating a good man, decided a more extreme act was needed.
The decided to kidnap Patty Hearst.
Now Hearst is a name that has been ringing out in American History for over a hundred years. George Hearst was one of the great robber barons. He was known for making his fortune in mining for gold and
silver, etc. He got his fortune by any means necessary. The dude was a nasty fuck. His son, William Randolph Hearst made his fortune with newspapers and was also another nasty fuck. He is credited with
creating yellow journalism. If you don’t know what yellow journalism is, look at the campaign of the orange dude running for president. That’s basically yellow journalism.
Patty was William Randolph Hearst’s granddaughter. In 1974 she was a student at the University of California at Berkeley. The SLA kidnapped her and everything got really weird. She was held by them for 19 months. 2 months into her ordeal an audio tape was released of her voice saying she had joined the SLA and assumed the name Tania. Then the SLA robbed a bank and Patty was captured on the bank security
cameras doing crowd control packing a M-1 carbine. Then after a series of accidents or misfortunes most of the SLA was killed in a massive gunfight with police in Los Angeles. In 1975 Patty was arrested and
told the police she was an urban guerilla.
I know I painted this picture with very very broad strokes. The thing is that all the details are bizarre and you need to read them for yourself to believe them. This review had the potential to turn into a 5000 word essay if I tried to cover everything. I loved the book. It’s a freak show of the best possible kind. It’s got everything, sex, violence and brainwashing. I’ve been developing an obsession with American History of the 1970s and this book is now a vital part to telling that history. Jeffrey Toobin did a masterful job with this book. I’m proud to have it on my shelf.