Do We Owe Military-Style Police Swat Teams to the Wild Story of Patty Hearst and the SLA?

I asked author Brad Schreiber, “Why is your new book about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst important now?”


He replied, “Revolution’s End pinpoints the moment in history, the shootout and fire by law enforcement in May 1974, broadcast live on TV, that led to police departments across the country asking the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to help them set up their own SWAT teams. In a post-Ferguson America, with the Standing Rock battle, we cannot overlook the importance of this beginning of police militarization.”

(Inside the pages, he points out that such militarization is due in major part to the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, which has transferred more than $5 billion in Army military hardware to local law enforcement since 1997.)

He continued, “Also, the creation of the false front Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), which destroyed a legitimate leftist movement, unfairly, reminds us to look carefully at major events and at who is being blamed, such as 9/11 being falsely attributed to Iraq.”

A diligent researcher, Schreiber traces African-American Donald “Cinque” DeFreeze’s background from boyhood when his father attacked him with a baseball bat and a hammer—his father also broke his arm twice when he was ten and again when he was twelve—all the way to doing time in prison where he met Colston Westbrook.

In 1962, Westbrook was a CIA advisor to the South Korean CIA, through 1969, when he provided logistical support in Vietnam for the CIA’s Phoenix program. His job was the indoctrination of assassination and terrorist cadres. After seven years in Asia, he came home in 1970, at the end of the war, and was assigned to run the Black Cultural Association at Vacaville Prison. There, he became the control officer for DeFreeze, who had worked as a police informer from 1967 to 1969 for the Public Disorder Intelligence Unit of the LAPD.

Schreiber states:

“When Hearst met Patricia Soltysik in Berkeley and was invited to attend a women’s rights meeting, her path toward meeting Donald DeFreeze at Vacaville was set….Defreeze now held an exalted position of authority on black family dynamics, despite the fact that he was secretly favored with sexual relations with white radicals Soltysik, [Nancy Ling] Perry, and Hearst.”

Yep, that was a reference to Patty Hearst. Renowned Lake Headley’s research revealed that eighteen-year-old heiress Patricia Hearst, daughter of Randolph Hearst, the publishing magnate, not only visited DeFreeze in 1972 at Vacaville, but also had sex with him in those conjugal trailers.” She visited him under an assumed identity of a UC Berkeley student who resembled her.

But, as an inmate explained, “DeFreeze would talk to me about his visits with radicals and left-wing people from the outside. One celebrity mentioned from time to time was Patty Hearst. She was spoken of at Vacaville as one who was into a left-wing bag.”

[Fun Fact: Patty had read Yippie co-founder Jerry Rubin’s book, Do It.]

“It was also well known through the prison grapevine that Patty visited DeFreeze…” 

Schreiber concludes that, “Hearst’s secret relationship is absolutely essential to understanding why she was kidnapped.” He points out that a list of figures the SLA wanted to kidnap was recovered from an SLA safe-house, disclosing such abductees as banking executives and corporate honchos. However, “The media never questioned why Patricia Hearst’s name appeared on that list rather than the more obvious choice, Randolph Hearst.”

The reason began in prison. At Vacaville, DeFreeze was permitted to set up Unisight, a program which allowed DeFreeze, as a favor for being an informant, to get laid by visiting females. Investigator Headley’s affidavit stated: “That Patricia Campbell Hearst and her parents disagreed bitterly over Patricia’s political and personal relations. That a love affair between a black man and Patricia Hearst did take place prior to her relationship with her fiancé Steven Weed. That Mrs. Randolph A. Hearst subjected her daughter to extreme pressure to change her personal and political relationships.”

Patty began living with Weed in Berkeley in the autumn of 1972. (Fun fact: they both enjoyed smoking weed.)

DeFreeze was transferred to Soledad Prison that December, where he was given the special privilege of using the trailers ordinarily reserved for married trustees. DeFreeze became a leader of the SLA there and, according to Headley, renewed his affair with Patty for a brief time.

The affidavit continued: “Discussions were held between Patricia Campbell Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army concerning a kidnapping–-not her own.”

Whose, then? Her sisters, Anne and Vicki. The idea of kidnapping Patty, too, was brought up-–this was a year before it actually took place–-but she didn’t think it was such a great option. That would explain Weed’s scared observation of Patty’s outburst at the moment of kidnapping: “Oh, no! Not me! Oh, God! Please let me go!”

How did such a relevant surprise come about? Schreiber wrote that, “In addition to any drugs, electroshock and/or psychological coercion DeFreeze underwent in prison, just the actuality of being locked away changed the nature of his personality, as it does for all convicts.” With the help of Colston Westbrook, Defreeze never lacked for drugs. Subjected to a variety of drugs including, according to the Berkeley Barb, prolixin, he wanted to live in the fantasy world of a prison king.

DeFreeze was rewarded with sexual favors before he escaped (wink, wink) from Soledad. He had access to the trustees’ visitation, where he had access to Patty. But there was a disruption to his fantasy world. Because she rejected him. “His fury,” Schreiber continued, “was that of a man who was accustomed to always getting way. Hearst’s admiration for DeFreeze took a dramatic turn, when, at Soledad Prison, he brought up the subject of kidnapping for ransom.”

DeFreeze knew that Patty, the black sheep of her upper-class family, didn’t have a warm relationship with her younger sisters, and he suggested that they be kidnapped and brought to a remote location in Colorado, after which their father, Randolph Hearst, would pay a large a amount for their safe relief. 

“Patty forcefully rejected this idea immediately,” said Schreiber. “When DeFreeze made a counteroffer to pretend to kidnap her and keep her hidden until a ransom was paid. Hearst suddenly realized that her exciting, secretive, political prisoner love affair was out of control. Her trips to Soledad ended abruptly.”

Revenge by DeFreeze would be the name of the game. And so it came to pass that Patty was kidnapped and forced to “join” the SLA. At the end of a communiqué that she was compelled to read into a recorder, DeFreeze came on with a triple death threat, especially to Colston Westbrook, whom he accused of being a government agent now working for military intelligence while giving assistance to the FBI.” The tape was sent to San Francisco radio station KSAN. 

If SLA leader DeFreeze was a double agent, then the SLA was a Frankenstein monster, turning against its creator by becoming in reality what had been orchestrated only as a media image. When he snitched on his keepers, he signed a death warrant of the SLA. Headley and other investigators presented their findings to the Los Angeles City Council, charging that the intelligence unit of the police department—the Criminal Conspiracy Section—knew of the SLA’s presence but wanted a shootout for test purposes. 

Indeed, during that shootout with police, six SLA members were either shot or burned alive in a Los Angeles safe-house. Patty Hearst and two others had become separated from the rest of the group on an errand at the time. Her boyfriend Weed was told by a cop at the shootout, “Don’t worry, Patty’s not in there.” Moreover, Headley acquired official film footage of the massacre, showing that the FBI used a pair of German Shepherds to sniff out Patty’s presence and make sure she wouldn’t be inside the safe-house. She heard the news of the fire on TV at a Disneyland area hotel, and she assumed they thought she was inside. Now she’d have to go on the lam somewhere else. 

When Cinque’s charred remains were sent to his family in Cleveland, they couldn’t help but notice that he had been decapitated. It was as if his CIA handler had said, “Bring me the head of Donald DeFreeze!” [Serious Fact: Brad Schreiber was the first to prove that the LAPD used pyrotechnic grenades to burn down the house after tear gas didn’t force the SLA’s surrender.]

Flashback: After DeFreeze’s engineered escape, KQED, the public TV channel in San Francisco, reported that some leftist groups in the Bay Area were approached by DeFreeze. He startled them by presenting his services as a hit man to radicals. The idea of such a contract killer astounded those groups. KQED stated that these activists suspected DeFreeze of being the snitch he was.

However, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that DeFreeze had reversed his offer. Instead of promoting his services as a killer, he asked if any of the radical groups would agree to be paid to kill an un-named target whose eventual murder by the SLA alienated them politically from left, right, and center. They were all suspicious about the methods of the SLA and its leader. No wonder they suspected him of being an agent provocateur. Just who was this masked man?

Schreiber sums it up like this: “Donald DeFreeze wouldn’t have been manipulated into being the figurehead of the SLA if other black prisoners had been willing to play the role. But none were. Colston Westbrook knew no other member of the Black Culture Association who had been a police agent. And other inmates would not risk their lives as the head of a false-front counterrevolutionary gang, in exchange for sexual privileges and a conditional freedom that could spell their doom.”

The question isn’t whether DeFreeze was manipulated by Westbrook, but at what point he knew he was expected to personally kill Marcus Foster, the widely respected first black superintendent of Oakland schools. That moment came after his failure to enlist members of the radical left in the Bay Area. His hateful outing of Westbrook’s CIA connection in a communiqué on April 3, 1974 was that of an informant who felt betrayed by a former “friend” who was likely threatening him into a criminal act and then abandoned. 

Ramparts published what many radicals were saying among themselves about the assassination, “the act itself was so brutal, so morally unjustifiable, and as politically incomprehensible that most Bay Area radicals assumed the SLA to be a cover for some right-wing or police group.” 

Two SLA members—Bill and Emily Harris, who were on that errand with Patty during the shootout and fire—were interviewed by New Times in 1976. “I found out much later,” Bill Harris admitted, “that Nancy [Ling Perry] and Mizmoon [Soltysik] and Cinque [Defreeze] were the ones who carried out the action.” DeFreeze killed Marcus Foster with a shotgun. After all, Westbrook had labeled Foster “a fascist.”

Schreiber’s conclusion: “The execution of Foster was intended to create a politically charged war in the Bay Area, one that police and the FBI would be given free reign to violently quell, finally pacifying that tumultuous political landscape. Those on the left who briefly aligned with the SLA rescinded their support after Foster’s death.”

Eventually, a graffiti wall included SLA LIVES which was then obscured in the enigmatic made-over COLE SLAW LIVES, a slogan that baffled tourists and convinced one that a political activist named Cole Slaw was dead because it said that he was alive. But Revolution’s End serves as a carefully documented, shockingly significant missing link of American history.

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