Wednesday, November 16, 2016

American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

I'm terribly sad that Books on the Nightstand has completed it's journey. Without it, I would not have read as many great books as I have. They are keeping their episodes up for 2 years so go out there and check out their recommendations.

American Heiress is another great recommendation from BOTNS. A non-fiction book about the saga of Patty (Patricia) Hearst, it held my attention. The entire Hearst deal happened before I was born but it's something that pretty much everyone knows about. An heiress to the Hearst fortune, Patricia was kidnapped by the stupidly named Symbionese Liberation Army in February 1974. Toobin's account shows a group of "revolutionaries" who really just seemed bored and wanting to do something to make a statement. Their leader, Donald DeFreeze, was a felon who escaped (and the prison actually didn't even bother looking for him - what does that tell you?) who fancies himself a George Jackson, which he wasn't. He fancied himself the leader of the SLA and African-Americans, except he was the only black member of the SLA. Their first real act was murdering Marcus Foster, an African American educator who was actually doing some good, but the SLA got all the facts wrong and a man who was trying to help was now dead.

Next up, the SLA thought a kidnapping was a good idea. Enter Patricia Hearst. This book was written without any input from Hearst but her own memoir, Every Secret Thing, was the starting point for Toobin's research. Hearst was kidnapped, her fiance, Steve Weed ran away from the fray and a neighbor was injured. At first, Hearst was kept in a closet, blindfolded. That didn't last terribly long as the chattier members of the SLA took to being her friends and leaving the door open so they could talk. As we move on, Hearst is given the option of being left somewhere where her family could come get her or joining SLA. She chose to join.

Her participation in bank robberies, bombings, etc. is pretty well known. She had ample opportunity to flee her captors, often being left alone in vehicles while others shopped. Bill Harris, a member of the SLA, often said he wanted her to leave as she was too conspicuous and was causing them problems. Eventually, they are caught, arrested and made to stand trial.

The Hearst family brought in F. Lee Bailey to defend Patricia and he chose to go the route of brainwashing. Long story short, Hearst was convicted, served time, had President Jimmy Carter sign a commutation of her remaining sentence and demanded a full pardon from President Bill Clinton.

My overall feeling of Hearst was "poor little rich girl". She was bored with her life when she was kidnapped, decided being an urban guerrilla would be fun, went to jail, decided being a rich Hearst again would be better, then went on to convince herself that she never did anything wrong.

The SLA did not seem to have enough brain power to keep themselves together, let alone brainwash someone. They barely survived, barely caused a reaction, barely did anything but pretend to be revolutionaries.

Definitely recommend for a good read.


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