“(Donald) DeFreeze made a Faustian bargain with the government. In exchange for his freedom, which proved to be short-lived, he agreed to run a violent purposely irresponsible false revolutionary group.”
—From “Revolution’s End” by Brad Schreiber
This tale only confirmed California’s reputation as a bastion for craziness.
A 19-year-old heiress, the product of one of America’s wealthiest families, is abducted by a left-wing revolutionary band of college-educated-suburbanites-turned-terrorists, led by an escaped convict and recent convert to Marxism. Within a couple of months, the kidnappers forward a “communiqué” via audio recording to a radio station, in which the victim proclaims her solidarity with her captors; denounces her parents; repudiates her past life of privilege leading to speculation that she’s been “brainwashed.” Two weeks later, videotape from a bank robbery features the captive wielding a military rifle, as an apparently willing participant.
Today, the saga of Patricia Campbell Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) have passed into the annals of pop culture legend, spawning scores of non-fiction accounts, a few novelizations, and a memoir by the central figure. Within the last seven months, two more books examining these events have been published, presenting differing accounts of the convoluted affair (both being written without the participation of Patty Hearst).
“American Heiress,” by Jeffrey Toobin, the more conservative of the two, provides a sympathetic view of the central character and her family. This latest tale (released this past August) comes on the heels of his previous tomes on scandalous public spectacles involving O. J. Simpson (“The Run of his Life”) and Monica Lewinsky (“A Vast Conspiracy”). “American Heiress” is all but certain to join the others on the bestseller list, and add to Toobins financial and professional largess.
“Revolution’s End” (August, 2016) by Brad Schreiber may well be the more intriguing, commercially appealling not-with-standing. In it, he follows up on the supposition, advanced in the past by other sources, that the SLA was an entity fabricated by the American government to disrupt the radical left. A coming-of-age story in the Bay Area during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, Schreiber took up the task of connecting the dots linking these seemingly separate events with the California Department of Corrections, state and local government, law enforcement, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Bay Area in those days was a cauldron of counter culture activity bordering on the melodramatic, and sometimes veering into tragedy. Protests against the Vietnam War occasionally turned violent, while the time-honored American bug-a-boo of race smoldered with periodic flare ups, via confrontations between Black Panthers and the police, and the systematic murders of innocent Whites by a rogue band of Black Muslims in San Francisco, circa 1973-74. Critics of the state’s vast prison system railed against inhumane conditions behind its bars, and the inequality of the legal system in general.
As Schreiber notes, discord reigned within the walls of the penal system as well. Between 1970 and 1976, 200-plus inmates died from stabbings, with hundreds more injured in the aftermath.
State officials, including then Gov. Ronald W. Reagan (1967-75), were alarmed by this widespread dissent, and took measures, legitimate and covertly, to neutralize these perceived threats. One of those targeted was educational reformer Marcus Foster, an Oakland school superintendent noted for his innovative approach and embrace of community involvement.
While not a radical himself, Foster sealed his fate, because as Schreiber recalls, he “…was communicating with members of the Black Panther Party.”
The possibility of a bond between this brazenly militant group and a legitimate municipal government heightened the fears of a power structure already rattled by the open display of opposition by ethnic minorities and disaffected youth.
On Nov. 6, 1973, Foster was shot and killed with cyanide-laced bullets by assailants identifying themselves as members of the previously unknown Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). This fit into the schema devised by the California power elite.
“The Reagan administration feared that the Panthers would gain influence in Oakland schools,” Schreiber says.
“… by blaming a supposed leftist group for the murder of Foster, the state hoped to incite violence, which would be the context for police and the FBI to massively sweep up Panthers and left wing radicals opposed to the administration.”
The riots never materialized, but the SLA continued as a clog within the state’s efforts to undermine the menace system. These included a proposed “Center for the Study and Reduction of Violence,” conceived by Reagan minion and counter insurgency expert William Herrmann (vetoed by a group of Bay Area mental health professionals) because the Reagan Administration wanted no oversight. Herrmann was able to oversee experiments involving behavior modification at Atascadero State Hospital (a repository for the so-called criminally insane), and especially the Vacaville Medical Facility. It was at Vacaville that the SLA was spawned, according to Schreiber.
Facilitating this was one of the most compelling figures in the annals of covert operations in the United States. An African American composite of James Bond and the Nazi mad scientist Josef Mengele, Colston Westbrook was a veteran of the Vietnam War’s Phoenix Program, a collective of CIA, and Australian, South Vietnamese, and U. S. military assigned to assassinate Viet Cong sympathizers, resulting in 20,000 to 40,000 kills, according to Schreiber.
Once back to the U. S. from Vietnam, Westbrook enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley to study linguistics, and became an activist, he recruited other students to instruct convicts at prisons in northern California as a cover for his real mission.
“Ronald Reagan’s head of counterintelligence, William Herrmann hired Colston Westbrook to create the Black Cultural Association at Vacaville,” claims Schreiber.
One of the inmates Westbrook took under his wing was a petty criminal named Donald DeFreeze, who would later take up the title “Field Marshall Cinque” who become known in his media communications as commander of the SLA.
One of the liberal college student visitors was Patty Hearst, using a borrowed I.D. card to conceal her true identity (which explains the reason behind her kidnapping). These sessions eventually segued into political discussions, and conjugal visits between DeFreeze and the female coeds.
Paradoxically, DeFreeze/Cinque was allowed to walk away from prison to lead his naive followers on a 19-month spree of criminal exposition, covering his actual job as a police agent. By May 17, 1974, the FBI and LAPD cornered DeFreeze and five of his followers in a house on 54th Street in South Los Angeles.
After a nationally televised shoot out, and the deployment of a new element of police intervention called SWAT, the house went up in flames, ignited by the heat from tear gas canisters lobbed into the structure by law enforcement. The fugitives died from either gun shoot wounds or smoke inhalation. On Sept. 18, Patty Hearst and the remnants of the SLA were captured without a shot in San Francisco’s Mission District. But, as “Revolution’s End” reveals, the loose ends to this story remain untied.
“Revolution’s End: The Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Mind Control, and the Secret History of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA,” 260 pages from Skyhorse Publishing, lists for $24.99, available on Amazon.com for $16.99.