Hundreds of books have been written about Colston Westbrook, a shadowy figure with ties to the CIA, and the forming of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Recently I interviewed two African American men who believe their bouts with mental illness is a result of undergoing mind control experiments associated with Westbrook and the United States government in the early 1970s.
As I listened to Vacaville inmate Anthony Neuman, I thought to myself: “this guy actually believes he pulled a microchip out of the palm of his hand.” The skin surrounding the small hole appeared to be striated with scar tissue. Newman’s wrinkled face seemingly told the story of an individual whom most can describe as someone battling internal demons. His aggressive speech pattern described his journey with being monitored and manipulated by government officials while he was in college. Newman’s behavior at times was very violent and combative. On several occasions earlier he had assaulted family members
Neuman’s family said he is bipolar and always had been since drinking a glass of spiked punch at a ‘70s party. His story has been told before by other African American males in their early 60s.
A former neighbor, Daniel Davis, experienced a nervous breakdown while attending Cal State Northridge. His family said his mental illness began after he, too, ingested a glass of spiked punch at a party. They remember him becoming a shut-in and, as with Neuman, apparently spellbound with the Stevie Wonder song “Living For The City.” Each of these men was reared in South Los Angeles and both complained for years of being subjected to mind control experiments purportedly conducted by Westbrooks.
I drove to the prison because of books I had read on Westbrook and rumors of his mind control experiments at Vacaville, and also because of the current buzz circulating about the CNN series about “The Radical Story of Patty Hearst,” a tale that famously culminated in a 1974 shoot out with the Los Angeles Police Department 1974 in South Los Angeles.
Accusations of mind control and Westbrook are not new. In May 1974, New York Times reporter John Kikfner descrikbed him as an “Black linguist who worked in Vietnam for Pacific Architects and Engineers,” a private contracting firm that provided cover the CIA’s “Phoenix” program.
According to files released by The Freedom Of Information Act in September 1998, the Phoenix program was instituted to identify and destroy the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF or Viet Cong) via infiltration, capture, counterterrorism, interrogation, and assassination. According to the report, methods of interrogation were based on elements of mind control.
The article reported that Westbrook, after leaving Vietnam, oversaw the Black Cultural Association (BCA) at Vacaville Medical Facility. Officials there claimed that the BCA was an African American inmate group founded among inmates in 1968 and was formally recognized by the warden one year later. Reportedly, the primary purpose of the BCA was to provide educational tutoring to inmates, which it did in conjunction with Bay Area graduate college students, most of whom were White and classified themselves as liberal.
Outsiders were allowed to attend meetings of the BCA, and tutors provided remedial and advanced courses in mathematics, reading, writing, art, history, political science, and sociology.
Westbrook, the SLA and Patty Hearst
In the early ‘70s, Vacaville medical staff reportedly befriended an inmate named Donald David DeFreeze who, some claim, frequently had sex with some of the students; DeFreeze claimed later that he was tortured and subject to CIA experiments and “psychosurgery” by Westbrook and Army doctors. As a result of the experiments, the future leader of the SLA would often complain to media via recordings that he was going to assassinate Westbrook for the brain experiments.
Author Brad Schreiber’s 2016 book, “Revolution’s End: The Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Mind Control, and the Secret History of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA” states that “Westbrook was looking for a Black prisoner who would cooperate with elements of the California Dept. of Corrections and be the head of a group that could then either infiltrate or discredit the Black Panther Party and the rest of the radical left.,” Schreiber described Vacaville as “a house of horrors.”
“The CIA had funding to set up drug experiments and other coercion against Black prisoners specifically,” Schreiber adds. “There was psychosurgery done there. The CIA had funding to set up drug experiments and other coercion against Black prisoners specifically. There was psychosurgery done there.”
Schreiber explained that most prisoners at Vacaville were not subjected to these extreme treatments but were evaluated there and moved on to another prison. DeFreeze, however, was there for nearly two years.
DeFreeze, according to Schreiber, was “the ideal person” for this role because “he had already been an informant, he was cooperative, and he was willing to do anything to get out of jail.”
Several of the White leftists that visited DeFreeze in prison would later join him in the SLA; five of them perished in the South LA shootout.
Jeffrey Toobin, author of “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst,” and also executive producer of the CNN series, disputes any connection between DeFreeze and counterintelligence operations.
“Donald DeFreeze was a two-bit, incompetent criminal who, in Los Angeles, tried to work off a beef, like a lot of criminals do, by telling the cops what he knew about other criminals,” Toobin said during a recent interview for Yesterday’s Crimes. “The idea that he was some sort of secret agent for the government is just absurd.”
Toobin said an article he penned for the New Yorker Magazine inspired him to revisit the Patty Hearst saga. The piece was about a gang that took over a jail in Baltimore. According to Toobin, after taking over the jail the inmates raped the prison guards—mostly female—several of which became pregnant. “In the 70s there was this subculture of prison movements, attempting to organize and educate prisoners. I found this very interesting,” Toobin noted.
Both Toobin’s book and the CNN series document at great length the Hearst kidnapping which became one of the FBI’s most high-profile cases in its history. Hearst was granddaughter of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst and was kidnapped from her San Francisco apartment by SLA members in 1974. The group wanted to destroy the “capitalist state” and reportedly forced Hearst to denounce her family, participate in a bank robbery and become a fugitive prior to her capture 19 months later.
Toobin describes his documentary as a composition of historical news footage and interviews he conducted. Consisting of news reporters who covered the story in 1974, associates of SLA who hid the fugitives, former law enforcement officers (LAPD and FBI), Hearst’s ex-fiancé, her lawyers and even a member of the SLA itself, who claims to have been the one to tie her up and put her in the trunk of the getaway car.
When asked about his failure to mention Westbrook and Operation Phoenix, Toobin responded with, “I am familiar with Colston Westbrook and Operation Phoenix, and it is my belief after researching the SLA, that Hearst was not a victim of brainwashing or mind control.
Toobin said that speculation of Hearst being brainwashed by the SLA and its association with Westbrook was more than likely based on “ the Jonestown event.”
Patty Hearst was arrested Sept. 15, 1975, she was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison. Shortly after her sentencing, Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones, best described as a charismatic lunatic, would lead his church members to an eventual mass suicide in a remote part of Guyana in South America.
Immediately after the Jonestown mass murder, the idea of the victims being brainwashed was being discussed across the United States. President Jimmy Carter would later commute Hearst’s sentence based on the belief that she was brainwashed.