Patricia Campbell Hearst and Steven Weed were home in their Berkeley apartment watching The Magician on TV at nine o’clock on the foggy night of 4 February 1974.
The young couple were “living in sin” (as it used to be called) and smoked an occasional joint. But in Berkeley they were considered straight.
Outside, a stolen 1964 Chevrolet Impala convertible pulled up in front and dimmed its lights. Donald DeFreeze, Willie Wolfe and Nancy Ling Perry emerged and moved silently to apartment number four.
Perry rang the doorbell while DeFreeze and Wolfe waited in the shadows. Perry hunched over and held a hand to her face. “I just had a car accident out front” Could you . . . ?”
Weed cracked open the door and DeFreeze and Wolfe burst in, brandishing guns, knocking him to the floor and kicking him in the face with heavy boots.
They grabbed Patty and carried her kicking and screaming to the waiting car. There they shoved her into the trunk with a brusque order: “Get in and keep quiet”.
Patty was scared and half-naked but she stared hard-eyed at her kidnappers; “Don’t give me any shit”.
Even in those first terrible moments Patricia Hearst managed to summon up the daring and arrogance that had been her style through nineteen years of life as an heiress to the Hearst fortune. Her parents had provided every indulgence, tolerated her dope smoking, her sneaking out to rock concerts at San Francisco’s Fillmore and her faded blue jeans.
When she couldn’t accept the Catholic school discipline that required her to scrub toilets for breaking petty rules, her parents transferred her to a more flexible, nonsectarian school.
It was there that she met Weed, a maths teacher and the school’s most eligible bachelor. Two years later, when she was 18, she moved in with him.
Patty was not used to discomfort. Her life had been insulated from real-life drama and pain. She assumed her father would quickly ransom her.
The SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army), however, kept Patty blindfolded in an ‘isolation chamber’ approximating a San Quentin “hole” – a stuffy, closet-sized room with a bare light bulb and a portable cot. There were no windows and it was hot. She lost track of time and didn’t feel like eating. She was told her parents loved money more than her.
She was not raped or starved or otherwise brutalised. But Donald DeFreeze, the SLA leader known as Cinque, kept up a constant intimidation. He berated her and her family for being part of a ruling class that was sucking blood from the common people.
Patty tried to defend her parents. They had not hurt anyone. They were good people. Cinque was wrong. He had never met them.
But Patty feared Cinque. He told her she’d be killed if her parents did not meet the SLA’s demands, and she believed him.
So Patty grew impatient as the ransom negotiations bogged down. “I felt my parents were debating how much I was worth”, she said later. “Like they figured I was worth $2 million but I wasn’t worth $10 million. It was a terrible feeling that my parents could think of me in terms of dollars and cents. I felt sick all over”.
It angered her when her father visited San Quentin and reported that the living conditions there were fine. The SLA informed him that her living quarters were identical to those in San Quentin. Her father seemed to be saying that tiny cells, stale air and gloomy walls were an acceptable environment for his daughter.
And she became alarmed when heavily-armed FBI agents raided a house where they thought she was being held. She felt her parents were recklessly allowing the FBI to risk her life.
After a while it seemed that her parents had given her up for dead. Her mother had taken to wearing black and talking about her daughter in the past tense.
By degrees her disillusionment with her parents turned into sympathy for the SLA. Cinque was the first to perceive the change and he rewarded her by allowing her to roam about the San Francisco apartment that served as the SLA headquarters.
Patty was also urged to attend the SLA’s daily political study sessions. She was invited to listen to the SLA national anthem, an eerie jazz composition of wind and string instruments that Cinque had selected.
And she was furnished with statistical evidence and quotations from George Jackson and Ruchell Magee that promoted her political development. Less than 10% of the US population controls 90% of its wealth. Some people at catered meals while others starve. Some can afford fancy lawyers while others rot in jail. Some live off inheritances while others live in squalor and despair.
Patty was shown a long list of Hearst family holdings: nine newspapers, thirteen magazines, four TV and radio stations, a silver mine, a paper mill and prime real estate. Her parents clearly were part of the ruling elite. That’s why they had quibbled over the ransom money.
The SLA members encouraged her radicalisation. They hugged her, called her ‘sister’ and ended her loneliness. Patty’s conversion was as much emotional as political.
Seven weeks after she was kidnapped, Patty asked to join the SLA.
The other members were opposed to the idea but Cinque was their mentor and guru and his decision prevailed.
On 3 April 1974 Patty announced in a communiqué that hereafter she was an SLA soldier. “I have chosen to stay and fight”, she said. Her parents had only pretended to save her. They were liars.