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Patty Hearst and the SLA

A profile of the notorious kidnapping victim and Stockholm syndrome sufferer


Patty Hearst Poses for the SLA

Patty Hearst, posing for an SLA publicity poster


Patty Hearst was a wealthy young heiress with no political affiliations when she was kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a left-wing American terrorist group founded in 1973. The kidnapping fascinated Americans, but Hearst's case grew even stranger when she joined the SLA during her captivity, taking the name Tania and denouncing her former life.

Hearst's conversion to SLA member after her kidnapping is viewed today as a textbook example of the concept known as Stockholm syndrome, in which captives demonstrate irrational empathy, sympathy or otherwise positive feelings toward the very people who abducted them.

The Hearst family name is well-known: Patty's grandfather was William Randolph Hearst, who developed an immense newspaper publishing empire in the early twentieth century.

Thus it was that Hearst is known today not only as an heiress, a socialite and an actress, but also, and perhaps more so, as a kidnapping victim turned bank robber.

Key Influences:

Hearst's decision to join the SLA was likely made under the influence of SLA brainwashing and indoctrination during her captivity. Her irrational decision to ally herself with her captors has been described as evidence she suffered from Stockholm syndrome, in which captives start to identify with their captors, in order to make sense of and survive their captivity.

The conditions of Hearst's captivity left her vulnerable to an extreme psychological response. By Hearst's own account, her captors kept her blindfolded in a closet for two months. They may have raped and or/ physically abused Hearst; the facts have never been made clear.

While in captivity, Patty was made to release a number of communiqués on behalf of the SLA. The audio tapes have suggested to many listeners her growing commitment to the radical group's vague agenda, which combined elements of populist, black power, anti-capitalist and anti-war ideals of early 1970s.

People still debate today over whether Hearst was acting under duress or voluntarily when she joined the SLA in their activities, and what "voluntary" means when someone is acting under the extreme mental duress that her kidnapping provoked.

Notable Attacks:

Hearst's most notable action on behalf of the SLA was to participate in robbing the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco on April 15, 1974. With three other members, she made away with $10,692.

The entire event was captured on security camera tapes and raised questions about Hearst's motives that have never fully been resolved. The tapes seem to suggest that Patty (or "Tania," as she had asked to be called by that point) acted entirely on her own volition. In her trial, though, she was represented as having been brainwashed.

Where She Is Now:

A year and half after her kidnapping, the FBI arrested Hearst and charged her with robbery. Following trial in 1975, she was convicted on a robbery and firearms charge. Her original total sentence, 35 years, was later commuted to seven. She served them in her native state of California.

Following her release from prison in 1979, Hearst went on to marry and raise a family. She also wrote an account of her capture and brief life as a fugitive, Every Secret Thing (1988). It was later re-released as Patty Hearst: Her Own Story. Hearst has also been an actor in several John Waters films, including Cry-Baby and Serial Mom. In 2001 President Clinton pardoned her for her conviction.

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