(The following article first appeared in the 9/9/92 issue of the now-defunct Lower East Side alternative weekly newspaper, Downtown.)
On February 4, 1974 the daughter of then-Hearst Corporation Chairman of the Board Randolph Hearst—Patty Hearst—was “arrested” by a few members of the Symbionese Liberation Army [SLA] urban guerrilla group in Berkeley, California. The SLA was led by Donald “Cinque” DeFreeze, an African-American radical who had escaped from a California prison the previous year. “Cinque” DeFreeze had resided in places like Newark, Cleveland and Los Angeles in the 1960s, before eventually hiding out with some white radicals who were active in the Berkeley political scene, after his prison escape.
Influenced, apparently, by reading about the Tupamaros’ urban guerrilla activities in Uruguay and by watching Costa-Gavras’s State of Siege movie, the SLA decided to kidnap the Hearst heiress, who was then living with Steve Weed (who had previously roomed with a Princeton SDS radical activist during the 1960s) in Berkeley.
After placing Patty Hearst in a “People’s Prison”—which apparently was a large closet in a rented Bay Area house—the SLA issued a taped message on Feb. 12, 1974 to the local Pacifica radio station, KPFA, in which “Cinque” DeFreeze demanded that the Hearst Dynasty meet the following demand in exchange for Patty Hearst’s release:
“Each person with one of the following cards is to be given 70 dollars worth of meats, vegetables, and dairy products: all people with welfare cards, Social Security pension cards, food stamp cards, disabled veteran cards, medical cards, parole or probation papers, and jail-or-bail release slips.”
“Cinque” DeFreeze also repeated in his taped message a phrase that has become historically associated with the SLA in U.S. cultural underground circles: “Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people!”
In response to this demand, then-Hearst Chairman of the Board Randolph Hearst agreed to donate $2 million to set up a “People In Need” free-food distribution program for the poor in the Bay Area. But on Feb. 21, 1974 another taped message was received from the SLA in which “Cinque” called Hearst’s $2 million People-In-Need program a “Crumbs To The People” program, read off a list of the magazine, broadcasting, newspaper and real estate holdings of the Hearst Foundation, and asked that $4 million more in free-food-for-the-poor be donated by Hearst in exchange for his daughter’s release.
According to An American Journey: The Short Life of Willy Wolfe by Jean Kinney, however, the following then happened on Feb. 23, 1974:
“Randolph Hearst appeared before the television news cameras to answer Cinque’s latest demand. `The size of this latest demand is far beyond my financial capabilities,’ said the distraught father, his voice hoarse and his face haggard. `The matter is out of my hands.’ Thereupon Mr. Hearst made way for a representative of the corporation, who said into the microphone, `The Hearst Corporation is prepared to contribute to People In Need a total of 4 million dollars to the poor and needy provided Patricia is released unharmed.’ He said that the corporation `…is not controlled by members of the Hearst family.’
But on March 9, 1974, the SLA sent another taped message in which it accused Randolph Hearst of deceit and dishonesty in negotiating for his daughter’s release, and in which Patty Hearst, herself, accused her parents of not doing enough to bring about her release.
Next: Confronting The Hearst/Cosmopolitan Media Monopoly: The SLA’s 1974 Kidnapping of Patty Hearst—Part 2
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