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Sayles examines extremist group

Anthony Juarez
Staff Writer

Sarah Sleeger
Staff Writer

Contrary to public opinion, Patricia Hearst was not forced to join the Symbionese Liberation Army, but willingly did so, according to files owned by Professor of History Stephen Sayles.

Sayles announced he is about a chapter or two away from finishing his book about the 1970s militant group, the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Thirty-four students and faculty members attended this week’s faculty lecture, “Thoughts on the Life and Times of the Symbionese Liberation Army,” to recognize a very radical group of revolutionaries with extreme beliefs.

Sayles and his associate have been researching the SLA for the last five years and are in the process of developing a book on their findings.

“We’ve been working on it together for some time,” Sayles said. “We are close; we have about a chapter or two left and we will be finished. It’s a fascinating topic about a fascinating time.”

Many revolutionary groups were formed Throughout the 1970s, including the Black Panthers, Black Liberation Army and the SLA.

“What they represented was a mass movement that turned sour,” Sayles said.

The SLA was a group of 10 people from Berkeley who committed multiple bank robberies, two murders and attempted bombings, among other acts of violence in an effort to begin their own revolution.

Ultimately, what they saw and did as part of their “revolution” were just violent acts.

“They came at a time (of rebellion) and this was their outlet of political violence,” Sayles said.

Two violent acts committed by the SLA were the assassination of school superintendent Marcus Foster on Nov. 6, 1973 and the kidnapping of heiress Patricia Hearst on Feb. 4, 1974.

They considered themselves a revolutionary vanguard army and are most well known for recruiting Hearst to join their radical group.

Hearst later claimed to be forced to join the SLA, but in Sayles theory, she was actually willing to join the extremist group.

“She did join the SLA. She was willing. She could have been killed, “ Sayles said.

Sayles has files on record for his upcoming book of her willingness to join the group.

During discussion, a faculty member asked the significance of the SLA’s symbol of a seven-headed cobra.

One explanation by the FBI said it looked like it could have come from the front cover of a Jimi Hendrix album.

The heads actually represent the values of the SLA and were created by member Nancy Ling Perry, Sayles said.

The values are the same as the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Students and faculty members left with a greater understanding of the SLA and its members.

“These were white, middle class people who felt a revolution left them behind,” Sayles said. “They wanted to prove they can be just as dangerous.”

“It was interesting because I didn’t know it existed,” sophomore psychology major, Elizabeth Janitzke said. “I’m not a history buff, but it benefitted me to learn about it.”

“It was interesting because I had to research it,” sophomore Brenda Uribe said. “Most of the information I found was about Patricia Hearst.”

Anthony Juarez can be reached at

Sarah Sleeger can be reached at

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