Google claims that Antifa is, “A political protest movement comprising autonomous groups affiliated by their militant opposition to fascism and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology.” Those aligned with the movement tend to be anti-capitalists, anarchists, socialists, communists, social democrats, or some toxic combination. Generally, young impressionable ideologues flock to this violent misinformed movement perceiving it to be fresh, edgy, innovative, and new. It isn’t.
The Symbionese Liberation Army was an American left-wing terrorist organization that was operational on the West Coast between 1973 and 1975. It was the brainchild of an escaped convict named Donald DeFreeze. DeFreeze called himself “General Field Marshal Cinque.” Their catchphrase was, “Death to the fascist insect that preys on the life of the people.”
DeFreeze envisioned the SLA as a symbiotic melding of left-wing causes to include anti-racists, anti-capitalists, feminists, and any other disaffected losers he could con into joining his tidy gang of lunatics. At its apogee, the SLA had a grand total of eighteen official members.
Donald DeFreeze was serving five years to life for robbing a prostitute when he walked away from an unsecured area of the Soledad State Prison. Apparently DeFreeze had some mad people skills because in short order he had surrounded himself with a core group of committed groupies. Their first operational mission was lyrically, tragically, epically flawed.
The Murder of Marcus Foster
Marcus Foster was by all accounts a genuinely great guy. The first African-American superintendent of the Oakland school system, Foster was respected by all with whom he served. However, the SLA decided he had to die because he purportedly planned to introduce a system of student identification cards.
This scheme was intended to help exclude drug dealers from the school. The truly tragic bit was that Foster didn’t actually advocate for identification cards himself. These SLA morons just got caught up in the moment, hopelessly befuddled the details, and killed him anyway.
On November 6, 1973, SLA members Joe Remiro, Russ Little, and Donald DeFreeze ambushed Marcus Foster and his deputy, Robert Blackburn, as they left a school board meeting. The SLA assassins shot Foster a total of eight times with hollowpoint bullets they had filled with cyanide. Blackburn was shot as well but survived.
Remiro was a 27-year-old disillusioned Vietnam veteran who wielded a .380ACP Walther PPK during the hit. Blackburn’s life was saved that evening by a young surgeon named Coyness Ennix. Dr. Ennix ironically went on to serve as President of the Marcus Foster Educational Institute, an organization that raises money for Oakland schools.
Remiro and Little were caught and sentenced to life in prison. Remiro served five years. Little served forty-three.
A Most Remarkable Captive
Most SLA members were young white people of privilege who felt a burning desire to rectify the perceived social injustices that raised them in a state of relative opulence. I suspect the legitimately oppressed members of society were too busy working for a living to engage in such foolishness. Having tasted a little infamy from the breathtakingly inept Marcus Foster murder, like an addictive drug the SLA craved even more. To get it they decided to kidnap somebody famous. That somebody was Patricia Hearst.
Patty Hearst was the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst and heiress to the Hearst publishing empire. Just filthy rich, she was engaged to be married to a man named Steven Weed. A sophomore at the University of California at Berkeley, Hearst lived with Weed but admitted later she did not really care much for him.
The SLA found out about Hearst, Weed, and their living arrangements via an engagement announcement in the local newspaper. The overarching strategy, such as it was, was to kidnap Hearst and then exchange her for the imprisoned Remiro and Little.
The SLA kidnappers broke a wine bottle over Weed’s head and made off with Hearst. Weed dove out a window, nominally in search of help. Thus began one of the strangest kidnapping sagas in American history.
When it became obvious that the prisoner exchange wasn’t going to happen, the SLA demanded that the Hearst family instead donate groceries to the poor. The mandated figure fluctuated between $4 million and $400 million.
When Patty’s dad attempted to comply, a riot ensued that resulted in workers just throwing food off of the trucks in fear of their lives.
Turning to the Dark Side
The SLA initially locked Hearst in a closet and steadily exposed her to radical left-wing ideology. She was allowed to release a series of tape recordings the tone of which evolved starkly over time. The first few expressed fear and subservience. By day 13 she was extemporaneously espousing SLA dogma. She eventually denounced her family, her fiancé, and her former life of privilege, taking on the name “Tania,” after an associate of Che Guevara.
On April 15, 1974, some 70 days after her abduction, Patty Hearst was filmed wielding a cut-down M1 Carbine during the robbery of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. The SLA team moved with military-like precision, shooting and wounding two customers while making off with $10,960. Patty was ultimately tried and convicted for her part in this robbery.
The Most Violent Police Shootout in American History
On May 17, 1974, most of the SLA was holed up in an LA safe house along with Donald DeFreeze. The police got a lucky break and descended upon the location with 400 officers who surrounded the home and demanded the SLA surrender. DeFreeze and his mignons opened fire. What followed was a truly epic firefight.
The SLA wielded nineteen weapons to include M1 Carbines converted to full auto as well as cut-down 12-gauge shotguns, handguns, and improvised grenades made from 35mm film canisters. SWAT officers were armed with AR15 and AR180 rifles. Before it was over, a whopping 9,000 rounds had been expended, 4,000 by the SLA and 5,000 by the cops.
Police fired multiple incendiary tear gas canisters into the home, eventually setting it alight. Two female SLA members left the house firing weapons and were gunned down by police. DeFreeze shot himself in the head. The remaining three SLA terrorists died from smoke inhalation. Despite 4,000 rounds fired by the SLA not a single cop or firefighter was injured.
The SLA’s signature weapon was a cut-down .30-caliber M1 Carbine converted to full auto. Some fed from 15-round box magazines and others via 30-rounders. I couldn’t determine if these were all customized military carbines or potentially converted Iver Johnson Enforcer pistols. Some of the guns used on later operations retained their long barrels. As the M1 Carbine may be converted to full auto simply by dropping in seven parts, in the 1970’s era America it didn’t require a rocket scientist to amp up their hardware.
Several period photographs show SLA members wielding cut-down Remington 870 slide-action 12-gauge shotguns. It seems these inept but bloodthirsty terrorists failed to respect the sundry dicta of the 1934 National Firearms Act. Not unsurprisingly criminals seem not to be constrained by gun control laws.
The cops during the shootout carried AR15’s, M16’s, and AR180 rifles fitted with both 20 and 30-round magazines. In 1974 these weapons would have been fairly cutting edge in the hands of Law Enforcement. The LAPD was one of the few American metropolitan police forces that maintained a dedicated SWAT capability in the early seventies.
The ArmaLite Corporation first introduced the AR15 in 1956. Production rights were sold to Colt’s Manufacturing in 1959. In 1963 Gene Stoner, Arthur Miller, George Sullivan, and Charles Dorchester developed the piston-driven AR180 as a more easily manufactured alternative to the direct gas impingement AR15. While no major military ever adopted the AR180, the gun’s piston-driven gas system went on to drive such weapons as the G36, HK416, SA80, Steyr AUG, and FN SCAR.
Firearms are Notoriously Intolerant of Stupidity
The last major SLA robbery involved the daylight takedown of the Carmichael, California, branch of the Crocker National Bank in April of 1975. As the SLA crew egressed the facility, Emily Harris fumbled her shotgun and it discharged, striking a customer named Myrna Opsahl in the chest and killing her. Opsahl had been in the bank making a deposit for her local church.
Decades later the Crocker National Bank employed future cartoonist Scott Adams when he first entered the business world. Crocker NB served as inspiration for the evil Bank of Ethel depicted in his riotously funny cartoon strip Dilbert.
Despite all the ill-conceived schemes and misplaced chaos, Marcus Foster and Myrna Opsahl were the only two people the SLA terrorists actually successfully killed.
President Jimmy Carter commuted Hearst’s sentence in 1979 after 21 months served, and Bill Clinton ultimately pardoned her on January 20, 2001, his last day in office. Two months after her release from prison, Hearst married Bernard Lee Shaw, a policeman who was part of her security detail while she was out on bail. She has two children, lives in New York, and remains active in charity work and fundraising today.