Hearst Castle, San Simeon

Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst – It’s Not the Whole Story

He was the Rupert Murdoch of his day: a media baron who made millions marketing scandal, crime and crisis. He was so rich, he built a castle as a monument to his vanity. So iconic that his life story inspired the movie classic ‘Citizen Kane.’ When William Randolph Hearst died in 1951, he left future generations of Hearsts set for life—safely cushioned in the bubble of their birthright. But on the evening of Feb. 4, 1974, that bubble burst.
—Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline NBC

The documentary film, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2004), is a synopsis of a high-profile criminal case, which in the 1970s had most of America enraptured. The movie is worth your while for at least the following four reasons:

Violent protesters at UC Berkeley
Violent protesters at UC Berkeley, Feb 2017

First is the movie’s accurate portrayal of UC Berkeley and other similar college campuses in America in the late 1960s-70s. Forty years have passed since the Patty Hearst case, yet it is strikingly similar to what is going on today.

A few weeks ago, UC Berkeley was mired with violent protests against Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart News, a conservative media outlet (Gecker, 2017; Ross, 2017). Not only disallowing free speech on the campus, but the UC Berkeley protesters also removed metal barriers, smashed windows in buildings both on-campus and off, and defied police, who, fortunately, were able to protect the speaker from the violence.

But officials said it was a smaller group of protesters dressed in black and in hooded sweatshirts that showed up as night fell to break windows with metal barricades, throw smoke bombs and flares and start a large bonfire outside the building with a diesel generator.

‘This was a group of agitators who were masked up, throwing rocks, commercial grade fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers,’ said UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennet (Gecker, 2017).

Scott Adams, Berkeley alumnus and author of the cartoon strip, “Dilbert,” said he had decided to

‘side with the Jewish gay immigrant who has the African-American boyfriend,’ referring to Yiannapoulos, rather than the ‘the hypnotized zombie-boys in black masks who were clubbing people who hold different points of view’ (Ross, 2017).

Was it students expressing fear and anger in protest of Donald Trump’s victory that prompted colleges across the U.S. to provide safe places and trauma tents on their campuses? Many have expressed publicly their perception of our country as being led by a fascist, and consequently, fear that America is turning into a “banana republic” (Henderson, 2013).

Countries that were considered banana republics . . . lacked upward mobility for most of the population and were plagued by blatant income equality, a corrupt alliance of government and corporate interests, rampant human rights abuses, police corruption and extensive use of torture on political dissidents.

“Black Lives Matter,” the “Women’s March,” and other like-minded groups are reported to have been formed in solidarity to fight injustices.

Symbionese Liberation symbol
Symbol of the SLA

A second reason to watch this film is that the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) is shown as what they truly were—a tiny, slogan-drunk band of revolutionaries so obsessed with guns and publicity that they seem almost pre-satirized. (Spiotta, 2016).

Third, it reports justice finally served after 27 years for the death of Myrna Opsahl, a woman killed by SLA members during a bank robbery (“4 in Radical Group of 70’s Are Sentenced in Murder”, 2003).

The fourth and final reason it is worth watching: to see the interviews with two surviving members of the long-defunct SLA, Russ Little and Mike Bortin.

This Is Not the Whole Story, Crucial Details Are Left Out

But, this is not the whole story. Not by a long shot. Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst is a one-dimensional portrayal of the actual ordeal, one that reinforces my thinking that this was not a straightforward kidnapping. In other words, it could be called a whitewashed story.

A crucial detail left out — Patty Hearst was allegedly in a close relationship with Donald DeFreeze, leader of the SLA, while he was still in prison. Brad Schrieber’s book, Revolutions End: The Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Mind Control, and the Secret History of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA (2006), claims that Patty Hearst was familiar with her kidnappers.

According to this story, she was among a group of young college girls who, prior to the kidnapping, visited the prison accompanied by a UC Berkeley professor who aspired to assist in rehabilitating prisoners. A relationship then blossomed between Hearst and DeFreeze. Interestingly, Schreiber’s research shows that Hearst was already radicalized before the group visit(s) and that she continued to visit DeFreeze in secret at Vacaville prison. However, when she broke up with him, DeFreeze became furious with her and set up the kidnapping to get even.

Another gap in the documentary is Patty’s exclamation as she was being kidnapped, “Oh, not me!” (Mankiewicz, 2009; Fosburgh, 1974). Hearst and DeFreeze are rumored to have planned for another Hearst sister to be kidnapped (Schreiber, 2006). Then, when their relationship collapsed, this plan changed.

Matters are further complicated by reports that DeFreeze was cooperating with the CIA, and that the CIA actually started the SLA as a phony left-wing organization in order to decrease the effectiveness of white radical groups protesting the Vietnam War. While similar to many TV and movie storylines with characters as “government informants,” this strategy is actually more commonplace than one might think. This scheme and the distraction it provided was designed to reduce the risk to public safety, since blowing up buildings was part of the existing radical groups’ strategy (Schreiber, 2006). Why else was DeFreeze’s escape from Soledad Prison so easy? Yet, why were the members of the SLA not aware that DeFreeze was a double agent?

This notion is further strengthened by California Representative Leo Ryan’s discovery that DeFreeze had been a victim of behavior modification by the CIA while in prison, which would imply that Hearst got mixed up in a CIA plot (Schreiber, 2006). Why was Hearst not inside the Los Angeles house when most of the gang members were killed?

‘You are witnessing the biggest gunfight in the history of the West,’ one of the news correspondents shouted into his beeper phone. Could the battle have been staged for the evening news? The shooting began at 5:30 PM, Pacific Standard Time, and the fire erupted at 6:30 PM The camera crews had been given two hours’ notice to prepare for live color coverage (Davidson, 1974).

These omissions are a discredit to the documentary.

Missing Information about Hearst Family Dynamics

Also missing in the film is a description of Hearst family dynamics, which would have shed light on Patty as a person. Catherine Campbell Hearst was a prim lady who practiced Catholicism devoutly. A native of Atlanta, Georgia and a graduate of Washington Seminary (a precursor to the Westminster Schools), she married Randolph Hearst in what was called the wedding of the decade in 1930s Atlanta (Toobin, 2016; Waggoner & Jackovich, 1979).

She lived as a proper wife and mother who likely expected the same of her daughters. Catherine asked that certain aspects of the kidnapping be kept private, e.g., that her 19-year-old daughter was living with her fiance Steven Weed, and that she was in a bathrobe during the kidnapping. Both imply pre-marital sex, which went against Catherine Hearst’s Catholic convictions. Also left out is the strange fact that Hearst had her driver’s license in her bathrobe pocket when she was taken (Higgins, 1974).

It was also Catherine Hearst who insisted on brainwashing as the legal strategy for defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey. Understandably, she did not want the American public to believe that her daughter acted on her own free will. It is likely that Patty Hearst filled the role of a wild child in the family, one who continued to undermine her mother even as a captive.

During a broadcast from the SLA to the Hearsts, she publicly criticized Catherine Hearst’s wearing of a black dress. This very comment represents a rebellious teenager who thought her mother was hopelessly out of touch, rather than from a young woman desperate to get back to the sanctity of her home. Show me a rebellious young person who wants to go the opposite direction of what is expected of her, and I will show you an inflexible mother who is concerned with appearances and has preconceived notions of the roles that her daughter will fulfill in society.

There is evidence of Patty’s rebellion from within the family as well. She would not be the first young woman to go against her parents’ wishes and certainly not the last. This interpretation of her later actions suggests that once Patty got the thrills out of her system and no longer thought of her family as fascist pigs, she went right back into her life as a Hearst. The end of the movie shows an interview in which Patty responded to a question about her childhood in a rich and powerful family. “It was pretty perfect.” This flippant and uninspired response does not reflect a grateful woman who has taken the time to think about how her actions affected her family.

Despite its gaps, Guerilla, The Taking of Patty Hearst offers a worthy overview of a complex, yet unexplained event. It takes digging beyond the documentary to discover other details and perspectives on the story. Further, depending on the limitations of any given filmmaker and his/her motivations, all documentaries present incomplete information on some level. It is, therefore, important for the viewer to watch with a questioning mind.

A Further Disclaimer

At this point, I feel compelled to offer this further disclaimer. I cannot validate all sources cited in this article. A source I have cited multiple times in this piece is Brad Schreiber’s book, Revolution’s End The Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Mind Control, and the Secret History of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA (2016). Please note that, while inspiring conviction, Schreiber’s content is not to be taken in total as completely factual. In addition, any implication in my journal that Patty Hearst possessed prior knowledge of the kidnapping is based on speculation and opinion.

Movies on My Mind‘s research methodology involves education and exposure:
1) education through reading a wide range of material on our assigned film and,
2) exposure through a  group discourse that reveals other angles from which to perceive the subject film.

Our quest to learn the truth about Patty Hearst’s kidnapping involved reading numerous articles and books written about the event. Among the sources are the aforementioned recent works:  Revolution’s End by Brad Schreiber (2016) and American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin (2016).

Even though Movies on My Mind attempts to provide evidence taken from a wide range of sources that both agree with and contradict an argument, and further, uses reference material from sources considered of high repute, the budget required to critically evaluate all the material we use for research is limited, hence this disclaimer. However, in this particular case, it may never be possible to confirm or deny all propositions, as the incentives of parties who are in a position to expose the truth are inconsistent and possibly misaligned.


4 in radical group of 70’s are sentenced in murder. (2003, Feb 15). The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/15/us/4-in-radical-group-of-70-s-are-sentenced-in-murder.html

Davidson, S. (1974, Jun 2). The images constantly reversing. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1974/06/02/archives/notes-from-the-land-of-the-cobra-the-images-constantly-reversing.html

Fosburgh, L. (1974, Nov 11). Miss Hearst still a fugitive 6 months after reaffirming allegiance to kidnappers. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1974/11/19/archives/miss-hearst-still-a-fugitive-6-months-after-reaffirming-allegiance.html

Gecker, J. (2017, Feb 2). Violent protesters block Berkeley talk by Breitbart editor. The Star Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.startribune.com/berkeley-braces-for-protests-at-milo-yiannopoulos-talk/412475263/

Henderson, A. (2013). 10 ways America has come to resemble a banana republic. Alternet. Retrieved from https://www.alternet.org/progressive-wire/10-ways-america-has-come-resemble-banana-republic

Higgins, G. V. (1974, Apr 14). But what if it wasn’t a kidnapping? The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/books/00/08/20/specials/higgins-kidnapping.html

Independent voices. (1976, Jan 22). Ann Arbor Sun. Retrieved from https://voices.revealdigital.com/cgi-bin/independentvoices?a=d&d=BGEAIGG19760122.1.5&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN—————1#

Mankiewicz, J. (2009, Jul 25). Kidnapped heiress: The Patty Hearst story. Dateline NBC. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/id/32089504/ns/dateline_nbc-newsmakers/t/kidnapped-heiress-patty-hearst-story/

Ross, M. (2017, Feb 8). ‘Dilbert’ creator Scott Adams ends UC-Berkeley support over Milo Yiannopoulos protests. The Mercury News. Retrieved from https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/02/08/dilbert-creator-scott-adams-ends-uc-berkeley-support-over-milo-yiannopoulos-protests/

Schreiber, B. (2016). Revolution’s end: The Patty Hearst kidnapping, mind control, and the secret history of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA. Skyhorse Publishing.

Stone, R. (Director). (2004). Guerilla: The taking of Patty Hearst [Motion picture].  USA, WGBH.

Toobin, J. (2016). American heiress: The wild saga of kidnapping, crimes, and trial of Patty Hearst. New York: Doubleday.

Waggoner, D. & Jackovich, K. (1979, Apr 9). Patty’s free, but Randolph left, and Catherine Hearst wonders what’s next. People Magazine. Retrieved from https://people.com/archive/pattys-free-but-randolph-left-and-catherine-hearst-wonders-whats-next-vol-11-no-14/

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