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Why Revolution?

What drives individuals to protest perceived social injustices? Why do some join groups or commit violent actions? What motivated the young people who formed the Symbionese Liberation Army? And why did these acts increase so dramatically in the late 1960s and early 1970s? Program interviewees discuss the reasons behind revolutionary attitudes.

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The Legacy of World War II


Mike Bortin

Mike Bortin, former S.L.A. member:
It seemed like at least 50% of radicals were Jewish, I was half Jewish and the thing that you remember growing up was "we saved the world from Hitler." And then you turn around and we're being Hitler, you know, you see this every night, and the thing that everyone was told, especially the Jewish people, was "you can't let something like this happen again." And yet every night you watch Walter Cronkite on TV, waiting for him to say something [about social injustices], waiting for all these people to say [something], that never say anything...


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Radicalizing Events of the Fifties and Sixties


Tim Findley

Tim Findley, investigative reporter, San Francisco Chronicle:
All of what we call "the Left" today... comes from a sense of culture that developed in this country after World War II... There was a sense among young people in particular, in the 1950s, of feeling some sense of responsibility in their own society. But also feeling some sense of frustration with the current state of affairs -- that is, you didn't want to be the same, you didn't want to conform. If you want to trace the elements of the movement maybe you should trace it back to haircuts and leather jackets. I notice now still people refer to "Rebel Without a Cause" and James Dean as kind of the element of the teenage rebel... Being different, expressing yourself, coming out and being an individual, meant a lot. That also translated into the evolving sense of political movement -- the evolving sense of political involvement. When [President John F.] Kennedy said, "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," people took it to heart, they really did. In the early Sixties and middle and late Fifties people had begun working on behalf of civil rights and many people even forgotten today spent many good months there. I did -- other people did, riding freedom buses, later working on voting rights registration. As time evolved, the movement itself took on other aspects. It was suggested that whites should work more on their own causes, and let black people work on theirs.


Mike Bortin

Mike Bortin, former S.L.A. member:
Before Bobby Kennedy was killed, I had hope within the system. But not after that. Especially with black people... that issue was more important to me in the long run... that was the one that was going to stay with us and that's what you see every day. And the, I mean, it was like he was a savior to the black community from what I could see just going door to door... it was the only time I've ever seen so many black people with so much hope. You know? To me, [RFK's assassination] was even more devastating than [that of] Martin Luther King...


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What Kind of People Became Radicals?


Mike Bortin

Mike Bortin, former S.L.A. member:
Most everybody that I ever knew that was a radical... were go-getters in high school. I was a national science finalist, I had a gigantic IQ... and most everybody did. It was all these high achievers... We were just so shocked at how bad our country had become that we didn't want any part of it... everything stemmed from that. We had to make... everything we did an in-your-face statement. It was almost like a kid that decided their parents were just disgusting people. I know that's a weird way to sum it up, but we just felt like there was no future...

I don't make this jump that here's normal people and here's revolutionaries. A lot of it is where you were at the time... you don't have to be this really violent person, you don't have to be this high-adrenaline person, or this really reckless person, to be what's labeled as a revolutionary... It's like a Thomas Hardy novel, how much being in a certain place determines your future... a chain of circumstances could come out, you could be in the same situation. All of us could be.


Ludlow Kramer

Ludlow Kramer:
[With the S.L.A., Patty Hearst] was having a hell of a lot more fun than she was in her old life. I mean she was somebody. She was doing something... I think there are a lot of people -- you know, if you look at history or your own lives, a lot of times when you swing into a group... probably a good example would be riots. There are an awful lot of people that riot that really aren't rioters, that really don't want to destroy buildings, or maybe kill people, but they get caught up in this great surge. Well, [Patty] got caught up in a small surge of people, and it was kind of cool, you know. "I'm somebody! I'm accomplishing something! I'm not saying it's good, but I'm accomplishing something and I never did before in my life."


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Radicals in Northern California


Tim Findley

Tim Findley, investigative reporter, San Francisco Chronicle:
It sounds like a cliché to say it, but it's true: the San Francisco Bay Area was a special place then... Everywhere in the country... there was movement for change. There was a progressive attitude particularly among young people. But elsewhere, that progressive attitude was always met with resistance. It had to push through a curtain of some kind, to really make it progressive. In San Francisco it was almost as if that curtain was drawn aside. That not only could you do more or wild things or unexpected things, but sometimes those things were almost even condoned.


Dan Grove

Dan Grove, FBI agent:
Berkeley was jokingly referred to as the People's Republic of Berkeley, as you've heard probably several times... there was a counterculture in Berkeley that made it very difficult, to -- or a hostility, in fact, toward the police power that made Berkeley a difficult place to operate in, in those days.

People, if you knocked on doors, they shut them in your face, the minute you showed your credentials, I mean, "Don't want to talk to you, don't have to talk to you" -- and bam. And out. And I'll never forget the day after the [SLA] shootout down in Los Angeles, they picketed the FBI office in Berkeley, people carrying signs and that the FBI was to blame for those people being killed down there. And I mean that's just a manifestation of the hostility, really.


Mike Bortin

Mike Bortin, former S.L.A. member:
How did I express my rebellion? Well, I helped start a lot of riots, shut down the college, 'cause I was a student then at U.C.-Berkeley. I was pretty militant. I burned a lot of flags... turned over police cars, lit them up, and that happened pretty often... and threw bricks in cops' faces... I was in S.D.S. [Students for a Democratic Society], I was a pretty good rioter, I was good at climbing up flagpoles and burning flags. But I never did a bombing....

We did a lot... in Berkeley as far as rights and all that, but, no one ever owned a gun... that was the difference between white and black radicals. I mean, blacks were armed. We were unfamiliar with that... I was only 22 years old and I wasn't a violent person...

To give you an idea of how Berkeley was in those days, this radio station KSAN was a radical station. People would go by LeConte Avenue where this garage was, and all of a sudden they'd be followed by police because they had staked it out. So people had actually called into KSAN, "I don't know what's going on, but stay away from that area, LeConte Avenue," and if any of us had heard that broadcast, we would never had been arrested. That's how crazy Berkeley was -- you actually got warnings on the radio...


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California Radicals by the Mid-1970s


Tim Findley

Tim Findley, investigative reporter, San Francisco Chronicle:
In the mid-70s the anti-war movement began to decline, simply because the [Vietnam] war was ending. There was less and less of the mass movement going on in Berkeley, and more concentrated cells of people within Berkeley who were living out a lifestyle. That place and condition had existed since the Fifties and the Beat poets, [Jack] Kerouac and other people had really evolved around this whole area and were part of the non-conformity... By the mid-70s... in order to be part of this romantic past in Berkeley... you gained status by being more revolutionary than the other guy. By having that superior compassion... that motivated a lot of people...

There had been a change in direction of the civil rights movement, which identified more with empowering racial differences rather than melding them, rather than integrating society... And there was developing at that time, as well, a far more ideological slant to what had been a relatively innocent movement. If you look back to such things as the Weather Underground... in 1968... they did not attack institutions in order to kill people or rob people or what have you; they attacked the institutions as saboteurs -- as a resistance against the war and against the power of the establishment. That's a great deal different than what was evolving later on, after the prison movement took hold. Because the prison movement demonstrated more of criminal behavior... and manipulating that criminal behavior into something that could be then translated into revolution.


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The S.L.A. and the Hearst Kidnapping


Tim Findley

Tim Findley, investigative reporter, San Francisco Chronicle:
[The] S.L.A. takes Patricia Hearst, initially thinking that they were going to trade her for the prisoners [Joe Remiro and Russ Little]. They realize they're not going to quite pull that off, you know, they're not gonna get a prisoner exchange. The next best thing they can do is to is to create some kind of enormous act that will elevate them in the status of the public, so that's the food giveaway. You know, and it's as outrageous as they can think of... they want supermarkets emptied and food thrown into the streets, I mean, that's really what it amounted to. And they think at that point, the S.L.A. will become so popular among poor people and among the downtrodden and the masses and they will be able to swim away and maybe leave Patty behind, who knows? But, what literally happens of course is that it begins to look, because of the lack of coordination and because of just the chaos that surrounded it all, it begins to look like poor people are embarrassing themselves, like black people are embarrassing themselves. It almost comes off as a racist episode in which people look like damn fools fighting over a turkey, you know... and that's another reason why the real radical Left and others didn't want anything to do with this, and it tends to do the opposite of what the S.L.A. thought it would do, because people did make such fools out of themselves, I mean it was an episode of greed, not of generosity.


Mike Bortin

Mike Bortin, former S.L.A. member:
[The Hearst kidnapping] was what we always wanted in a way. It was like a dream, that you didn't want to wake up from because, first of all, it was instant gratification. The S.L.A. said, "food program" -- there was a food program, just like that. There were thousands of poor black people and poor Hispanics in line, showing poverty in America, which is what we wanted to show for years and no one would listen. Started co-ops and this, that, and no one was interested. People were interested in Vietnam but not local issues that much, and to see what a threat they were being perceived [as] even in the early stages -- [California governor Ronald] Reagan was ready to have a stroke. He was threatening to arrest the people who were getting food and charging them with [being an] accessory [to a crime]... the reaction of the government was so incredible. It was Bonnie and Clyde. It was that kind of thing that's very American, actually, at the core. These guys were just doing it so artistically.


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