Note: The body of this appeared as an op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record.
"What matter the victims, so long as the gesture is beautiful?"
- Laurent Tailhade, 1854-1919
A couple of news items caught my attention last week, and apparently almost nobody else's.
On March 17, Sara Jane Olson, nee
Kathleen Soliah, was released from the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, California, after serving seven years of a 14-year sentence for possessing explosives with intent to murder, and first-degree murder for the killing of Myrna Opsahl, a mother of four, during a bank robbery. Though she did not personally discharge the shotgun that killed Mrs. Opsahl, she did kick a pregnant woman in the belly during the robbery, causing her to miscarry.
Before her arrest for acts committed while a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, Olson had been living for 23 years in Minnesota as a housewife and mother of three, active in various worthy causes.
The SLA was famous in the 1970's for kidnapping, and shortly thereafter converting, heiress Patty Hearst.*
On March 12, representatives from “The Campaign for Justice for Victims of Weather Underground Terrorism,” held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., asking the Justice Department to reopen the case of the 1970 bombing of Park Police Station in San Francisco, which killed police Sgt. Brian V. McDonnell.
FBI informant Larry Grathwohl, testified under oath that Bill Ayers, University of Chicago professor of education, told Grathwohl that Ayers' wife Bernadine Dohrn, Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and the Director of Northwestern University's Children and Family Justice Center, "had been forced to plant the bomb at Park Station because others were not active enough in committing violence."
Full disclosure: I was not part of that world, but I knew people in it. My childhood best friend disappeared underground. But unlike Mrs. Olson and Professors Ayers and Dohrn, he never resurfaced.
Olson, Ayers and Dorhn's parents were affluent to wealthy. Ayers' father was a CEO at Commonwealth Edison. His comrades in the Weather Underground included the children of high-powered lawyers, business owners, and educators. Many of them received financial support from their families while living underground.
My friend, Thomas "Tiff" Feeney, was the son of an Irish cop, who made it into a good university on a scholarship. Since he disappeared underground, I have never heard a word of him. I fear the worst.
The criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with these people. Criminals act to satisfy their desires to get things without working for them, and to feel good by hurting people they don't like.
A terrorist feels him-or-herself to be a soldier in a cause separate from and superior to himself - although he or she my be acting to satisfy a need greater than wealth or comfort, the need to feel important. This is felt most strongly by those whose material wants are already satisfied. Which is why the ranks of American terrorists come largely from the children of privilege.
Before paroling an offender into society, the justice officials wants to see some evidence of remorse, or at least a desire not to go back to jail. They are well aware that criminals are very good at faking it. Recidivism rates among released and paroled offenders are high.
Recidivism among our aging domestic terrorists is rare. After their youthful radical adventures, they re-entered society and hold prestigious, well-paid jobs they'd be disqualified for if they'd robbed, bombed, and killed for mere money, rage, jealousy, or any motive any sane person could comprehend.
Remorse is totally absent. Ayers and Dorhn have said many times they'd do it all over again. Their only regret is they "didn't do enough." Olson pleaded guilty and allocuted to her offenses, then had to be hauled back into court after stating publicly she was innocent. None of them have ever cooperated with authorities to solve any of the still-open cases. Their attitude towards their victims is eerily detached, like they aren't real.
Well, that's what you'd expect from "soldiers in a cause," though to my knowledge none of them ever demanded to be tried by military commission under the laws of war. They prefer to trust the criminal justice system of the “fascist pig-state of AmeriKKKa” and the best lawyers Daddy's money could buy.
You see, under the Geneva Convention, you get to shoot people who do things like that.
*Patty Hearst was treated rather harshly by the press after she was caught, tried, and sentenced. Journalist Marylyn Baker quipped, "Patty didn't need a brainwash, just a quick rinse."
I confess I shared the sentiments. However, in the Playboy interview Patty said two things that hit me right between the eyes.
"I did two years of a seven year sentence, and everybody talks about it like it was nothing."
Right Patty. Two years in stir is not nothing. And it wasn't a country club prison for politicians and white collar criminals either.
And, this I thought was really profound. The interviewer asked her what she thought made it politically possible for President Jimmy Carter to commute her sentence (she eventually got a full pardon from Bill Clinton.)
She replied, "Jonestown. Before Jonestown, nobody believed in brainwashing."
*And by the way, Marylyn Baker was the journalist who really broke the case, did the legwork the feds followed up on, and revealed the SLA were in fact mostly a bunch of white, middle-class dykes, who got a totally un-political black career criminal (Donald DeFreeze, a.k.a. "Field-Marshall General Cinque") to front for them.
*"I asked, 'well what is going to happen to those people we can't reeducate, that are diehard capitalists?' and the reply was that they'd have to be eliminated. And when I pursued this further, they estimated they would have to eliminate 25 million people in these reeducation centers. And when I say 'eliminate,' I mean 'kill.' Twenty-five million people. I want you to imagine sitting in a room with 25 people, most of which have graduate degrees, from Columbia and other well-known educational centers, and hear them figuring out the logistics for the elimination of 25 million people. And they were dead serious."
*“She lived in Berkeley. It was kind of normal. I always tell people she wasn't a terrorist. She was an urban guerrilla.”
-Emily Peterson, Olson's daughter.
*"We were young, we were idealistic and we'd do it again... we were so lucky to have been born into that moment in history." - Bernadine Dorhn, Connie Chung interview 1998