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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 1. 6th March 1974

S.L.A.-Right Wingers or Misguided Robin Hoods?

page 7

S.L.A.-Right Wingers or Misguided Robin Hoods?

On the evening of November 6 last year, Californian school superintendent Marcus Foster was murdered in a dark alley behind an Oakland school building. As he and deputy superintendent, Robert Blackburn stepped out of a school board meeting, three masked gunmen shot them in a hail of shotgun and pistol blasts. Foster was killed on the spot. Blackburn was hospitalised with shotgun wounds.

Seventeen hears alter the shooting, a local radio station received the first of several copies of a three page letter, "Communique No. 1" from the so-called Symbionese Liberation Army, taking credit for the Foster slaying and announcing a "shoot on sight" order for other school officials. The communique indicted Foster for various offences "against the youth of Oakland". Among these were plans to introduce a political police force into Oakland schools.

In fact, although a voluntary photo identification system had been temporarily introduced in Oakland schools, Foster himself had specifically rejected a proposal for police patrols. Some 3,000 people attended Foster's funeral and a similar number attended a community memorial service at the Oakland Coliseum. There was an air of genuine sadness at the death of the liberal black educator, especially popular among Oakland minority groups. The Black Panther Party denounced the murder as a provocation against the black community.

The objective consequences of the murder raised many questions about the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). No one in the Bay Area of San Francisco had ever heard of such an organisation. Suspicion that the murder may have been the work of agent provocateurs (right wing agents attempting to discredit the left) was raised when it was recalled that in the weeks prior to Foster's death, local members of the Nazi Party had been circulating literature in Concorde (a suburb of Oakland) calling for the killing of "race mixmaster principals and superintend-dents".

The execution came just a month after four unsolved terrorist killings (including the sniping of a police helicopter in Oakland in which two policemen died) for which another previously unheard of group called the "August 7 Guerilla Movement" claimed credit. The August 7 group linked itself to the demand to "free the San Quentin 6". As a result, the six San Quentin inmates received damaging publicity at a time when they are facing trial. Supporters of the San Quentin 6 say they know nothing about the so-called August 7 group.

On January 10, Russell Little 24, and Joseph Remiro, 1 27 year old Vietnam veteran were arrested in connection with the murder after allegedly firing at a policeman who stopped their van for a routine check in Concorde. That evening, firemen called to a burning house close to the arrest scene found a cache of weapons including two pipe bombs, some cyanide and a bundle of the original letters from both the S.L. A. and the August 7 Guerilla Movement.

Following the arrest of Remiro and Little, Oakland police and FBI agents conducted a series of raids on the homes of Oakland activists suspected of having links with the two, but nothing was found that could be connected with the slaying of Foster. Nevertheless, the police and government grasped their opportunity to isolate Californian movement groups by publicising Remiro's role as a leading member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War-Winter Soldier Organisation (VVAW—WSO)—one of the most active of Californian progressive groups.

VVAW-WSO were quick to condemn the killing and counter government attempts to link the VVAW-WSO with it: "We see this as one more attempt by the government to link VVAW-WSO with violent activities. All such attempts in the past have failed.... Based on his stated beliefs and his support in practice of third world struggles in the community we have absolutely no reason to believe that Joe Remiro would have killed Marcus Foster." Movement people remained confused about the political motivations behind the Foster murder but many assumed it to be the work of right-wing groups attempting to discredit the left and were unanimous in condemning the slaying.

Photo of a crowd of people for free food

Hundreds of people queue in Oakland for the first handout of free food.

On February 7, 1974 in a communique sent to a local radio station, the SLA announced that it had kidnapped 19 year old student Patricia Hearst. According to police, Patricia Hearst (daughter of Randolph Hearst, president and editor of the San Francisco Examiner and chairman of the board of the Hearst Corporation) had been abducted on February 4 from her apartment near the university campus by two women and two men.

The first communique was followed five days later by a tape recorded message from Patricia Hearst and a man who identified himself as "General Field Marshal Cin" of the SLA. The two messages set forth the demands of the kidnappers including one that the Hearst family donate more than $350 million in free food to poor people in California (an estimated five million people would qualify for $70 of free food each) as evidence of good faith in seeking the release of their daughter. In the tape recording, Hearst said she had been kidnapped in connection with the arrest of Little and Remiro. She asserted their innocence of the murder but said, obviously on instruction, that the two men were members of the SLA.

Drawing of a seven headed cobra

Seven headed cobra—the symbol of the SLA.

Randolph Hearst replied that he could not meet the SLA demand but that he would raise $2,000,000 for free food instead. Hearst also said he would get legal help for Remiro and Little, who are still awaiting trial.

Reaction from poor and working people to the SLA demand was nearly unanimous in its condemnation. The Examiner's switchboard, shortly after the tapes were broadcast, was jammed by phene calls from potential "beneficiaries" who said they would refuse any offers of free food. The six organisations invited by the SLA to help co-ordinate the free food distribution issued a joint statement condemning the kidnapping.

Hearst however, went ahead with plans for the food distribution, the first handout taking place amid scenes of violence on February 22.

Photo of two men looking at each other

Little and Remiro being charged.

Police say their prime suspect in the kidnapping, the man who called himself "General Field Marshal Cin" on the tape, has been identified as Donald D. DeFreeze, an escaped inmate from Soledad State Prison. Following his escape in March 1973, De Freeze approached several Bay Area movement groups and offered his services as a political assassin. No one was interested and many people suspected him of being an agent provocateur.

SLA statements have enabled the government and media to attempt to discredit the left. In their tape recorded message, the SLA claimed to have links with the Irish Republican Army, the revolutionary movement in the Phillipines and the independence forces in Puerto Rico (all the organisations referred to immediately denied any connection with the SLA). The SLA named the American Filipino newspaper. Kalayaan, as a channel for the distribution of food, even though this paper ceased publication last year.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General, William Saxbe, suggested that the SLA was a national organisation for recent killings of white people in Eastern and Southern cities (this view was reinforced when a newspaper editor in Atlanta, Georgia was kidnapped by a group calling itself the "American Revolutionary Liberation Army").

But the SLA's actions are doing the most harm to those it is supposedly trying to help the poor and working people of California.

Admittedly, a propaganda point may have been scored when it was shown that 5,000,000 people in California were in need of welfare assistance. But the money asked for, even if it was forthcoming, would do nothing substantial to alleviate the actual conditions of life for those people. One left-wing paper in the U.S. has accurately described the SLA as nothing more than a band of strong arm charity fund raisers. At worst it is wrecking and bringing into disrepute by association, the efforts of those who are struggling to expose the corrupt and in adequate welfare system in California.

In recent years, Governor Ronald Reagan's administration has been attempting to deny welfare services to those who need them. Investigations, harassment and red tape have become so heavy that many people have been afraid to apply for welfare. Many more have been threatened or intimidated into dropping off the welfare rolls, (the rolls have declined by 200,000 in the last two years), when they are cut off for some technicality. If Reagan is successful, it is planned to introduce his method into other state and federal welfare programmes.

The diverse nature of some of the events makes it difficult to hypothesize as to the nature of the SLA. There are, however, some threads of evidence that indicate a band of right wing provocateurs:
a)The literature discovered in the burning Concorde house indicates that the SLA and August 7 Movement are one and the same.
b)The SLA would be unlikely to claim Little and Remiro as members if in fact they were. It seems more likely that by soing so, the SLA is trying to blacken the record of the arrested men, and indirectly that of the VVAW-WSO.
c)The naming of the defunct newspaper, Kalayaan, as a food distributer is obviously the work of someone with only a limited knowledge of West Coast movement groups.
d)DeFreeze, the chief suspect in the case, has been suspected as a provocateur on previous occasions and certainly has no connection with any left-wing group in California.
e)The overall nature of the SLA's actions is not that of a group wishing to gain support.

The SLA kidnapping is clearly giving the US government and press the chance they need to isolate the left from the ordinary Americans at the very moment when monopoly capitalism is beset with major economic and political crises. Whatever happens now in the Hearst kidnapping, the left in America has suffered a severely inopportune setback. Even if the SLA are not conscious right wingers but simply adventurists with a liking for revolutionary rhetoric, the effects of their actions will be the same—whenever such individuals engage in violent actions without any popular support they always play into the hands of the right wins.