Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"Dad, you said you were concerned with my life and . . . the life and interests of all oppressed people in this country, but you are a liar in both areas . . . You are a corporate liar . . . Tell the poor and oppressed of this nation what the corporate state is about to do . . . Tell the people that the oil crisis is nothing more than a means to get approval of a program to build nuclear power plants . . . Tell them how law-and-order programs are just a means to remove so-called violent individuals from the community . . . in the same way that Hitler controlled the removal of Jews from Germany . . . "

--Patty Hearst, alias Tania, speaking to her father William Randolph Hearst through a communiqué of the Symbionese Liberation Army on April 3, 1974. Two months earlier she had been kidnapped from her Berkeley apartment by the SLA.

Water pours from the Seven of Cups into the impressionable imagination creating the stuff of dreams. In the Thoth Tarot deck the card is named Debauch in which the Moon administers its fickle madness to the obstinate, obsessive passions of Scorpio. Delusion and addiction sink together into false pleasure. As the 1960s rolled to a close the decade was seized with a remarkable blend of exuberance and cynicism. Obstreperous radical struggles and one year of very bad luck (1968) had handed political control to Republican counter-revolutionaries. The years 1969 and 1970 featured some of the decade's largest protests as well as its most repressive violence. Activists were murdered by police and unarmed demonstrators shot and killed. The ranks of the children's army dwindled and hippies fled to country communes while radicals went underground. Yet as a political revolution became more unlikely, some cadres of the Counterculture grew more committed to leading one.

Those advocating for war in the streets did not understand how dangerous the streets really were. Here street people in Berkeley celebrate the takeover of People's Park, exhibiting a roughed-up imitation of sensuality at the harder edge of defiance. They are half-naked pirates momentarily in charge of a revolt between shifts on a street corner where they begged for spare change. The romance of Bohemian dissipation, as always, masked serious abuse while a blind faith in authenticity created revolutionary heroes out of ex-cons or turned hardened felons into political prisoners.

One such illusionist was Dennis DeFreeze, an escaped convict whose prison time had introduced him to armed struggle and Black Power. DeFreeze connected with white radical Patricia Soltysik in 1973 and together they formed the Symbionese Liberation Army, enlisting a dozen other white radicals romantically attached to the idea of armed war against the government and the police. Bay Guardian journalist J.H. Tompkins, who knew a few SLA members while they were still non-violent student activists, wrote that "they were at a disadvantage: their heroic, misguided notions of armed violence were combined with a self-conscious and confused understanding of race so crippling that when they looked out at the world, they couldn't see beyond themselves . . . Each soldier was given a new name and a cabinet post: the group had an anthem and a logo, too - as if Spanky and Our Gang had organized a game of Let's Play Terrorist."

DeFreeze took the name Cinque, after the leader of the slave rebellion that took over the slave ship Amistad in 1839. In November the SLA assassinated Oakland Superintendent of Schools Marcus Foster, his "fascist crime" being a plan to give school students identification cards. Following the 1974 arrests of SLA members Russell Little and Joseph Romero for Foster's murder, the group planned its next action: the kidnapping of a prominent person to hold as ransom for the release of Little and Romero. The SLA chose publishing heiress and UC-Berkeley junior Patricia Hearst, plucking her from her student apartment on Feb. 4.

The Hearst kidnapping, with Patty and the SLA on the run for 18 months, was an episodic dreamscape as entertaining as it was bizarre, as incredibly surreal as it was excruciatingly violent. It tracked eerily the plot of Bonnie and Clyde, the 1967 gangster movie starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as 1930s bank robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, celebrated at the time as a gritty, brilliant film. But the Hearst kidnapping was the real thing, even if it grew, like the movie, into a unique heteromorphic strangeness.