1970s, Camilla Hall, Leila Khaled, patty hearst, radicalism, Symbionese Liberation Army, Ulrike Meinhof
Female terrorists have generally been thought of as only going along because someone (a man) has lured them in. But this dismisses their agency, their planning, and their desires to join a violent movements.
This is not a new issue, as Farah Pandith, Jacob Ware, and Mia Bloom point out in their article “Female Extremists in QAnon and ISIS are on the rise. We need a new strategy to combat them.” “The history of terrorism is rife with women,” they write.
The subject of my forthcoming book, Camilla Hall — a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974 — was also portrayed as lacking agency. The narrative at the time said that Camilla only joined the SLA because she was lovelorn and pining for her former lover, Mizmoon Soltysik, who was the brainchild behind the SLA. While Mizmoon certainly was Camilla’s entry into the group, there was more to it than that.
The authors of the article contend that women join such groups out of a desire for identity and belonging. Certainly this applied to Camilla. In my book, I argue that she was searching for a family. Camilla had suffered incredible loss as the only surviving child out of four. Her siblings preceded her in death due to disease, and by the age of 17 Camilla was the only child left. I think she also was looking for a purpose. She was an incredibly compassionate person, working for a couple of years for county welfare offices in Minnesota. She always had compassion for the poor and wanted to help. She also was active in feminist issues and had helped lead a fight to get part-time female park workers in Oakland full-time employment. The effort failed, and that disappointment may have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back” because shortly after she joined the SLA.
Let’s not forget that the SLA was comprised primarily of women. At the time of the Patty Hearst kidnapping, five of the eight members were women. More women joined after the May 1974 shootout that killed six SLA members (four of the women, including Camilla). Other women active in revolutionary groups at that time include Bernardine Dohrn (Weather Underground), Ulrike Meinhof (Red Army Faction), and Leila Khaled (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine).
This has been a chaotic year, politically and socially. The SLA formed after years of political and social chaos, and other groups had preceded them. I think we’re at a point in history where we’re going to see the presence of revolutionary groups grow, both from the right and the left. Women no doubt are going to play a role. Are we going to try to understand where they are coming from and address the issue, or are we going to dismiss them and suffer the consequences?