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Camilla Hall

Things are moving ahead. Presses everywhere are working on their fall releases (or next spring’s releases, in the case of really big publishers). I just approved the copy for my book’s description, which will go into the fall University of Minnesota Press catalog. This is the first time I’ve seen a description of the book written by someone else. It really gives me a new perspective on the story.

Not the Camilla We Knew: One Woman’s Path from Small-town America to the Symbionese Liberation Army

The mystery of how an ordinary small-town Minnesota girl came to be, briefly, one of the most wanted domestic terrorists in the U.S.

Behind every act of domestic terrorism there is someone’s child, an average American whose life took a radical turn for reasons that often remain mysterious. Camilla Hall is a case in point—a pastor’s daughter from small-town Minnesota who eventually joined the ranks of radicals like Sara Jane Olson (aka Kathleen Soliah) and Patty Hearst in the notorious Symbionese Liberation Army before dying in a shootout with Los Angeles Police in May 1974. How could a “good girl” like Camilla become, for a brief time, one of the most wanted domestic terrorists in the United States? Rachael Hanel tells her story here, revealing both the deep humanity and the extraordinary circumstances of Camilla Hall’s life.

Camilla’s childhood in a tight-knit religious family was marred by loss and grief as, one after another, her three siblings died. Her path from there to her final, radical SLA family featured years as an artist and activist—in welfare offices, political campaigns, union organizing—culminating in a love affair that would be her introduction to the SLA. Through in-depth research and extensive interviews, Hanel pieces together Camilla’s bewildering transformation from a “gentle, zaftig, arty, otherworldy” young woman (as one observer remarked), working for social change within the system, into a gun-wielding criminal, party to Hearst’s kidnapping. 

In a time of mounting unrest and violence, Camilla Hall’s story is of urgent interest for what it reveals about the forces of radicalization. But as Hanel ventures ever further into Camilla’s past, searching out the critical points where character and cause might intersect, her book also becomes an intriguing, disturbing, and ultimately deeply moving journey into the dark side of America’s promise.


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