Ron Radosh

On the Parole of Terrorist Sara Jane Olson

I know that most PJM readers- being conservatives- do not read The New York Times. For that reason, I want to suggest they immediately turn to the wonderful Op-Ed by writer Caitlin Flanagan, on the parole last week of Sara Jane Olson, a.k.a. Kathleen Soliah, the name she took as part of the 1970’s “Symbionese Liberation Army,” a radical terrorist group that made the Weather Underground look like amateurs.

Ms. Flanagan presents the strongest case possible for how hypocritical it is for the courts to allow Olson to serve her parole at home in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband, a wealthy doctor and their children. Olson, after all, was taking part in a bank robbery  when a gunshot killed a guard, and when she kicked a pregnant bank teller in the stomach. The teller later miscarried. Her group also tried their best to assassinate police offers.

The excuse for their actions, of course, is that they carried them out for idealistic reasons. As Flanagan writes, they claim they were only reacting to the terrible times in which they lived, in which the U.S. was waging a horrendous war in Vietnam which they opposed.  Pace Bill Ayers, whom as we all know, makes similar excuses for his own behavior in that era, which to this day he does not regret.

At least the founder of the Weather Underground, Mark Rudd (whose book I review today) admits the truth in his new memoir Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen. Unlike Ayers or Olson, Rudd acknowledges that their goal was not to build a peace movement opposed to the war, but to engage in guerrilla warfare at home, waged through terror and violence, for the purpose of overthrowing our democratic government. Yet in his conclusion, Rudd too contradicts all he writes earlier, arguing that there was an “idealism inherent in our rebellion.” If so, it is the kind of idealism that leads to murder of innocents, one of which the 20th Century World was all too familiar from the likes of Hitler and Stalin.

Despite writing a top notch critical article, Flanagan herself makes on error. She writes that they “combined a set of generally laudable goals- they wanted to end poverty, improve public schools and eradicate sexism and racism- with the leadership and tactics of an unrepentant street criminal with a gun fixation.”  Their so-called laudable goals, however, were but an excuse for the criminal activity which made them distinguishable from others who truly wanted to attain  justice.

If they wanted to improve public schools and end racism, one must ask why the SLA murdered the first African-American Superintendent of Schools in Oakland, Marcus Foster. Perhaps Ms. Flanagan forgot that.  As I recall, the SLA’s argument at the time was that Mr. Foster was a front for the white power structure, who was fooling the black population into believing the schools must be made better under the system. Some laudable goal.

At any rate, the parole board in California should get lots of letters endorsing Flanagan’s main argument: her criminal behavior must be punished, and the parole terms others – especially poor African-American parolees- never get, should be immediately rescinded. Let Ms. Olson live in a half way house in San Francisco or Oakland, far away from her nice suburban home and family. She can wait for reuniting with them another few decades.