Symbionese Liberation Army


The SLA revolutionary group, born in California of the anti-Vietnam War movement, achieved notoriety for killing Oakland schools superintendent Marcus Foster in 1973 and for kidnapping Hearst a year later. An SLA hideout was destroyed by fire during a 1974 shootout with Los Angeles police, a scene captured on news broadcasts.

The SLA was a group of Berkeley radicals led by Donald DeFreeze, an escaped convict whose nom de guerre was "General Field Marshall Cinque Mtume." The word "Symbionese" comes from the biological term symbiosis , the interdependence of different species. It suggests the union of classes and races.

The SLA adopted its rhetoric from Communists and South American revolutionaries. Members rejected their given names for new, "revolutionary" names. The group used a seven-headed cobra as its symbol. (Click here to see it and for an explanation of its significance.) The SLA's slogan: "Death to the fascist insect that preys on the life of the people."

The SLA embraced Marxist French journalist Régis Debray's concept of "urban propaganda," according to Les Payne, co-author of The Life and Death of the SLA. "The concept called for selected violence—assassinations, kidnappings, bank robbery, etc.—aimed at capturing media attention and through it popular support." But unlike other radical groups of the '60s and '70s, such as the Black Panthers, the SLA weren't of real historical significance.


News on April 26, 2004


Former Symbionese Liberation Army member James Kilgore, who dodged authorities on bomb and murder charges for decades, was sentenced Monday to 54 months in prison on federal explosives and passport fraud convictions.

Kilgore, who was extradited from South Africa in 2002 after living there for more than a decade as a professor, was a member of the 1970s radical group that kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst.

Authorities say he was the last unaccounted-for member of the revolutionary group to face justice.

Kilgore was working as a University of Cape Town professor and activist under the name Charles William Pape. He wrote one of South Africa's most popular high school history books, "Making History."

The 56-year-old was charged with possession of a pipe bomb that federal authorities said they found in his apartment in 1975, and of obtaining a passport under a false name. He pleaded guilty last year.

Federal prosecutors sought the maximum 10 years on the bomb charge and 14 months for using the birth certificate of a dead baby to obtain a passport in Seattle.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel gave four years for the bomb count and six months for the passport violation.

"The sentence the government seeks, there's a little too much passion and fervor in that," Patel said.

Justice Department prosecutor Michael Nerney urged the maximum on the bomb charge, saying "anything less than that sentence would send the wrong message."

Next month, Kilgore is expected to be sentenced to another six years after pleading guilty last year to murder charges in Sacramento County for an SLA bank robbery in 1975 in which 42-year-old housewife Myrna Opsahl was killed while depositing a church collection.

Four other SLA members pleaded guilty in November 2002 to Opsahl's murder in a plea deal. They were sentenced to terms varying from six to eight years.

South African authorities arrested Kilgore one day after his four former SLA colleagues pleaded guilty.

Kilgore grew up in California's Marin County and graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1969 before associating himself with the SLA.

The balding Kilgore apologized for his acts and said the SLA's violent protestations of the Vietnam War were "misguided and misdirected."

"There aren't any shortcuts to meaningful social change," added Kilgore, who was nearly in tears when he apologized to his mother, Barbara, who sat near his wife in the courtroom.

The FBI, which had lacked confirmed sightings of Kilgore for two decades, had offered a $20,000 reward for his arrest and produced a bust and computer-enhanced pictures of what he might look like.

Even as he was featured on the television show, "America's Most Wanted," most authorities believed he had blended into an American neighborhood.

Instead, Kilgore drifted from the United States to Zimbabwe, where he taught school and earned a correspondence doctorate from an Australian university. He moved to Johannesburg in 1991 and then to Cape Town in 1996.

He married an American in South Africa, and is the father of two sons. His wife, Teri, who watched the hearing from the gallery, declined comment afterward.