Is Stockholm Syndrome real? The legacy of Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army

May. 14 2021, Published 9:54 a.m. ET

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With the technological advances developed in recent decades, there’s still a particular subject that’s a struggle to understand for many — how a human mind works. 

The world was caught off-guard when American heiress Patty Hearst was abducted and later joined her kidnappers to conduct unlawful activities in the mid-1970s.

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But when she was arrested, she denied the allegations, saying she was forced to cooperate and was held at gunpoint. Her defense lawyer argued that the young Hearst suffered from Stockholm Syndrome.

Is there some truth behind this condition or is it all an act?

Stockholm Syndrome is defined as a psychological response that often occurs when victims or hostages develop a connection or bond with their captors. Otherwise known as hostage identification syndrome, the connection between the abuser and victim develops during the time of their captivity which can be either for weeks, months or years.

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Hearst’s ordeal shed light on this condition and it all started on Feb. 4, 1974, when she was abducted while staying in her Benvenue Avenue Apartment in Berkley, California, with her fiancée Steven Weed.

Members of the Symbionese Liberation Army broke into her apartment where they threatened the couple, beat Weed, according to the FBI. They blindfolded Hearst, gagging her, and throwing her into the trunk of a car. Since the men were armed, witnesses could only look on as the helpless Hearst was taken.

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Things took an unlikely turn when Hearst was seen a few months later on April 15, 1974, assisting a bank robbery and pointing a rifle at a bank employee. Authorities and viewers deduced that she sided with her abductors and now took a new persona called “Tania.

She also released a tape denouncing her family, saying she would “never choose to live the rest of my life surrounded by pigs like the Hearsts.” The tape was played at a local radio station.

If she didn’t come from such a high-profile background, this case would not gain as much attention as it did, but as the heiress of American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, it became a sensation.

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Shortly after the footage of her assisting the army came out, Los Angeles police raided the organization’s secret headquarters where they killed six members, including the group’s leader who went by the name General Field Marshal Cinque, according to the FBI

Cinque was a Black ex-convict who was formerly known as Donald DeFreeze. However, Hearst and two other group members were not present and not heard from again until Sept. 18. 1975. On that date, Hearst was caught crisscrossing the country with her captors’ when the authorities raided their San Francisco hideout. 

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hearst
Source: FBI

She went to trial for her actions, to which her defense attorney, F. Lee Bailey exhibited photos of Hearst being held at gunpoint by members during the robbery. This was a clear depiction of intimidation from her captors and Bailey also argued Hearst suffered from Stockholm Syndrome.

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Despite this, the jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to serve seven years in prison, but then-President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence to two years. Former President Bill Clinton also pardoned her of her crimes in 2001, although not everyone agreed to his decision.

It was still unclear to many if she willingly assisted in her captors’ activities or if she was forced. It was a topic of debate among the media and the general masses. However, psychologist James T. Turner identified the factors that develop hostage identification syndrome.

Hearst was held captive for 57 days where she kept tied and locked up in a closet while the members lectured her about their beliefs and actions. These actions established the connection between Hearst and her captors, which forced her into subjugation. 

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She even recalled how she was sexually abused by their leader, but she blamed herself because she was concerned for one of the guards. 

Self-blame is a common trait among victims who develop an affinity towards their captors and many times, victims would hold themselves accountable for what was done to them by their captors. 

It’s an indication of how Hearst suffered from Stockholm Syndrome, where the events that took place at the time provided a better insight into this condition.

But, even 40 years after her abduction and shocking footage, the debate rages on about how real Stockholm Syndrome is and whether Hearst was a willing participant or true victim. 

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