New book explores why a Minnesota woman joined the Symbionese Liberation Army

Rachael Hanel discusses her new book, 'Not the Camilla We Knew: One Woman's Path from Small-town America to the Symbionese Liberation Army'

A black-and-white photo shows a girl in a girl scout uniform
Camilla Hall wears her Girl Scout uniform in her family's St. Peter, Minn., home.
Courtesy of Gustavus Adolphus Archives

On May 7, 1974, much of the nation watched a fiery shootout on television. Los Angeles police used “more ammunition than they'd ever used before,” according to the local ABC affiliate, in an attempt to detain members of the radical leftist Symbionese Liberation Army. Five people died.

Most viewers wondered whether Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst whom the SLA had kidnapped, was inside. In St. Peter, Minn., a pastor and his wife wondered whether their daughter was inside.

It turns out Patty Hearst was not, but Camilla Hall was. What led the pastor’s daughter to that house is the subject of a new book by Minnesota author Rachael Hanel. It’s called, “Not the Camilla We Knew: One Woman's Path from Small-town America to the Symbionese Liberation Army,” published by University of Minnesota Press.

A book cover with four people and the text "Not the Camilla We knew."
Cover of "Not the Camilla We Knew: One Woman's Path from Small-town America to the Symbionese Liberation Army" by Rachael Hanel
Courtesy University of Minnesota Press

“Camilla was raised Lutheran — and the type of Lutheran where social justice was really, really important,” Hanel said. “So she had a very big and caring heart. She truly wanted to see a more equal society. And I think frustrations over the years of trying to work within the system would be one reason why she became part of the SLA.”

It’s one reason among many that Hanel explores in her book. And she says that’s how we need to think about radicalization today.

“People are making these choices for a variety of reasons and they are often complex reasons,” Hanel said. “We can also look to the SLA. They were frustrated and taking the wrong fork in the road when one becomes frustrated. Certainly violence isn’t a solution. But [we can] try to keep those frustrations in check and try to address them in healthy ways.”

To hear Hanel’s full conversation with MPR News host Tom Crann, click play on the audio player above.

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