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The Lost Year of the SLA

An inside profile of Patty Hearst and the notorious revolutionary group that captivated America in the 1970s

FBI wanted poster, William Taylor Harris,Emily Montague Harris, Patricia Campbell Hearst, kidnapped, Symbionese Liberation Army

FBI wanted poster of William Taylor Harris, Emily Montague Harris, and Patricia Campbell Hearst. Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. May 20th, 1974

Interim Archives/Getty

It was just past sundown in San Francisco’s Mission district, the center of the local Mexican-American community. As the streetlights blinked on, two men walked along the main boulevard, Mission Street, past a row of cheap cocktail lounges, take-out restaurants and auto supply stores.

The pair strolled up to a bar and, finding it nearly deserted, walked in. The only customers were three middle-aged blue collar workers, slouched in familiar comfort on their stools at the long wooden counter. A tattered pool table sat unused in the back. The jukebox next to the front door was playing Frank Sinatra.

The two newcomers ordered beers and took an empty corner table. William Harris, a short, muscular ex-Marine lance corporal better known as General Teko of the Symbionese Liberation Army, had requested a rendezvous to say farewell to Patty Hearst. But his kidnap victim-turned-comrade was absent. She held too many regrets and harbored too much bitterness for any final courtesies. She never wanted to see Harris again.

Instead, Steve Soliah had come, as her boyfriend and surrogate. “We’re leaving town,” he told Harris. “We’ll be gone by the end of the month. Probably drive to Oregon, get some new IDs from a friend of mine there, and then we’re headed back east.”

Hearst and Soliah hoped to settle in Boston, where they planned to find jobs and resume a lifestyle without tension and violence. patty wanted to join a feminist group and enter community organizing, and both wanted to rethink their future.

Harris listened to Soliah without interruption. After a few minutes of silence and small talk, Bill explained that he and his wife, Emily, would be staying on.

“We’re not giving up. We’ll find other people to help fight the pigs.” Though his army had now dwindled to two — their support group melting away along with Patty — Harris said that rebuilding the SLA remained his only priority.

It was the second week of September 1975. For Bill and Emily Harris, their 19-month odyssey with Patty had apparently come to an end. But Bill was resigned to her departure; he offered no argument or protest.

The two men finished their beers, stood and shook hands. They set up no plan or codes for further communication. They did not expect to see each other again.

One week later they were all in jail.

Steve Soliah Arrived in Berkeley in December 1971. At 23, he was a college dropout and a political neophyte. He had been a football and track star as a teenager, growing up in Palmdale, California, a small town on the edge of the Mojave Desert, northeast of Los Angeles. He left home at 19 and enrolled at Humboldt College, a small campus set in the redwoods of northern California. He put three years into sociology but quit school just shy of a diploma when his track team eligibility ran out.

His older sister, Kathy, then 24, was a serious political activist living in Berkeley. She had been an English major at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1970, when students had burned the campus branch of the Bank of America to the ground during a week of violent protest.

The confrontation made a decisive change in the social awareness of Kathy and her boyfriend, James Kilgore. Kilgore, then 23, had an uncanny ability to add two-digit numbers as fast as a pocket calculator, and had come to the seaside Santa Barbara campus to study economics.

Jim set up his girlfriend’s brother in the house painting trade, a part-time gig Jim had learned and passed on to Steve. Steve was hardworking but unambitious. He liked the jock life, and though he felt a vague dislike for the war in Vietnam, he preferred dope smoking, beer and partying to political discussions. He was a lukewarm and bored visitor at the study group that Kathy and Jim began in 1972 for their apolitical friends.

That circle included Angela Atwood, a 23-year-old, New Jersey-born graduate of Indiana University, who worked with Kathy as a waitress at a San Francisco restaurant. Angela became an enthusiastic member of the discussion group. Within a year. Atwood fell into increasingly vitriolic circles, finally joining a small group of whites who visited black prisoners in state jails.

Kathy and Jim felt that Angela had succumbed to the unreasoning and abrasive rhetoric of her new friends. They were tolerant but disappointed by the change. “It’s a phase she’ll outgrow,” Kathy said to the others. But a year later, following the arrest of Joseph Remiro and Russell Little, whom Kathy and Jim had met through Angela, they realized she had become a loyal soldier of the Symbionese Liberation Army, which had assassinated a school superintendent in neighboring Oakland.

Kathy, Jim and Steve followed news of the SLA and the Hearst kidnapping closely, their political interest inextricably merged with their personal fears about Angela’s safety. As they sat in a Berkeley house in May 1974, watching the telecast of the shootout in a Los Angeles ghetto that killed Angela and five other SLA members, they felt saddened, outraged and helpless.

As a tribute to Atwood, and in commemoration of her murdered companions, the Soliahs and Kilgore organized a rally in Berkeley’s Ho Chi Minh Park. The rally was Steve’s first political work. He phoned friends, pinned posters on campus bulletin boards and helped set up the equipment. The memorial attracted several hundred people — and the notice of the three surviving SLA members.

Patty Hearst and Bill and Emily Harris were hiding from a national police dragnet. The three fugitives already had been turned away by several old friends in the San Francisco Bay Area and were desperate when they approached Kathy Soliah for help. The request presented Kathy and Jim with a dilemma. They considered themselves leftists but not armed guerrillas. They had never met Patty Hearst or the Harrises before, but the Harrises had been close friends with Atwood since college, and to refuse refuge to the three fugitives might condemn them to her fate.

Kathy and Jim discussed the plea with Steve. After some hesitation they decided to provide temporary housing for the three fugitives until they could escape from the Bay Area. The opportunity to flee came just two weeks later when Jack Scott, a sports activist who had met Kathy and Jim two years before, flew from New York to Berkeley to begin a book about the SLA. Scott offered to finance an East Coast hideout in exchange for material for his book.

The summer passed quietly until an urgent call from Pennsylvania came in September. Bill Harris was on the line, explaining that Scott was abandoning the fugitives because of a falling-out over the book. Once more the three needed help and safety from the police. Harris asked the Berkeley group to become the SLA’s aboveground supporters.

Kathy and Jim called a meeting. They included Steve, his younger sister. Josephine, and a few other friends. After several days of hesitation the group reached a compromise — they would give money and companionship to the fugitives but they would stop short of joining the SLA.

“It was a kind of schizophrenic situation for us,” one member later recalled. “We decided to do it, then we had to figure out how to do it. We had to balance out our personal lives with this other thing. We had to protect these people but at the same time we had to make it appear that everything was still normal.”

In late September they acquired a “safe house” for the SLA trio. They pooled their extra money to pay the $80 monthly rent and contributed another $400 per month for food, clothes, toiletries and disguises.

The Hideout was a Gloomy, run-down duplex in Sacramento, 90 minutes north of the Bay Area. There were three small rooms lit by bare light-bulbs and furnished with a shabby couch, two secondhand mattresses and an ancient, sputtering oil heater. The kitchen was dark, smelly and drafty.

The one bedroom — where Patty, Bill and Emily had to sleep together — was the only room with heat. It was in the front of the house, which was less than 50 yards from U.S. interstate 80. Trucks rumbled over a huge bump in the expressway, sending tremors through the apartment.

They had to get used to no privacy — an adjustment that Bill and Emily made with less difficulty than Patty. During the summer in Pennsylvania, she had enjoyed the freedom to take walks or go swimming. But here, recreation was limited to reading. Their return to life in a city had reactivated their paranoia. Venturing outside meant mingling with townspeople and taking the risk of being recognized. Patty’s fears were confirmed during an early Sacramento shopping trip when a woman accosted her and loudly pronounced: “You look just like Patty Hearst!” She had blanched and nearly given herself away.

It was a relief for her whenever one of the Berkeley friends came up for a visit. In late October, Steve Soliah arrived for the first time since helping them settle into the duplex a month before. He assumed they were still a congenial unit. When Patty suggested the two of them take a walk, he agreed. He was stunned, however, when a few blocks from their shabby house Patty blurted out her feelings about Bill: “I hate living with him. If I had any alternative at all, I’d jump at it.”

What was wrong? Soliah asked. Why this sudden hostility toward Harris?

“He’s got some kind of complex,” Patty explained. “He acts like he’s a coach or a drill sergeant or something.”

Some of the time, however, being a fugitive could be fun. In hide-and-seek fashion Patty would be sent into a shopping district while one of the Harrises surreptitiously followed. If she spotted and eluded the “tail,” she won the game and got a small reward. Then the roles would be reversed. But such outings were infrequent and daily routine was considerably more dreary. Every morning there were calisthenics, drills on a homemade obstacle course and weapons practice.

In the afternoons, there were political study sessions, which Bill supervised, and laborious work on the book manuscript they had begun with Scott. The Harrises hoped to revise it and have it printed as a history of the SLA and a blueprint for revolution. All of them seemed perpetually dissatisfied with the manuscript and spent hours feverishly rewriting sections.

In keeping with SLA rules, Harris insisted on a strict security routine: doors locked, shades pulled, guns loaded, neighbors monitored. When Patty made careless mistakes or forgot her duties, Harris lectured her — or deprived her of privileges.

“Suspension of cigarettes for a week . . . may not seem like such a big deal,” Patty wrote in the SLA manuscript later seized by the FBI. “But if you’re a smoker it’s really a drag to not be able to smoke for a week.”

Patty soon became weary of the routine that General Teko demanded. Cooped up in the bleak apartment, they let little irritations flare into disagreements. By the end of their first month in Sacramento, a rift had developed between Patty and Bill.

Bill Harris, she felt, was not unlike the Dominican nuns who made her scrub toilets for minor infractions in school.

With a sarcasm that had often nettled her teenage friends, Patty began to mock Harris’s dictatorial tendencies, calling him “Adolf” to his face. And she deliberately disobeyed his instructions.

Faced with Patty’s rebellion, Harris threw tantrums, stormed out of rooms and slammed doors — a reaction that encouraged even more insubordination. Her contempt for Harris escalated.

To irritate Harris she treated him to an aloof silence followed by more peppery sarcasm. Sometimes their arguments grew so loud that they annoyed a neighbor living on the other side of the thin walls separating the duplex. In a wrangle over the wording in the book manuscript, Harris smacked Patty hard in the face, giving her a black eye.

“You rich little bitch,” Harris yelled during another fight. “What do you know about the struggle of the people — you grew up in a fucking mansion.”

“Kiss my cunt, Adolf,” Patty spat back.

Her complaints about Harris were relayed through Steve Soliah to the Berkeley group. They initially were reluctant to interfere in Patty’s personal feud. But they became concerned when she told them of a nagging health problem: for more than a month she had suffered continual vaginal bleeding and was worried she had a tumor. They arranged for a paramedic to take a pap smear and blood sample to anonymously present to a doctor for tests. The doctor’s report was that the patient, whoever she was, was suffering from acute emotional stress. Patty’s solution was to find her own place away from the drab regimentation of the Harrises.

By January 1975 the support group was earning enough money to afford a second apartment in Sacramento. They concurred with Patty’s conclusion and she happily packed her belongings and moved out.

Although Patty’s Basic Quarrel was with Bill, she was not close to Emily either. Without exception, patty told the others, Emily sided with Bill against her. “I always feel like it’s them versus me. I feel like I’m an outsider.”

Under the SLA social codes, couples supposedly were taboo. When Patty and Willie Wolfe became lovers, they had been encouraged to sleep with other SLA members to avoid forming a twosome. But the Harrises, Patty felt, treated their marriage as an exception to the rule.

A lingering memory of her days locked in the closet, Patty said, was of listening to the Harrises. At the time her only clue to the personalities of her captors had been their voices. “But I could tell by the way they talked to each other that they were married.” Later, when the SLA divided into three teams, the Harrises were assigned to the same unit while Patty and Wolfe were forced to separate.

During the summer following Wolfe’s death, Bill had tried to ease her loneliness and sometimes he and Patty had slept together. But the Harrises preferred each other, and Patty usually was left alone.

Patty and Steve first met in June 1974 during the fugitives’ panicked retreat to the Bay Area before going east. Patty looked like a dowdy housewife. She was unappealingly pale and gaunt, draped in formless clothes and disguised in horn-rimmed glasses and a bouffant wig. Soliah had dirty blond hair and a ragged goatee.

“He looked like a spaced-out hippie,” Patty later told a friend.

Steve’s impression also had been unexciting. “She didn’t look very attractive,” he said later. “She wasn’t the kind of woman that men look twice at.”

They met again in late September after Patty rode a bus to California from Las Vegas, where Jack Scott had dropped her off. Patty had a healthy tan, Soliah had shaved off his beard and the two were attracted to each other. They laughed about their earlier meeting and spent several days together before the Harrises arrived.

On Patty’s second night back the two slept together for the first time. Soliah had hesitated, still a little awed by the prospect of getting involved with someone so famous. But Patty had been encouraging. “It seemed all right,” he casually told a friend the next morning. “We got along fine.”

On his visits to the Sacramento duplex during the fall, he became Patty’s confidant and her refuge from the Harrises. He was full of warmth and smiles and they shared several good times. Soliah’s doubts about assisting the fugitives faded as he grew closer to Patty.

They discovered an easy compatibility away from the rest of the group, where stronger egos debated more serious matters. Soliah, however, soon became aware of Patty’s competitive nature. She challenged him to arm-wrestling contests to show off the wiry muscles she had developed over the summer. On tennis courts at neighborhood playgrounds she was a merciless server, forcing Soliah to play his best game to win. And she often defeated him.

Patty jogged each day and sometimes dropped to the floor to grunt through 20 finger-tip pushups. She was willing to exercise as long as it wasn’t a requirement, and as long as she wasn’t outclassed, Where she could not outdo Soliah, as in uphill bicycle, she refused to compete and berated him when he raced ahead of her.

With Soliah as her teacher Patty learned how to fix minor car breakdowns, a hobby that had always fascinated her. Patty had been a teenage hot rodder, flashing about in the blue MG she got on her 16th birthday. Now, wrench in hand, she was introduced to a car’s underside, and after practicing on the SLA’s battered cars she became an adept mechanic. Her specialty was replacing worn brake linings.

Patty’s best times with Soliah, though, were long walks or visits to the local drive-in theaters where they watched Young Frankenstein, Death Race 2000 and other grade-B movies. She still was careful to look as unpretentious and unattractive as possible when going outside. One trick she mastered was locking her jaw to affect a receding chinline, thereby hiding the jutting Hearst chin made famous by newspaper cartoonists and magazine covers. After a few weeks in her own apartment Patty’s health problems disappeared and she recovered her cheerfulness.

Soliah was Still only an Occasional visitor. But in February 1975 Patty gained Wendy Yoshimura as a full-time roommate.

Wendy, accused of storing explosives for an antiwar bombing conspiracy in Berkeley, had been a fugitive since 1972. She met Patty and the Harrises through Jack Scott — her boyfriend. Willie Brandt, and Scott had been active together in the Jock Liberation Front — and had stayed with them during the previous summer. She returned west with them in the fall but initially decided to stay in San Francisco instead of moving to Sacramento.

Then Scott told his brother, Walter, of his summer adventure with Patty Hearst. Walter, desperate for money, informed the FBI. In February word of Wendy’s connection to the SLA leaked to the media. Fearing an intensive search for her in the Bay Area, where most of her known friends lived, Wendy fled north to hide out with Patty.

The two quickly resumed their summer friendship. Wendy was sympathetic to Patty’s discontent with Harris’s totalitarianism. Wendy’s feeling was that the SLA’s male leadership had been at fault for its lack of success. Wendy was able to give political meaning to the Patty-Bill personality clash. Patty and Wendy began to question the validity of the SLA, an issue that increasingly came to dominate conversations within the group as the year progressed.

Patty continued to visit the Harrises regularly, pedaling there on a ten-speed bicycle. Living away from them had reduced the tension. She and Steve occasionally went out with them, once going to see Freebie and the Bean at a drive-in. But the Harrises had little interest in socializing. They spent their spare time dreaming about how to resurrect the SLA. If they laid down their guns, they felt, their comrades would have been sacrificed in vain.

During Bill’s hitch in the Marines, he had shunned the gung-ho attitude. Harris would usually choose a game of cards instead of finishing up his barracks duties. Harris disliked drills and his overall attitude to officers cost him several chances at promotions.

But as General Teko, Harris felt he had to require military discipline. He wanted to rebuild an army that would carry on the declaration of war issued by the SLA a year before. He began reviving the strategy that originally had captured national attention.

Bill and Emily spent long hours clipping newspapers and searching through Standard and Poor’s Register, Business Periodicals Index, the United States Government Manual and other library reference books. From these they compiled a list of targets: candidates for assassinations, kidnappings, bombings and other terrorist attacks.

Among the people they listed were four Oakland police officers involved in a controversial shooting of a mental incompetent and three other Oakland policemen accused of recklessly killing a 14-year-old black youth. They also did research on then-San Francisco police chief Donald Scott, whose department had harrassed blacks during the hunt for the killers of 14 whites in the notorious Zebra case. A biography of Scott, which included the names of his family, a description of him as the “commander of a quasi-military unit” and mention of his proclivity for handball, was later found among the SLA papers confiscated by the FBI.

The Harrises concentrated mainly on law enforcement targets. Among the buildings they listed were the FBI office in San Mateo, U.S. Board of Parole and U.S. Bureau of Prisons branch offices in Burlingame, a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) headquarters in Burlingame and an IRS office in San Mateo. All these buildings were located on the San Francisco peninsula where patty grew up, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Sacramento. But the fugitives trekked to the sites and mapped out floor plans and diagrams of the surrounding streets, always alert to possible escape routes. By now they had lost their fear of mingling with people and they traveled freely throughout northern California.

They also investigated several multinational corporations, including northern California offices of Texaco and Aramco, and assembled the addresses of foreign consulates in San Francisco.

Their most ambitious scheme was to break out two imprisoned SLA members, Joseph Remiro and Russell Little, from their cells in the Oakland jail. By setting up surveillance in the jail lobby and by talking to friends familiar with the jail routine, they compiled a 33-point log of jail patrols, bed checks, guard shifts, visiting schedules, walkie-talkie systems and other security observations.

“From elevator to gate it’s ten steps; from gate to desk it’s two small steps,” they wrote. “Pigs have walkie-talkies to keep them in communication with people upstairs in jail. They don’t work too well (hard to understand because of static) but they can call them on the phone to find out what the message is . . . Red gate is sometimes open but when they see it they close it . . . The two doors in visitors’ hall just outside elevators have a barred window with a small door that can be opened by the pig inside to check the hallway before he opens the door.”

Next they designed an incomplete and amateurish plan to overpower the guards at the front desk and force their way into the jail using a guard as hostage. “Gate open when SGT. sees pig coming out of elevator so kidnapped pig must be pushed out first,” they wrote. They hoped to shut down the closed-circuit cameras, then take the elevator to the maximum security floor and free Remiro and Little.

But the plan was never carried out because the Harrises could not get enough people to help, a problem that also jeopardized their other long-range plans.

Bill Harris Grew Up in a Middle-class Indiana home built near a country club golf course. He was an Episcopal acolyte, a high school thespian and a star golfer. At Indiana University he was rushed by a fraternity with the best athletes on campus, and he contemplated becoming a professional actor.

But during his sophomore year he lost interest in a career and dropped out. Undismayed, he spent the summer of 1965 working in Colorado in a national park, and in San Francisco as a stagehand for an opera company. In the fall he enlisted in the armed forces, selecting the Marine Corps because of its challenging physical criteria. He was shipped to Vietnam, where he clerked in a supply depot and helped patrol the Da Nang air base. He did not see combat and his only injury was torn ligaments from a touch football game.

But the Marines did introduce Harris to racism. Reflecting the increased racial tension in society at large, blacks and whites did not fraternize. Bill’s brief friendship with a black Marine ended abruptly because of pressure from fellow soldiers. In college Bill had been close friends with several black fraternity men. The Marine episode stung him deeply and awakened him to a cause that eventually preoccupied his life.

He returned to Indiana University in 1967 and over the next three years began reading the prison writings of Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson and other black authors. In arguments with friends he championed the fight against racial injustice. He still believed in nonviolent social change. But an anger was welling up inside him. “He got impatient when he found out other people hadn’t read all the books he had,” explained Denver attorney Larry Leach, Bill’s best friend from 1963 to 1971. “He became very frustrated with Midwestern apathy.”

In 1972 his frustration led him back to the Bay Area. Neither Bill nor Emily, who both held teaching certificates, knew what kind of jobs they wanted. So they threw their energy into the prison reform movement. Along with many other young whites, they started visiting nearby jails, where militant black prisoners challenged them to put their revolutionary theories into practice.

Outraged by the conditions they saw inside prisons and impressed by the zeal with which angry prisoners and Berkeley activists preached “armed struggle,” Bill and Emily turned against their earlier pacifism. But when one of the inmates, Donald DeFreeze, escaped in March 1973 and began organizing the SLA to wage war, the Harrises were not quite ready to sign up, although some of their friends were. In November 1973 the SLA assassinated Oakland school superintendent Marcus Foster.

Leach visited the Harrises shortly thereafter and though unaware of their SLA connections, found they were enthusiastically awaiting a widespread revolution. “I’m a revolutionary now,” Bill announced. The Harrises intended to spend two or three years above-ground recruiting hundreds of others to the SLA before they took up arms themselves.

But in January 1974 two of their SLA friends, Remiro and Little, were captured and charged with Forster’s murder. The next day Bill quit his job in the post office. He and Emily abandoned their Berkeley apartment, leaving behind most of their possessions, and joined General Field Marshal Cinque Mtume underground.

Three weeks later they kidnapped Patricia Hearst as a “prisoner of war” to barter for the release of Remiro and Little. “After that there was no turning back for them,” Leach remembered. “They felt they had to spend the rest of their lives fighting for the SLA.”

In a letter to his mother while he was underground, Bill wrote: “I used to say that one day I’d be famous and you’d be proud on me. I always thought I would become a ‘great actor’ or in some way ‘rich,’ buy you a big house, all sorts of bourgeois pipe dreams.

“Well, I may not be famous — more likely, notorious — but you should still be proud of me. The government of the U.S.A. wants to kill me. That puts me in the same class with some pretty fantastic and beautifully courageous people. 

“Just to mention a few (and I do so in complete humbleness because they were all far greater than me):

“Every dead Indian, every lynched black, every gunned-down Chicano, every imprisoned Puerto Rican, every beat-up union organizer and to be more specific: Nat Turner, John Brown, Joe Hill, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Rosenbergs, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Jonathan and George Jackson, Sam Melville, L.D. Barkley, Fred Hampton, Zayd Malik Shakur, Cinque Mtume, and damn near everyone in Vietnam . . .”

But in the role he inherited from DeFreeze, Harris was a general without the ability to lead or an army to follow him — or the charisma DeFreeze had used to compensate for lack of both. Harris adopted a black slang that both honored and mimicked the slain field marshal. And in moments of depression, he wished aloud that he had been born black and poor so he could feel more qualified to lead the revolution. He felt weighed down with an imposing responsibility.

Having rejected all other ambitions, Harris was determined that the SLA succeed. He believed that, even with a small squadron, the SLA realistically could detonate a revolution in 1975. The best tactic was the one DeFreeze had initiated: political murder. Bill felt that SLA guns should be aiming at cops, because police were to blame for the six deaths in L.A. and because he was convinced the silver badge was a symbol for black rage. By executing unpopular policemen, the SLA could inspire guerrilla warfare in U.S. ghettoes. He envisioned armed blacks rising up like the Viet Cong in South Vietnam.

This fantasy was consistent with Harris’s fondness for dramatics and the SLA analysis that black people will lead the second American revolution. But the Harris’s needed soldiers for their army. So their first task was to persuade their Berkeley friends to join the SLA.

However, when Bill tried to sell the idea to the Soliahs, Kilgore and the rest of the Berkeley group, he failed.

At the request of the Harrises, the support group began to take part in earnest discussions about the future of the SLA. But they were still unsure about belonging to the SLA. And they were even less anxious to get involved in the violent tactics that Harris proposed. They were disturbed by the unreality of his plans.

At first they were too awed by Harris and his standing as a “revolutionary leader” to oppose his suggestions outright. But a leader emerged from the group in opposition to Bill. Not only did he disagree with political assassinations but he saw Harris as more concerned with image than political thought — and said as much. Both Harrises were scandalized. Bill labeled the dissenter a “troublemaker” and tried to guilt-trip him, telling him that he had no credentials or experience as a revolutionary. The two got into long shouting matches.

When the clash could not be resolved, the Harrises demanded the “troublemaker” be expelled. The others reluctantly acceded.

But when they were confronted with the prospect of actually picking up guns to kill someone, they refused. Although there were differing suggestions from the support group, they all counseled for a less violent strategy. They pointed out that the Weather Underground, regarded as a vanguard revolutionary group, had been using only symbolic bombings against property to make its political points. But Bill rebuffed that argument. The Weatherpeople were wrong, he insisted — bombings alone could not muster the necessary revolutionary fervor.

Even before he’d been radicalized, back when his debates were with fraternity jocks, Bill’s style had been burdened with intolerance and theatrics. “He tended to be very emotional,” Leach recalled. “He was always very sincere but he liked theatrics.”

He spouted SLA rhetoric. The U.S. was about to be swallowed up by fascism, he contended; all blood spilled now would prevent greater bloodshed later. To emphasize his position he would wave his arms and pace intently about the room.

Harris was too impatient for compromise or delay. So when he could not rouse any volunteers he reverted to more histrionics, which further undermined his leadership.

Despite her personality clash with Bill, Patty had initially supported him in these discussions and helped research some targets. In her grief over Willie Wolfe’s death the year before, Patty had displayed the fanaticism of a new convert, wildly vowing to “off the pigs” in vengeance. But she had since dropped her overwrought demeanor. Now, bolstered by the political logic of the Berkeley group, she moved into the faction opposed to the old SLA tactics.

Emily alone supported her husband. As political allies the Harrises were inseparable. But, with all the tension, a new rift began to appear — between the Harrises.

Emily Schwartz Grew up in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Clarendon Hills, the daughter of an engineering consultant who kept a strict household. She was considered outgoing and popular. At Indiana University her blond-haired, blue-eyed looks won her a choice of boyfriends and entree into a prestigious sorority. She was a conscientious but not overly serious student who dressed fashionably and majored in English literature. She spent two summers working at Disneyland and at a California resort restaurant.

In her sophomore year Emily began dating the khaki-clad Vietnam vet who talked to her about antiwar politics in the midst of campus beer-drinking bonhomie. After Emily met Bill, a sorority sister recalled, “she started to change.” But their friendship remained casual until they began living together her senior year. Emily started joining antiwar demonstrations and began to take politics more seriously. The next year, 1970, they were married in a campus chapel.

Moving to the Bay Area increased Emily’s political awareness and ended her earlier deference to Bill’s ideas. Because of her levelheaded approach, Emily often was asked to chair the pre-SLA meetings the Harrises held with other Bay Area activists. Emily also began picketing stores, mimeographing political leaflets and visiting prisoners. But enlisting in the SLA placed Emily under Bill’s authority, a situation that subtly began to erode their relationship.

By spring of 1975, Bill was erupting against Emily with unwelcome frequency. At one point Emily wanted to take out a favorite .22-caliber rifle for target practice. Bill arbitrarily ordered her to use another gun. When she refused, he tried to kick her. Infuriated, she jumped on him and pounded away on his back.

By May Emily could no longer summon tolerance for Bill’s temper. She needed a fresh perspective, she decided, and she had to get away from Bill to find it. At the same time Steve and Patty were seeing less of each other. Emily and Steve began spending more time together. Emily liked Steve’s quiet nature. Within the group he was known as a peacemaker; even in the heat of political arguments he seldom raised his voice. Steve already was attracted to Emily’s ready wit and warm laugh. In early May the group reassessed its living arrangements: Emily moved to Steve’s apartment in Berkeley.

But Bill was jealous. After about two weeks he met with Steve and made it clear he didn’t like Steve’s affair with his wife. Steve, finding the situation too uncomfortable for his easygoing nature, agreed to end it.

But rather than return to Bill, Emily elected to set up communal housekeeping with other women in the group. At the end of May the group closed down the Sacramento apartments and Emily and Patty moved in with Wendy Yoshimura, who had returned to San Francisco two months earlier. The threesome held regular meetings with the other women from Berkeley.

Bill, Steve and Jim Kilgore were assigned to live in a second San Francisco apartment and Emily urged them to convene their own meetings with the other men in the group.

Emily was hoping that by separating men’s and women’s criticisms she could salvage a consensus. In her discussions with the women’s collective Emily willingly offered a candid critique of the SLA’s history dating from the arrest of Remiro and Little. “The capture of our two comrades really hurt us and threw us into a panic. Our changed situation compelled us to place primary importance on obtaining survival and military skills.

“We got ourselves into such a heavy military state of mind that we lost control of our conditions . . . It was safe for the men to think of themselves as our teachers and political commissars . . . We behaved like the ‘Ladies Auxiliary of the Left.’ We were just so grateful to the men for taking the time to teach us — so we could help save their asses!

“We finally realized that the way we were doing this was crazy!”

When Emily and Steve were still living together, Patty had agreed to move in with Bill as a sort of reconciliation attempt. But they both quickly regretted the decision. Bill continued to view himself as her superior and Patty responded with her inimitable sarcasm. Sex between them was brief and mechanical. After a week of renewed squabbling, Patty moved out. A few weeks later, while living with Emily and Wendy, she resumed her love life with Steve. On weekends they often wandered along northern California beaches or sunbathed next to rivers. It was a welcome change for Patty — even though she had a few narrow escapes.

On one trip in June she and Steve were rescued by sheriff’s deputies when they became stranded climbing a cliff near the coastal town of Pacifica. But the deputies did not recognize them. They had another scare in a San Francisco supermarket. As Patty stood in the checkout line, she spotted an old friend — a former fellow employee from her days as a clerk at Capwell’s department store in Oakland. But Patty coolly exited the store, leaving Steve to carry the groceries.

Despite the close calls, Patty’s earlier preoccupation with getting caught had vanished. Her daily schedule in San Francisco was conventional and unrestricted. She rode city buses, went shopping frequently and took walks by herself. Occasionally she accompanied Soliah to his house-painting jobs. There, perched on a ladder, she layered acrylic on walls, bestowing on unsuspecting landlords a building painted by the most wanted fugitive in the country. Her companions described her appearance then as “housewifey. She always dressed pretty straight — face powder, eyeliner and lipstick — and fit in well at a supermarket.”

After an outing in Marin County across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, her face turned puffy and lopsided from a case of poison oak. Soliah tried to tease her into a better mood. “C’mon, let’s go for a walk around police headquarters. They’ll never recognize you. You’ve got the perfect disguise.”

“Leave me alone. I can’t go outside — I took awful.”

Generally Patty had few complaints about her San Francisco underground lifestyle. Compared to the previous fall in Sacramento, she had more freedom, better friends and a happier outlook.

At night Patty and Soliah listened to Gil Scott-Heron records, watched television reruns or got quietly high on beer or marijuana. Sometimes they held barbecues on the back lawn with Emily and Wendy. Most of Patty’s days were consumed with mundane chores. She washed clothes at the corner laundromat, watered plants (including a two-foot cannibis stalk) and dished out economy meals of pea soup or hamburger casserole. She also clipped coupons for grocery bargains and thought up money-saving recipes. Although she’d jab Soliah in the ribs when he made sexist jokes, Patty contentedly settled into a housewife’s routine, a lifestyle little different form 18 months before when she’d been living with Steven Weed.

Next to Soliah, Wendy remained Patty’s best friend. During the summer, they continued to grow closer, both personally and politically.

Patty and Wendy took an active part in the women’s meetings. Both had been heartened by Emily’s criticism of SLA sexism. They agreed with the analysis but had been hesitant about voicing it first. After that Patty and Wendy started privately discussing other problems. Patty’s growing independence and her participation in the women’s meetings now helped her articulate a deep-seated bitterness about the Harrises and the SLA.

Both Bill and Emily had opposed Patty’s membership in the SLA when it was first discussed in the weeks following her February 1974 kidnapping. They had argued that she didn’t have any guerrilla training.

But Patty showed an unexpected ability to compete physically with Bill. She had always been a natural athlete and possessed an agility which Harris couldn’t equal. She excelled in the dive-and-roll, leaping over a chair and somersaulting smoothly as she hit the floor to avoid imaginary gunfire. She could sprint faster than Harris and was able to outlast him in running exercises.

Patty also demonstrated a new proficiency with guns. Before joining the SLA she had known only the rudiments of pulling a trigger from the times her father had taken her along on bird hunts. Once she had fired too soon and barely missed her father’s head. By contrast, Harris had been among the best shots in his Marine class.

But Patty proved a quick and willing student. She was issued her first SLA weapon, a 12-gauge shotgun, while still blindfolded. A year later Patty was better and faster than Harris at disassembling and reassembling guns.

Patty’s superiority in such skills helped undermine her respect for the Harrises. A family governess once had noted that “the key thing with Patty was winning her respect — then you could count on her absolute loyalty.” But Patty refused to give the Harrises the esteem they felt their position should command.

They labeled her attitude as “bourgie” rebelliousness, which they defined in the book manuscript as “bourgeois conditioning against leadership, know-it-all attitudes, arrogance, rebelliousness, ultrademocracy, individualism often resulting in unopenness to learn and reluctance to follow suggestions of leader.”

Patty resented being patronized by the Harrises. She felt that the SLA could not have sustained front-page headlines without her. The Harrises conceded as much in developing the group’s contingency plan for a potential police siege. If all else failed, they said, they would pretend to hold Patty hostage, threaten to shoot her and bargain for a plane to Cuba.

But the underlying cause of Patty’s disillusionment was her feeling that Bill was responsible for the deaths of the six SLA members in Los Angeles.

The day before the shootout, Harris had tried to shoplift a shotgun bandoleer from Mel’s Sporting Goods store in suburban Los Angeles. The ensuing scuffle with a security guard alerted police and helped lead them to the bungalow where Wolfe and the other five SLA members died. Wolfe’s death, and her loss, Patty blamed on Harris.

Afterward, in an SLA communique, Harris claimed he’d been falsely accused of the theft: “At Mel’s Sporting Goods store in Inglewood, a pig agent clerk named Tony Shepard attempted to show his allegiance to his reactionary white bosses, falsely accused me of shoplifting. It was impossible to allow a verifying search by store security guards because I was armed and therefore we were forced to fire our way out of the situation. . . .

“The policy of the Symbionese Liberation Army has always been to avoid shoplifting because of the heavy risk involved to the whole unit. We cannot afford to have soldiers busted on humbug charges. . . .” Privately he told Patty and Emily he had tried to steal the bandoleer because he feared buying it might arouse the checkout clerk’s suspicion.

Patty had never criticized that explanation, she said, until one day in Sacramento when Harris brought home a kitchen knife he’d lifted from a local store. She had exploded, her long festering resentment of his shoplifting coverup surfacing in a fury of epithets.

Since then she had been reexamining her conversion to and membership in the SLA. When she originally joined, she told Wendy, she had viewed the other members as warm, understanding companions who, after some misgivings, had welcomed her into an emotional refuge and a new mission. By comparison, she felt that her parents were uncaring and selfish.

Her feelings about her parents had not changed but her assessment of the SLA had. She now believed that DeFreeze had wanted her name on the SLA roll only to promote bigger headlines for himself. He had not trusted her, she explained, and had placed her and Wolfe on different teams so they wouldn’t run off together, a decision she felt had contributed to Wolfe’s death. Watching Harris emulate DeFreeze, she said scornfully, had convinced her that the internal dynamic of the SLA was “whites kissing Cinque’s ass because of white guilt.”

Her revised judgment was that her kidnappers had wronged her. They had disrupted her life, turned her into a criminal and a fugitive, created a caricatured public image and left her with the Harrises as her family — all for the sake of a political vision not based on reality.

Acting as an emissary for Patty. Steve Soliah made a special trip to see Bill Harris in early August 1975. For nearly two months Harris had been living alone. Emily had not returned. Soliah had been living with Patty and Wendy and Jim Kilgore had moved back to his old apartment in nearby Daly City. Kilgore had given up trying to change Harris’s mind about political assassinations and now avoided talking to him.

Despite his ostracism, Harris remained intransigent. He whiled away his time playing solitaire and jogging, stubbornly waiting until the others yielded. So Harris was not receptive to Soliah’s message that Patty had described him as a guilty, “ass-kissing” white.

Harris refused to hear more. Patty was a “bourgeois bitch” slandering the coming revolution.

Soliah pointed out that the group had reached an impasse. “It’s your fault, too,” he told Harris. “You both fight every time you see each other. You should try to communicate.”

“Fuck her. I’m not gonna try.”

“That’s not a revolutionary attitude.”

“I don’t give a shit.”

The meeting ended with a warning. Unless Harris could achieve an accord with Patty. Soliah said, the Berkeley group was ready to abandon him.

For the first time since her kidnapping Patty began to consider leaving the underground. Living in San Francisco, a few miles from her childhood home, had awakened memories. She thought about phoning old friends. “I was thinking of even getting in touch with you,” she later told Patricia Tobin, her best friend in high school.

But Patty’s toughest debate was over going home to her parents.

She considered surrendering, pleading guilty to her crimes in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and hoping for leniency. But the prospect of spending long years behind bars worried her. “Every time I think about it I get really depressed,” she told her roommates. She was not sure, she said, that her parents would use their power and money to help keep her out of prison — or that she wanted them to.

If she gave herself up, Patty decided, the legal and personal recriminations could be devastating. Even an unpromising future of life on the run seemed a better alternative. As long as she stayed underground, she at least had some friends.

In mid-August the Berkeley group met with the fugitives for a final round of discussions. The subject was the past and future of the SLA. With varying degrees of intensity, the support group declared the SLA record a study in failure. DeFreeze’s army had succeeded only in frightening the public, not in mobilizing it. The shooting of Marcus Foster, Oakland’s first black school superintendent, had outraged the black constituency that the SLA coveted. The kidnapping of Patty Hearst had persuaded millions of television viewers that the elder Hearsts were loving parents, not corporate fascists. The SLA’s San Francisco bank robbery bad wounded two innocent civilians, a result the Harrises had callously dismissed in the book manuscript: “We can never hesitate to stop someone who actively attempts to fuck us up during an operation.”

Emily bristled at these criticisms. For weeks she had been trying to bridge the deep contradictions dividing the group. But her critique of the SLA mistakes did not extend to a total denunciation. She clung to the belief that the SLA’s guerrilla strategy could yet succeed. She would not agree that political assassinations were without merit simply because other leftists didn’t sanction them.

But on this point the Berkeley group forged an inflexible and unified front. All assassinations were premature, they said, and counterproductive. “Trying to kill pigs is suicidal,” Kilgore explained. “We’re not interested in getting ourselves killed when it’s not going to bring on the revolution.”

Bill refused to accept defeat gracefully. “You’re a bunch of chickenshits,” he shouted. “You’re all honkie chickenshits.” That led to more name-calling and Kilgore almost had a fistfight with Harris.

For the Berkeley group this was the end of the line. They had helped the SLA fugitives for nearly a year, an accomplishment in which they took pride. But the Harrises had not once said thanks.

From the beginning the Berkeley group had been wary of offering themselves as soldiers for the SLA’s war. At times they had equivocated. But now they were convinced that the SLA tactics were bankrupt. “We did not want to become what the SLA had been,” one of the group later explained. “We concluded that was a crazy way to go about changing the world.”

When the shouting subsided, Emily and Bill were reunited. Wendy decided to go to Boston with a girlfriend. Steve and Patty planned to return to political study and nonviolent organizing. The Harrises were on their own.

Kathy Soliah and Jim Kilgore knew Wendy slightly before she went underground in 1972. They were enthusiastic when she became part of the group supporting the SLA trio. She had been underground for three years and could counsel Patty and the Harrises from experience.

Wendy was born during World War II in a U.S. concentration camp for Japanese-Americans and spent her early childhood in Japan. When she returned to this country at age 13, she was placed in second grade with children half her age and size. Later she studied at the California College of Art and started a career as a commercial artist before becoming a political activist. She spent a summer cutting sugar cane in Cuba and, at age 32, was the oldest member of Berkeley group.

She was soft-spoken and her difficulty with English sometimes interfered with her opportunities to speak in large discussions. But, as the year wore on, she became a firm voice against the inflamed rhetoric of Bill Harris. In mid-September, after the split between the Berkeley group and the Harrises became irreparable, she wrote a long letter to a close friend.

“It is very difficult for me to begin. The group has literally ceased to be a group.

“Ever since the group came together around these people a little over a year ago, we’ve had a very trying time. The security was a big factor but there was the sensationalized media play on those people affecting our heads, in effect making us unable to think clearly of them as people with strengths and weaknesses but as ‘the leaders’ who knew everything. My experience during the summer made me realize that they (two in particular — not P.H.) in fact are very different from me and personally I did not much like them.

“In spite of it I decided to stick with it because of their fierce dedication . . . and I was under their spell. Unfortunately the other people were also spellbound into submissiveness and there began a mass of confusion touched up with fucked up interpersonal dynamics between some of the people.

“To show you how confusing it was, it began with — some ready to go underground (expecting it to get hot next week) to some pushing for jobs, staying cool and normal; some pushing for totally isolated communal living to some demanding normal separate living arrangements; some demanding fucked up interpersonal relationships be dealt with, to some seeing it as totally unnecessary; some wanting to off pigs to some totally disagreeing. Let me tell you. I can go on forever. It was a psychodrama!

“Finally, at one point, we seemed to have found a middle ground and it looked as though we were beginning to coordinate and work together . . . Since then it began to get obvious that the security that seemed to be existing was due to total repression, politically as well as personally, on everybody’s part as to maintain the group together. As you can well imagine, such calm can be maintained for only so long. It began to rattle and once it started the process was very fast.

“We, those of us who decided to go our own way, discussed the matter and it became obvious to us what the problems were. On the surface it seems as though we all agree and believe in the same thing but, after working with [the Harrises], we’ve come to the realization that we do in fact disagree politically very drastically.

“They’ve no understanding of what it really means by ‘Third World leadership.’ Their blind insistence of Third World leadership (black) is clearly coming from white guilt.

“Their attitude around armed struggle is that it only is valid and anything else (aboveground, etc.) is irrelevant.

“And to add to this is the personal aspect of these people. They are two individuals with weak egos lacking very much a sense of themselves. They have so little sense of themselves that they literally have to use the old bullshit — ‘I think, therefore I am’ — to even function.

“These people are totally unable to check out the objective situation and deal with it. They simply do not know how to take a theory and apply it to the reality that exists. It’s difficult for me to clearly analyze what exactly is the problem with these people but I think, other than their lacking in strong egos, they are victimized by the guilt they feel — guilt [for the] death of their comrades possibly quickened by his fuckup at the sporting goods store (it’s true — he fucked up) — guilt they feel for being born white. (And are they so racist that they must put blacks on a pedestal to even consider them worthy?)

“Unfortunately our vision was clouded for the reason I mentioned before and it took us this long to get it together. Everyone rebelled one way or another at different times . . . P.H. was hated by our ‘leader’ for being so rebellious. J. [Kilgore] at the end kept having violent verbal fights with him — often almost becoming physical. All of this going on, plus trying to survive at the same time.

“I tell you this is an experience I’ll never forget! It was horrendous but at the same time I’ve learned a hell of a lot. Now I understand more clearly my political views. I think most of us came out of this ahead. I hope you’ll have the chance to meet P.H. She is incredible! She amazes me! I swear only the toughest could have come out of its as she did. What an ordeal all of us went through!!”  

Epilogue:

Wendy Yoshimura was freed in December on $25,000 bail, raised by new friends in San Francisco’s Japanese-American community who came to her aid after the arrests of September 18th, 1975. Except for the non-SLA-related explosives charge, which her lawyers hope to quash, her legal future is unclouded. Her plans remain the same as before her capture: to join a feminist collective and use her artist’s skills in political work.

Shortly after her arrest Wendy provided information for an affidavit to help Patty’s legal defense. Since then she has refused to comment publicly about the case on the advice of her lawyers.

Most members of the Berkeley group, including Kathy and Josephine Soliah and Jim Kilgore, have been forced underground. Kathy has been indicted for bombing two police cars in Los Angeles, and Jim for possession of an illegal bombing device. Rather than risk jail terms, they have become fugitives, altering their public image and complicating their political perspective.

A March 1976 communiqué — sent to Berkeley radio station KPFA and signed by the two Soliah sisters, Kilgore and a fourth member — pointed up their dilemma. They were still careful to separate themselves from the SLA style. “We are not gun-toting militarists,” they wrote. “We are serious political people with much important work confronting us as we try to help build the revolutionary movement in this country.” But their new circumstance had revived their sympathy for the Harrises: “We are proud to be among those fighting the U.S. empire. We are proud to have uncompromisingly supported people who have taken up arms against the enemy.”

Their opinion of Patty also changed after Patty’s testimony about them — which unfortunately was based on a rumor, since discounted by the FBI — that they were responsible for bombing a Hearst castle guesthouse at San Simeon. “Let me tell you about the very rich,” they wrote, quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think they are better than we are.”

Steve Soliah is now on trial in Sacramento for an April 1975 bank robbery/murder that has been connected to the SLA. So far he alone has been indicted in the case. Soliah states he is being prosecuted because he embarrassed the FBI by hiding Patty Hearst and because police can’t find enough evidence to charge the real culprits.

When Soliah heard radio reports of the Harrises’ capture last September, he raced to Patty’s hideout to rescue her. But he arrived too late and was taken into custody by waiting FBI agents. He saw her the next day in San Francisco’s federal courthouse. “She was handcuffed but she came up and kissed me through the bars,” he told a friend. He saw her twice more in the courthouse holding tank and sent her love notes through her original lawyers.

But that stopped after F. Lee Bailey assumed Patty’s defense. “They broke it off.” Soliah told the friend. “I haven’t been able to communicate with her since.” Soliah said he is saddened by the possibility of prison for Patty: “She is a victim.”

If convicted in Sacramento, Soliah could receive a life sentence which would mean a minimum of 15 years in a federal penitentiary before he’d be eligible for parole. He would be 42.

Bill and Emily Harris face life sentences for a number of crimes. They are charged with 11 counts of kidnapping, assault and armed robbery in Los Angeles for their panicked flight from Bill’s shoplifting episode. In addition, they could be put on trial for Patty’s original kidnapping, the Sacramento bank robbery/murder und the SLA’s San Francisco bank robbery.

Just before their arrests, the Harrises made a final unsuccessful attempt to resurrect the SLA. At a September 13th political rally in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, they contacted “Doc” Holiday, a recently paroled black convict they knew from their pre-SLA prison visits. He agreed to meet them two days later in a motel room. But, when they asked him to join them as an armed guerrilla, he refused.

In December the Harrises arranged to present their version of the SLA’s history through journalists Robert Scheer and Susan Lyne. Their interviews contained their first public doubts about previous SLA tactics. They had righteously defended the shooting of by-standers in the San Francisco robbery when they were writing their underground manuscript. Now they conceded the SLA should have apologized.

But the Harrises chose to conceal the split between themselves and the Berkeley group — and the political and personal dissension that led to the split. Bill also lied about hitting Patty and covered up his shoplifting mistake and his role as one of Patty’s kidnappers. Once Patty began testifying about them, the Harrises amended their interviews to include a denunciation of Patty for telling lies “just to save her own ass,” They were pleased with Patty’s conviction, feeling it vindicated their version.

Friends who have visited the Harrises say the couple still believes that, except for minor strategic mistakes, the SLA will be vindicated by history. Both Bill and Emily are resigned to spending most of their adult lives in California’s prisons, where they will join some of the prisoners who first introduced them to SLA politics. But they still feel there’s a chance, according to their friends, that a new SLA will rise up and break them out.

Patty Hearst awaits sentencing for abetting the SLA in the San Francisco bank robbery. But that is the least of her legal problems. She facts the same charges as the Harrises in Los Angeles and could be indicted in the Sacramento robbery.

With her conviction, the government has backed her into a moral bind and moved closer to putting the SLA and all its associates behind bars. So far the government cannot use Patty’s testimony to convict others in court. But now she must confront the choice of turning state’s evidence against her former comrades or accepting years in prison as her foreseeable future.

F. Lee Bailey’s legal strategy compelled her to deny her love for Willie Wolfe and to turn her dislike and disdain for the Harrises into a description of coercion the jury found patently unbelievable.

Because of her legal defense, the pathos of her situation has been nearly lost. Her arrest last fall came just as she was about to rebuild her life, having survived the impositions of her birth and the upheavals of her kidnapping. Now she is once again a prisoner, locked away from the real world and deprived of any hope for a normal future.

To survive this ordeal she must overcome public vindictiveness, the ambitions of prosecutors and her own unwillingness to tell the full truth. She may regain some public sympathy if she ends up in a courtroom as a kidnap victim testifying against her kidnappers — an event that would finalize her split with the Harrises and bring the case full circle. But, whatever she does her fate seems no longer her own. 

In This Article: Coverwall, Patty Hearst

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