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The surreal saga of Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army

Jeffrey Toobin, the journalist and legal analyst for The New Yorker and CNN, chronicles the weirdly rollicking tale of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. Her kidnapping and brief stint as a foot soldier with a terrorist group had the world transfixed in the mid-1970s.
In his new book "American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst," Jeffrey Toobin argues that Patty Hearst reacted rationally to her circumstances. (Getty Images)

In 1974, 19-year-old newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst was abducted from the apartment she shared with her fiancée in Berkeley, California. 

Her captors called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army — the SLA. But a few short months later, Patty Hearst appeared to be on their side. 

It's a mystery. And the subject of so much fiction, nonfiction and drama, is "Why do people do what they do?" The mystery of why Patricia Hearst joined with her captors, and whether she really joined with her captors, to commit an extraordinary series of crimes remains an elusive truth. It is also relevant because we are now living in a moment when we're asking, "Why do terrorists become terrorists? Why do middle-class kids in Brussels or in Minneapolis or in Montreal decide to become terrorists?"- Jeffrey Toobin 

For months, Patty Hearst and the SLA — by turns inept and shockingly violent — eluded the police and the FBI. Speculation about where she was, and whether she had been brainwashed or had willingly embraced a life of crime, ran wild. When she was finally arrested 19 months after her kidnapping, the resulting trial became another media sensation. 

It was a story that captivated and confounded people around the world. Now, one of America's preeminent legal writers has plunged back into those strange days in the mid-1970s.

Jeffrey Toobin is staff writer for The New Yorker, and CNN's senior legal analyst. He spoke to guest host Rachel Giese about his new book, American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst

Click the button above to hear the interview. 


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