Kathy’s clowns, eight years later

I was out jogging down Fairview Avenue in Highland Park in St. Paul on a beautiful afternoon in June 1999 when I passed a cross street full of satellite broadcast trucks. I had no idea what they were doing there.
When I got home, I found that one of the ladies living in our neigborhood was a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army who was wanted for the attempted murder of Los Angeles police officers in 1975. She had also participated in the 1975 bank robbery resulting in the murder of Myrna Opsahl. Based on a tip generated by a segment on “America’s Most Wanted,” the FBI had arrested the woman near her home.
The woman had been living as a well-heeled fugitive under the name Sara Jane Olson. Her real name was Kathleen Soliah. (She subsequently changed her name to Sara Jane Olson.) In St. Paul she had built a life as a fashionable left-wing activist with a physician husband and three daughters who attended the neighborhood school a block from where we lived.
Soliah had many local friends and acquaintances who stepped forward to speak up for her. They immediately produced an outpouring of support. Many of her friends were prominent Twin Cities Democrats. Among her local supporters, for example, was current Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison, though in Ellison’s case Soliah was only one of a long line of killers whose cause he championed. In Februay 2000 Ellison spoke at a fundraiser on behalf of Soliah and demanded Soliah’s freedom. See, for example, “Who is Keith Ellison? (8)” and “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and cop killers?”
In October 2001 Soliah pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing explosives with intent to commit murder in the long-pending Los Angeles case. In January 2002 Soliah and four other SLA members were charged with Opsahl’s murder in Sacaramento in the Crocker National Bank case. Soliah pleaded guilty to the murder charge in November 2002. She is serving time in the Central California Women’s Correctional Facility in Chowchilla.
Soliah’s participation in the Symbionese Liberation Army’s 1974-1975 activities had long been a matter of public record. Soliah’s participation was described in detail in Patricia Hearst’s 1982 memoir recounting her time in the SLA, Every Secret Thing.
John and I were struck by the depth and breadth of the local support for Soliah as well as by its sickness. We wrote about it in the 1999 article “Kathy’s Clowns.” At Shot in the Dark yesterday, Mitch Berg updated the story in “The real victims?”
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