With Obama’s recent defense of 1960’s style rhetoric of anti Americanism, perhaps it is time for those of us who remember that era speak up about where that rhetoric of hatred can lead.

So today’s headline reminds us of a ghost from the past:

CNN declares:
’70s radical-turned-housewife out of prison

Sara Jane Olson, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, served about half her 12-year sentence. She received concurrent senetences for two incidents in 1975 — the attempted bombings of two LAPD squad cars and the shooting death of a customer during the robbery of a Sacramento-area bank….

At least CNN mentioned the death of an unnamed customer, if not her name.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune instead has a puff piece, updated from their 1999 archives, full of gushing praise…

Bortin, the brother-in-law, said the Sara Jane Olson who has been portrayed as such a good citizen in St. Paul should not be contrasted to the young radical he knew in California.

“There’s not this dichotomy between what Kathy was and what she is now,” he said. “She was doing the same things in the early ’70s.

“You can’t fake a resume for 25 years. It’s who she is – just the same Kathy. She was just as wonderful then. She just wasn’t rich.”

Like most of her friends in the Twin Cities, Rebecca Yanisch said she never picked up a sense that Olson carried a heavy secret.

Never picked up a sense that Olson carried a heavy secret. Hmmm…Could the reason be because Olson didn’t feel guilty? Could it be because she didn’t feel killing a middle class nurse during a bank robbery to get money for a sacred cause was a crime? Or was it because, in the rarified upper middle class neighborhoods of Minneapolis, only those in her own set counted.

Her friends and neighbors would see Olson as one of their own, and the dead nurse as “the other”, someone who just isn’t “in our set”, someone not chic, and someone who actually (gasp) attends church?

In a just world, the victim would be named, and her family’s long search for justice would become film, but never mind.

I also worked in Minnesota in some of the less chic neighborhoods, and know that even in Minnesota not everyone feels Olson is a heroine, so I will tell the tale of her victim.

Her name was Myrna Opsahl, (photo from her family’s website), a wife and mother, and a nurse who had served for several years in Trinidad as a missionary nurse, helping her surgeon husband.

Mrs. Opsahl had entered the bank to deposit the church collection money, and was shot “accidentally” by one of the radicals.

But the difference between radicals and ordinary criminals is that ordinary bank robbers would have been upset at such a shooting, and probably run out of the bank immediately. If the robbers had dones so, and Mrs. Opsahl taken immediately to the hospital, there is a good chance that she would have lived. But not our dear Kathy and her friends, lovers of mankind.

They stayed until all the money was collected, watching Mrs. Opsahl bleed to death on the floor, not allowing anyone to help her, or to call for the help that might have saved her life.

A  normal honest criminals might have felt guilty and confessed, but not these heroes of the revolution:

According to Patty Hearst and other witnesses, Emily Harris fired the shot that killed Myrna Opsahl during the SLA’s April 15, 1975 bank robbery….

“This is the murder round,” (one of their members) bragged as he extracted from his pocket the brass base of a shotgun shell, its plastic jacket cut away. He joked about it, but no one laughed. “If it hadn’t been for good ol’ Myrna, one of our comrades would be dead now. Good old Myrna, she took all the buckshot.”

Her death was a joke.  They laughed…and that report is what hurt the family the most.

The Opsahl family has never gotten over a remark attributed to Emily Harris in ”Every Secret Thing,” a 1982 book by Ms. Shaw. Ms. Harris is said to have brushed off the shooting of Ms. Opsahl in the bank by describing her as a ”bourgeois pig” whose death ”doesn’t really matter.”

Olson figured she was above the law. She was a “revolutionary” who was entitled to kill in the name of the cause. Indeed, it was her hubris that led to her prison sentence. Even when arrested for trying to plant a car bomb to kill California policemen, and even as late as 2002, she didn’t admit guilt to the bank robbery. After all, why should she? The case had long gone “cold”.

The police knew who were the killers, but couldn’t prove it. But as a arrogant Olson kept delaying her court trial, a funny thing happened: some radicals rammed some airplanes into a couple of buildings, and suddenly killing innocent people in the name of radical politics didn’t seem such a good idea.

So the case was reopened. A book by Patti Hurst that discussed the robbery was finally taken seriously, but what really helped the case go to trial was that forensics had improved enough to prove the link. So Minnesota housewife Olson finally pled guilty, and went to jail for a few short years.

Of course, she’s still a heroine in the white suburbs of Minneapolis, where the Star Tribune has a photo of a smiling Olson and a warm and fuzzy report of her plans to return home to Minneapolis…

I suspect Olson will continue to be in the news, writing a nice autobiography and get her TV movie to tell her story. Undoubtably, she will become the darling of the new left. And a press that fawns over Obama and Reverend Wright’s firely radical rhetoric will undoubtably continue to keep her in the news as a heroine of past wars against the evil America.

But you know, victims of crime have names, and only the LA Times  bothered to include a few quotes from the victim’s husband in the report.

“It’s all pretty much in the past,” Dr. Trygve Opsahl, a retired surgeon. “The sentencing system is so complicated it’s pretty hard to comprehend. . . . I feel if somebody’s involved in murder it used to be the death sentence. But now they just quibble over whether it’s a few months or years in jail.”….
“I hope she has learned something from this and can go out and be a good citizen and contribute to the community where she lives,” he said. “And still have some life left to live.”

Yes, that would be more than the chance she gave to Mrs. Opfahl.

One more thing: when you read nostalgic stories about these overaged radicals days of glory, remember Mrs. Opfahl, and remember the other victim of the SLA’s war in the name of peace and racial equality.

His name was Marcus Foster, and he was the respected Superintendent of the Oakland California School Board.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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