The Patty Hearst Brain Washing Defense

Authoritarian political cults such as Qanon not only indoctrinate their members with conspiracy theories but have also moved some of those cult members to commit violent crimes to achieve the cult’s goals. How might those cult members defend themselves in court?

Well, if “What’s past is prologue”…

February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, granddaughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped from her apartment by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. After two months of captivity, Hearst participated in an armed robbery of a San Francisco bank. In a taped message sent to authorities Hearst- calling herself Tania- claimed that she had joined up with the SLA of her own free will.

In September of 1975, Hearst was arrested in a San Francisco apartment and charged with armed robbery. The Hearst family hired attorney F. Lee Bailey to defend Patty Hearst. Bailey was famous for having defended Sam Shepard (the inspiration for ‘The Fugitive’) and the Boston Strangler and would go on to be part of the ‘Dream Team’ defending O.J. Simpson. Bailey’s defense strategy was Hearst had undergone brainwashing and suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. Stockholm Syndrome happens when people become totally dependent on the captors and start becoming sympathetic to them.

Under Bailey’s theory, Hearst was never a voluntary member of the SLA. Bailey suggested throughout the trial that Hearst did only what she had to do to stay alive during the time. Brainwashing techniques are referred to as “mind control”, “thought reform”, “brainwashing” and “coercive persuasion”. All involve the systematic breakdown of a person’s sense of self. Cults will cut members off from the rest of the world to produce a distorted sense of reality. Information provided by the cult becomes the victim’s only social contact and feedback mechanism. Cults will not allow its members to have contact with the “outside world’. Cults instill the belief that outsiders will try to confuse cult members with slick-sounding misinformation. The cult victim learns to associate independence and critical thinking with evil and disloyalty. Brainwashing will result in absolute, unquestioning devotion, loyalty, and submission to the cause of the cult. The cult leadership is authoritarian with members removed from all decision-making. Doubts are punished by the cult members through criticism, guilt, and alienation. Any questions are turned back on the doubter so that they feel wrong for the simple act of questioning. The member must submit to the will of the leader.
The cult member’s only family is the group and devotion to the cult is the only thing that will brings salvation.

Unfortunately for Patty Hearst, her jury was not sympathetic to the brainwashing defense. Hearst was convicted in March of 1976, and sentenced to seven years in prison. After having served 21 months Hearst’s sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter. Patty Hearst was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in January 2001.

Will those charged in the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol claim that they were misled by authoritarian political cult leaders who used 21st Century electronic media brainwashing techniques?

Thanks and a tip of the hat to https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PattyHearstmug.jpg for the image.

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