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The Warriors of a Failed Revolution

Over fifty years ago, young idealists swore to end American injustice. When their movement splintered, their lives diverged—from quiet college prof to infamous kidnappers to filthy-rich hotelier.


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collage of images with protesters and people being interviewed

Images Courtesy Stanford University Archives 

H. Bruce Franklin was the center of attention at Stanford University’s White Plaza one winter day in 1971. The steely-eyed, raven-haired associate English professor delivered a fiery speech during a campus rally. Stray dogs ran laps around the crossed legs of student revolutionaries as Franklin spit his ire toward an unlikely target: the campus computer center. As he and other activists had recently learned, the facility was helping the U.S. Navy develop a program named Gamut-H, which would be used for an amphibious invasion in North Vietnam.

The time for token acts of protest was over, Franklin declared, urging protestors to do real damage to the institutions of imperialism and citing the building as a “good target.” Soon after Professor Franklin’s speech, more than a hundred students scaled the fence of the center, broke open the back door, climbed to the roof to hoist flags in support of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, and occupied the building. Their actions resulted in a daylong revolutionary melee. Riot police stormed the campus, the teenage son of a history professor was shot, and Franklin became the first tenured professor to ever be fired from Stanford.

protesters and police

Student demonstrations against the U.S. Navy’s “Gamut-H” program, at Stanford’s computation center, February 10, 1971. (Image Courtesy Stanford University Archives)

Around this same time, Franklin also became one of the leaders of Venceremos, a leftist group founded by a local Chicano organizer, Aaron Manganiello. Taking their name from Che Guevara’s battle cry — “We will win!” — the group’s stated goals included helping meet local people’s basic needs in areas where the government was falling short. “We had a medical center providing care for people and a free college … and we had antidrug programs for people in the community,” Franklin explains to me as we chat 49 winters later, on his 86th birthday.

Franklin and his crew of college activists immediately became conflicted over how to achieve their well-intentioned and often lofty goals, which also included ridding the U.S. of racism and police brutality, elevating the voices of minorities and women, reforming the prison system, and of course, getting the country out of Vietnam. While the group had originally focused on local issues or racial and economic justice, they soon turned to more ambitious action: They aimed to be a catalyst for an armed communist revolution in the United States.

They expounded on their efforts within the pages of their biweekly newspaper, Pamoja Venceremos, in which they published cover stories about their regular armed standoffs with the local police force. This self-promotion resulted in Venceremos being closely surveilled and deeply infiltrated by both the federal government and local police, helping bring about the group’s gradual collapse.

person speaking into microphones

H. Bruce Franklin at a hearing before his dismissal as a tenured professor from Stanford, September 28, 1971. Photo by Stanford University Archives

To those who remember Venceremos, the defining moment of its legacy occurred in October of 1972 when a rogue cell from the unit concocted the escape of a petty thief turned prison radical and murdered an unarmed prison guard in the process. Some from the group would go on to take part in an even more infamous crime, one that shocked the nation, while others would say the move toward violence betrayed their community-centric ideals.

For almost 50 years, both Franklin and other former Venceremos members have vehemently denied any knowledge of the jailbreak, and Franklin insists it does not represent what the group was about. “You know, I’ve never actually talked [to] a publication about Venceremos before,” he says. “I look at these things written [about Venceremos] on Wikipedia and it’s bullshit. But I just realized [that] not talking about it has allowed people to say what happened and define the history in a way that is just not true.”


Emblazoned with an automatic weapon on its cover, the booklet containing Venceremos’ five “Principles of Unity” begins with Aaron Manganiello characterizing the group as “a small organization in the embryonic stages of a protracted war” and goes on to state that their five principles of unity and 10 rules of discipline will “help build communist women and men equal to just such a task … of leading the masses to victory.”

Next to the introduction is a photo of the hulking Manganiello sitting behind a desk, firing an intimidating stare at the camera while donning a heavy suede jacket with a Venceremos pin on its lapel. The image does not line up with the descriptions of Aaron Manganiello from loved ones and former comrades of him being a sweet and intelligent teddy bear of a guy. But it does remind me of a story told to me by a former Stanford radical who witnessed Manganiello angrily and unexpectedly kick a tray of cookies out of the hands of a female protestor at a rally. Apparently baked sweets were not allowed in the revolution.

person sitting with a pen in hand

A portrait of Aaron Maganiello from Venceremos’ “Principles of Unity” booklet, produced in December, 1971.Image Courtesy Stanford Angel Gonzalez

Born in the border town of McAllen, Texas, Manganiello moved to the San Francisco Bay Area as a teenager, just as a new level of social awareness was sweeping the area, with the formation of the Black Panther Party in Oakland and the free speech movement on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

Manganiello first crossed paths with Franklin — a former U.S. Air Force officer and vocal opponent of the Vietnam War who had arrived on the Stanford campus in 1959 — when both were involved in a grassroots protest of a nearby factory that was producing napalm, the flesh-frying chemical that was being dumped in abundance all over Southeast Asia. Franklin earned the honor of being arrested at a town hall meeting concerning the factory, but it was Manganiello who took the concept of protest a step further by staging a solo hunger strike across from the facility. After a week of getting repeatedly hosed down by employees of the factory and eventually contracting pneumonia, he had no choice but to give up his campaign. It was after this incident that Manganiello’s forms of protest turned a corner. “He was a pacifist at that point,” recalls Franklin. “Aaron had tried various things and none of them worked, and he didn’t know where to go. I think that was a transformative experience for him.”

Considering the commotion he was continuously stirring up, it’s no surprise that Stanford offered to send Franklin and his family over to their satellite campus in Tours, France, in the fall of 1966, which he accepted. Yet little did the school know that in addition to teaching a select few American students, Franklin and his wife, Jane, were also seeking a richer understanding of the war in Vietnam that America was waging — and this pursuit led them stumbling in the direction of the French Communist Party.

Raised in the red-baiting 1950s, the couple had serious apprehensions about heading down this path. In his most recent book, Crash Course, Franklin explains the feeling of first picking up a copy of The Communist Manifesto while in France: “I felt like I had as a kid when I had to sit on an unpapered public toilet seat expecting to catch syphilis.” But by the end of his stay, Franklin was leading Marxist-Leninist theory study groups and ended up in the back of a Paris police van after protesting a visit by U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

“I have a hard time overstating the naïveté we were bringing into this period,” Franklin says. “We were all products of the 1950s finding ourselves in the reality of the 1960s. We were trying to do everything to stop this war. We were having demonstrations and were attacked by the police, and all we kept asking ourselves was, ‘Why don’t they share our beliefs?’”

Back in Palo Alto, at the start of Stanford’s fall 1968 semester, local progressive bookstore chain Kepler’s Books & Magazines hung a poster of Mao Zedong as part of a window display at their flagship location. As Michael Doyle reports in his book Radical Chapters: Pacifist Bookseller Roy Kepler and the Paperback Revolution, the poster provoked someone to hurl a brick through the window in the dead of night, and a series of vandalisms and bombings followed until the culprits were finally caught on Valentine’s Day 1969. The people behind the attacks were a cabal calling themselves the Society of Men, which met under the guise of a Bible study group. When the police raided the home of the organization’s leader, they confiscated weapons, gunpowder and Nazi paraphernalia.

Despite this harrowing feud with right-wing extremists, Kepler’s didn’t escape the wrath of the new breed of leftist revolutionary zealots coming out of Stanford. One night after closing, an employee at the store was robbed of the day’s earnings at gunpoint. Before splitting with the loot, the gunman — a notorious campus radical named Tom Mosher — made sure to self-righteously tell the petrified clerk, “This is for the people’s revolution!”

It was against this chaotic backdrop that Franklin returned to Stanford and founded the Bay Area Revolutionary Union with a mixed bag of old-school communists and young antiwar activists. Early recruits were culled from the students in Franklin’s new Marxist-Leninist campus study group, and their ranks ballooned as more and more Stanford students became disillusioned with both their school and the world around them. One of them was an exchange student from Singapore named Ho Kwon Ping who regularly disrupted the classes of electrical engineering professor William Shockley. In addition to being one of the minds behind the development of transistors, Shockley was also a major proponent of eugenics, claiming that the issues minorities suffered were not social but genetic. The spewing of such beliefs at the height of the civil rights movement was not received well on campus and resulted in mass protests of his class, led by Ping and other student members of the Revolutionary Union.

protesters with signs

Revolutionary Union members protest the Vietnam War.Image Courtesy United States House of Representatives Committee on Internal Security report, 1972.

The group also proudly held nonstudent working-class members among its ranks, such as machinist and father of four Larry Goff, whose real-deal working-man image held significant allure to the young revolutionaries, as did his knowledge of firearms.

The Revolutionary Union’s two-pronged, long-game concept mixed organizing in the labor field with also providing armed defense for themselves and their community if needed. But it all seemed relatively tame compared to the revolutionary violence that was ushering in the 1970s throughout the rest of America.

The Black Panther Party — the group many considered the vanguard of America’s radical leftist movement — had split over the question of whether to focus on running their leaders in local elections or on nationwide guerilla warfare. The break brought about the creation of the splinter group the Black Liberation Army, who began the decade with a cross-country cop-killing spree. At the University of Wisconsin, a group calling themselves the New Year’s Gang claimed responsibility for the firebombing of a Reserve Officer Training Corps office, while a militant offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society known as the Weather Underground gained attention when a nail bomb meant to detonate at a United Service Organizations dance in New Jersey accidentally went off in an East Village townhouse owned by one of its member’s vacationing parents. The massive explosion demolished the home and killed three of their cadre.

person posing with fist raised and a gun in front of a poster of Che Guevara

A Venceremos member poses in front of a Che Guevara poster, for one of the group’s brochures.Photo by  United States House of Representatives Committee on Internal Security report, 1972.

Bruce Franklin believed these actions were signs of an immediate armed communist revolution beginning in the country. In the fall of 1970, he presented a paper entitled “Protracted Urban War” to his fellow comrades on the central committee of the Revolutionary Union. Written in a dry academic style but sprinkled with words such as “oinkers” for police, the 8,000-word essay shares quotes from Marx and Mao and mulls about Stalin while describing inner cities as a “three-dimensional jungle custom-built for urban guerilla warfare.” But the main thrust of the paper was the idea that the revolution needed to be multiracial.

In response, the rest of the central committee penned a paper claiming Franklin’s theory of “revolutionary adventurism” would only lead to the destruction of the organization. They publicly expelled Franklin along with his wife, Jane, from the Revolutionary Union.

Or at least that’s the version of the story as it is told in the book Heavy Radicals: The FBI’s Secret War on America’s Maoists: The Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party 1968 – 1980. Franklin claims the book “gives a very distorted picture of what the issues were and what was really going on.” He offers a different explanation for his split with the union.

After his hunger strike at the napalm plant four years earlier, Aaron Manganiello had founded a primarily Chicano-based group called Venceremos, but he had since shifted it into a multiracial organization, a model that appealed to Franklin. He says he invited Manganiello to attend Revolutionary Union meetings, but Manganiello “came to two meetings and walked away saying he never encountered such naked racism in his life since growing up in the Rio Grande Valley. He wanted nothing to do with the organization. That is what really led to the split.” Whatever actually happened between Franklin and the group he helped found, he was welcomed with open arms into Venceremos as the group’s first white central committee member.


The table of contents of Venceremos’ “Principles of Unity” booklet. (Image Courtesy United States House of Representatives Committee on Internal Security report, 1972.)

Soon after breaking from the Revolutionary Union, Franklin attempted to get some of his early Stanford recruits to come over to Venceremos as well. Among them was David Pugh, the son of the treasurer for Coca-Cola, who came to Stanford in 1966 to receive a degree in political science and ended up dropping out to organize in factories for the Revolutionary Union.

“You know, I took the Franklin paper seriously,” Pugh confides from across the table of a diner on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “I felt we really did need to catch up with the Black liberation movement.”

group of people posing for a picture

Members of the Venceremos central committee. (Image Courtesy United States House of Representatives Committee on Internal Security report, 1972.)

But after meeting with Franklin and having him go into a deeper explanation of the group’s plans, Pugh was no longer interested. “Some of the stuff he was telling me I won’t repeat, but it alarmed me,” he says. “Guerilla warfare in the U.S.? We’re not China! You have to have above board organizing that has revolution as a goal. In a country like the U.S., if you start an armed revolution too early, you’re going to be crushed. People will die, and it will be your responsibility.”

Pugh declined to join him, but Franklin managed to corral a little over 100 Revolutionary Union members into Venceremos, including the Shockley-despising Ho Kwon Ping, who was now leading rallies that were attracting crowds in the hundreds. One of them famously ended with Ping burning Shockley in effigy in front of the university president’s office. Franklin even managed to pull away the Revolutionary Union’s token everyman Larry Goff. This turned out to be not such a good get. Goff was in actuality an informant for the FBI who had been reporting to the bureau on the Revolutionary Union’s arsenal of weapons ever since he’d joined. (Another FBI informant was Tom Mosher, the gun-toting robber of Kepler’s Books who by this time was testifying in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Affairs.)

a person being interviewed

Franklin in front of a Venceremos flag, answering questions from the press after his dismissal from Stanford, September 28, 1971.

After attending a few Venceremos meetings, Goff decided it was more important to head back and rejoin his original target group. He saw the Revolutionary Union as more of a threat, due to their meticulously planned long-term goals, while Venceremos was, as he noted in his report titled “America’s Maoists,” “composed of individuals ready to engage in unorthodox and unwise activities … and, as a result, its members will be arrested or killed before Venceremos can present a long-range threat.”


When Palo Alto police intelligence officer Don Criswell saw a news segment on October 6, 1972, about a prison escape down south near the Chino Institute for Men in San Bernardino County, the last people he suspected were the group of local radicals he had been assigned to keep tabs on, Venceremos.

From the report, the escaped convict Ronald Beaty seemed to be just some petty criminal and not one of the prison revolutionaries the group fetishized. There was also the cold-blooded boldness of how the action took place. As Beaty was being taken to a court hearing nearby, a duo of cars each containing two people set upon the marked police van and ran it off the road. Once Beaty was freed, the two unarmed prison guards transporting him were handcuffed, shoved into the back of the police van, and shot at point-blank range. Twenty-four-year-old rookie Jesus Sanchez died, while his veteran partner, George Fitzgerald, survived.

Criswell was convinced that this was the act of some well-seasoned and heartless career criminals, pals of Beaty’s. But, “next thing I know, I got a call from the FBI, and right after that a call from the San Bernardino sheriff’s office” Criswell says, sounding as stunned as he probably did 47 years ago. Letters left behind at the scene revealed a connection between Beaty and two Venceremos members: Andrea Holman, the 18-year old daughter of esteemed Stanford medical professor Halsted Holman, and Venceremos central committee member Jean Hobson, a middle-aged community organizer who had run an unsuccessful campaign for city council just a year earlier. Since Criswell was considered an expert on the small group, he was immediately brought in on the case.

Almost more incriminating than the letters found at the scene was the headline that adorned the cover of the Halloween edition of Venceremos’ biweekly newspaper, Pamoja Venceremos. It read: “Ron Beaty: Political Prisoner of War Liberated.” In an act of either revolutionary audaciousness or just downright stupidity, the group claimed ignorance about Beaty’s escape yet dedicated a good portion of the issue to defending it. Defining Beaty as a “jailhouse lawyer, internationalist revolutionary and member of Venceremos,” the group proclaimed his escape as “a people’s victory.” Printed alongside an over-the-top hard-luck life biography about the man, entitled “Free Again Among the People,” was a blocked-out rectangle where a photo of Beaty would normally have appeared. Instead, within the space, it read:

“We have decided not to run Ron’s picture because we expect this can only aid the pigs in their search for him. We understand how difficult it must be to relate to a faceless person but … Pamoja is read by many pig agencies throughout the country as well as throughout the world. And they would just love to have an actual photograph.”

two people making fists

Doug Burt and Andrea Homan at a press conference before turning themselves into the FBI for their role in Ron Beaty’s prison escape.

When questioned about their involvement in the escape plan, a Venceremos spokesman gave this doublespeak answer: “The people freed Beaty and Venceremos is the people.”  A succession of Venceremos comrades were brought in and questioned until Andrea Holman  finally turned herself in, as did Doug Burt, her 30-year-old ex-con fiancé, whom she’d met while working with the Venceremos prison outreach program — the same program that had brought Beaty to their organization. In a photo printed in Pamoja Venceremos, Holman is seen being led away in handcuffs, flashing a knowing smile while raising her revolutionary fist as high as her restraints would allow.

On December 11, the other suspect, Jean Hobson, and Beaty were apprehended crossing the Bay Bridge with a trunkload of weapons and explosives. Once in custody, Beaty gave the FBI a vivid recount of everything he’d been up to for the past two months. Beginning his tale with his time holed up with Hobson in a cabin in the hills of San Mateo where Venceremos was hatching plans to train an army of freed convicts, he detailed an odyssey that weaved together digging for dynamite with Hobson at a Little League baseball field near Bakersfield; a rendezvous to collect false identification and cash procured for him by Bruce Franklin; and a trip out to Fort Defiance, Arizona, to lay low with a former Stanford law student. Somewhere in there, he also accused a 23-year-old neighbor of Hobson’s named Robert Seabock of the murder of Jesus Sanchez, the prison guard.

one person in handcuffs walking next to another person

Holman being led away in handcuffs by an FBI agent while raising her fist in a revolutionary salute.

It turned out Beaty was not a downtrodden member of the lumpenproletariat ready to join an armed struggle after all, but rather an actual con man who’d taken advantage of an overzealous group of radicals by speaking their political language and falsely claiming to be pals with George Jackson, the celebrated prison radical who’d been slain in a botched escape the previous summer. In exchange for his colorful tale, Beaty received a lighter sentence for his part in the Sanchez murder.

A little over a week later, Don Criswell received a call at dawn from the FBI, letting him know that they would be executing a series of early-morning raids against the Venceremos members Beaty had said planned his escape. Franklin had the door of his homekicked in by a crew of well-dressed and well-armed G-men as his wife ate breakfast. Meanwhile, at the Seabock residence, Criswell assisted the FBI in tearing through the house. Soon enough, they had found the gun used in the murder of Jesus Sanchez, along with metal pipes cut for bombs and an arsenal of empty hand grenades. Left behind to clean up the feds’ mess after they took Seabock into custody, Criswell walked out of the home in the late morning to a throng of menacing Venceremos members, who had been looking on for hours.

According to the reports published in Pamoja, Criswell cut through the crowd repeatedly screaming, “The revolution is over!” When I asked Criswell if this was actually true, he paused for a beat before replying, “Well, I didn’t scream it.” 

Hobson, Holman and Burt were all found guilty of second-degree murder, while Seabock received life in prison for murder in the first degree. Hobson’s son, Bruce, and another Venceremos member, Mort Newman, received five years for harboring Beaty. Franklin was released due to a lack of evidence about his involvement. “The FBI tried desperately to prove I had some connection with it,” says Franklin. “Finally, the guy they had who was saying I did this and I did that said under oath that he was lying about it all. We never met. We never talked.” Letting out an exasperated sigh, Franklin mutters, “I have to live with it.”


In a Pamoja issue from late summer 1973, a small notice appears in the right-hand corner of the first page, asking, “What’s Happened to Thero?”

Incarcerated for assaulting a police officer, Thero Wheeler was one of the key Venceremos members recruited through their prison outreach program. An escape attempt from Soledad State Prison had gotten him transferred in the fall of 1972 to a facility further north in Vacaville that was known for performing “stress assessment” programs — a combination of zombifying drugs and electroshock therapy — on overly violent prisoners.

The notice in Pamoja Venceremos reported that Wheeler had recently vanished from Vacaville, but unlike the veiled victory reports about the Beaty breakout that the paper had run a year earlier, the tone of this article displayed concern for the inmate, fearing that he might have either been secretly snuffed out by the wardens or finally succumbed to an ulcer that the facility had long been refusing to treat.

Pamoja never got a chance to follow up on Wheeler’s whereabouts. That was the last issue that would be published before Venceremos finally fell apart under the pressure of the Beaty breakout investigation.

When compared to the gory fanfare of Ronald Beaty’s escape, Thero Wheeler’s tale of evasion is downright boring. As Brad Schreiber wrote in his book Revolution’s End, after renouncing his affiliation with Venceremos in a letter to Vacaville prison officials, Wheeler was allowed a cushy work detail mowing lawns at a nearby Little League baseball field. On the morning of August 2, 1973, Wheeler just kept mowing and never looked back.

Later, Wheeler claimed he’d been picked up by Venceremos associates and brought to Palo Alto, where he met yet another radical escaped con, the lifelong criminal Donald DeFreeze. Not only had DeFreeze been transferred from Vacaville to Soledad at the same time that Wheeler had been sent to Vacaville for his escape attempt from Soledad, but they had also replaced each other in both locations as the facility leaders of Unisight, a study group founded by DeFreeze with the help of Colston Westbrook, a Berkley professor heavily involved in the prison reform movement.

Even more strange was how similar both men’s escapes had been. After completing a course in boiler maintenance, DeFreeze had been trusted with an overnight shift fixing the heating system in the dormant wing of the prison’s south facility. On his first night on the job, way back in March, DeFreeze had simply walked out the door and receded into the dark of night, with no one giving the slightest care where he had disappeared to.

DeFreeze brought Wheeler to Oakland to meet the people who had been harboring him since his escape. In a cramped one-bedroom apartment that many former Venceremos members breezed in and out of, DeFreeze shared his plans for something he’d been working on since his time in prison. It was the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a new leftist guerilla group that he was attempting to form from a bewildering gaggle of revolutionary stragglers. Vin McLellan writes in his book The Voices of Guns that the notebook DeFreeze handed over to Wheeler, adorned with a seven-headed cobra on the front, contained plans for guerilla warfare that would have made even the most fervent Venceremos member either howl with laughter or break into a frightened sweat.

“I told him it was a bunch of garbage,” said Wheeler, as reported in The Voices of Guns. “It wasn’t realistic as far as revolution was concerned. It was bullshit. It was suicide.” But it was too late. One of the people harboring DeFreeze, Nancy Ling Perry — under the pseudonym Fahizah, had already penned and mailed out the SLA’s declaration of war to the media, and lists of potential targets were being assembled.

Despite Wheeler’s objections, the SLA let their presence be known on the evening of November 6 with the assassination of Oakland’s first African-American public school superintendent, Marcus Foster, over his proposal to issue identification cards to students to eliminate drug dealing on school campuses.

Residents of the community originally assumed the murder was racially motivated. The vanguard of East Bay radicalism, the Black Panther Party, called for the immediate apprehension of the culprits. When the SLA delivered a communiqué to the media the next day revealing their motives, it added to the public’s confusion over the murder. Were SLA members so lost in their never-never land of revolution that they didn’t notice how tone-deaf their actions were? Made up of a garbled mess consisting of politically righteous jargon, shoot-on-sight orders targeting the rest of the Oakland Board of Education, and home-brewed conspiracies about Foster’s ID program being fashioned to reflect the apartheid system in South Africa, the message ended with:


When this abruptly assembled group of cartoonish radicals somehow pulled off the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the 19-year-old granddaughter of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, in February of the next year, it resulted in a barrage of articles from Bay Area media connecting the SLA to the recently disbanded Venceremos. The papers were quick to point out that Joseph Remiro — the SLA member now imprisoned for the murder of Marcus Foster — was a former weapons expert for Venceremos, and when a composite sketch of Thero Wheeler was released as one of the three people who kidnapped Patty Hearst, newspapers started referring to the SLA as a break-off from Venceremos.

Still unemployed after being fired by Stanford two years earlier, an obviously embittered Bruce Franklin flatly denied knowing any of those tied to the crimes, bluntly telling The Stanford Daily that the allegations were “getting me pissed off. People will go through the goddamndest mental contortions I ever heard to link the SLA and Venceremos.”

Other former members of Venceremos released a statement simply discrediting the SLA as “anti-working class, anti-revolutionary, anti-communist,” while declaring, “Terrorism cannot help accomplish the seizure of power by the working class, but only set it back.”

Others didn’t see it that way — and still don’t.

“Venceremos and the SLA were one and the same,” Don Criswell says, very matter-of-factly. “Whether they were or not, that’s the way they were viewed by us in law enforcement. Venceremos were on the losing end of things by that time. They had been being busted, harassed and beaten up, and their following drifted away. This was them transfiguring themselves from Venceremos into SLA.”

This connection only seemed stronger when Hearst magically changed from rich kid to radical overnight, joined the SLA, and signed her commencement communiqué by exclaiming “Venceremos!” at the end. It might be a coincidence. It might be not.

footage of a bank holdup

Screenshot from video footage of Patricia Hearst and Donald DeFreeze of the Symbionese Liberation Army robbing a bank in San Francisco, April 15, 1974.Image Courtesy Federal Bureau of Investigation

But still … it’s strange.

Asked about the connection between Venceremos and the SLA, Bruce Franklin is curt in his response: “We vehemently denounced the SLA. We thought they were counterrevolutionary from the beginning, and I’ve continuously made my personal opinion about that very clear.”

Others describe the possible links between the two groups as less concrete. “It was a radical community with people floating around,” remembers Jim Wolpman, a lawyer who worked with Venceremos. “Maybe someone goes up to Oakland for a meeting and meets someone and then they meet somebody … ”


By the time the revolutionary soap opera of the SLA finally came to a close in the fall of 1975 with the capture of surviving members Bill and Emily Harris as well as Patty Hearst, the revolution seemed like a distant memory for some — the equivalent of a dance craze or hairstyle fad.

Despite articles still being published painting him as some kind of communist Charles Manson, Bruce Franklin quickly landed a book deal for his revolutionary memoir, Back Where You Came From. He also secured a new faculty position at Rutgers University. Throughout his long tenure with that institution, no one seemed to mind his radical rabble-rousing past, or the introduction he wrote for the book The Essential Stalin — while also racking up a bevy of teaching awards and having books published on topics ranging from the Vietnam War to science fiction to the menhaden fish, before retiring and moving back to the West Coast in 2016.

A few weeks prior to the Beaty breakout, Aaron Manganiello resigned from the central committee of Venceremos, stating he felt “incapable of providing strong leadership for the organization.”

Statement regarding Aaron Manganiello’s departure from Venceremos, as published in Pamoja Venceremos, October 10, 1972.

“I think Aaron fell out of favor with the rest of the group,” suspects Don Criswell. “Especially when Venceremos became more about some vague idea of revolution and less about Chicano causes.” During the FBI’s investigation into the Patty Hearst kidnapping, Manganiello was approached by agents for information and, surprisingly, spoke very frankly with them. Burnt out on Palo Alto politics, Manganiello admitted to knowing former Venceremos cadre and Foster murderer Joseph Remiro well and expressed regret over the Beaty incident. According to the agents: “[Manganiello] believes he is somewhat responsible for [Hobson, Holman, Bert and Seabock] facing long prison terms in as much as they followed his revolutionary rhetoric.”

Later, Manganiello operated a substance abuse counseling service out of his home, until suffering a stroke that led to his death in 2009.

Looking back on his time chasing Venceremos around the Bay Area Mid-Peninsula, Don Criswell feels empathy for the younger members who got caught up in the radical adventurism of the times. “A lot of naive young people were brought into this organization and cause, and suffered consequences, whether they were arrested or prosecuted or spent time in prison,” he says. “Hundreds of them went to jail. The leaders of Venceremos are responsible for a lot of people having their lives ruined, including that Chino officer. The leaders were smart enough to know better, and I don’t know what they got out of it.”

Soon after the sketch of Thero Wheeler was released to the press, eyewitnesses asserted that the other male who had abducted Hearst was not Wheeler but Bill Harris. No one really knew where Wheeler was, and over the following year, he bounced around America’s radical underground in an unsuccessful pursuit of a doctor to help with his bleeding ulcer. When he got back to Oakland and heard that the SLA was actually after him for knowing too much, he kept moving until he found a job in Houston that offered him health insurance. Employed under the alias of Bradley Bruce, he finally got the surgery that he had so desperately needed for years. The fact that the job was working on an assembly line making burglar alarms adds on a very thick coating of irony. Wheeler got comfortable in his new life. He got married and had a daughter. Then in July of 1974, he entered an emergency room with a gunshot wound after attempting to break up an altercation between two men. He was arrested soon after and returned to California to finish out his sentence.

William Shockley’s number one opponent, Ho Kwon Ping, moved back to Singapore to become an investigative journalist but ended up doing hard time due to some of his articles.

Singaporean businessman Ho Kwon Ping, 2017.  Photo courtesy of Hanyaisback via Wikimedia

“You realize in solitary confinement who you are and who you are not,” Ping told the BBC in 2010. “I realized I was not Nelson Mandela. The causes for which I might have been imprisoned for were not the causes that I really could identify with.”

It’s nice to see that the revolution worked out for somebody.

Tony Rettman is the author of three highly regarded books on the history of American Hardcore Punk: Why Be Something That You’re Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979–1985 (Revelation Records Publishing, July 2010), NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980–1990 (Bazillion Points, December 2014) and Straight Edge: A Clear-Headed Hardcore Punk History (Bazillion Points, November 2017). His writing has appeared in The Village Voice, Vice, The Guardian, The Wire and Red Bull Music Academy. You can purchase his books here.

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This post originally appeared on Narratively and was published September 30, 2020. This article is republished here with permission.

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