I first became aware of author Rachael Hanel when I read her memoir, We’ll be the Last Ones to Let You Down, Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter. Her newest project, out this month from University of Minnesota Press is a biography of Camilla Hall – NOT THE CAMILLA WE KNEW, ONE WOMAN’S PATH FROM SMALL-TOWN AMERICA TO THE SYMBIONESE LIBERATION ARMY. It’s a shocking portrait of a pastor’s daughter from St. Peter, Minnesota, whose life took a radical turn when she joined the SLA, ultimately dying in a shootout with the Los Angeles Police in May 1974.
Hanel spent a decade researching Camilla’s life – reading letters written home to her parents, interviewing friends and family members, and consulting psychologists who gave her insight into Camilla’s radicalization. Born the second child of four to a Lutheran pastor and his wife, the family tragically lost three children to separate illnesses or disease, leaving Camilla an only child.
After serving as missionaries in Africa, the family, at this point with Camilla and one sister still living, moved back to Minnesota. Camilla attended college at Gustavus Adolphus and the University of Minnesota and started her professional life as a social worker in the Twin Cities and Duluth, before ultimately leaving for California to pursue life as an artist. There, she met her lover and the woman who introduced her to the mission of the SLA as it was just beginning.
When Camilla’s prospects of supporting herself with her art began to flag, she went to work for the park system as one of a small handful of women, eventually organizing with other women to force the system into more equitable hiring and compensation practices. But Camilla and the other women were hired as temporary workers and found that they had little bargaining power. When that job ended, Camilla, rootless and looking for a meaningful cause to put her energy toward, joined the SLA. When the SLA kidnapped Patricia Hearst, and robbed a bank, Camilla’s face appeared on wanted posters all over the US.
Hanel’s research is robust – and gives her enough information to speculate about Camilla’s motivation to become involved with the SLA. A compelling read about domestic terrorism and how individuals are radicalized.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews on Superior Reads the fourth Thursday of the month at 7:00 pm on WTIP Radio 90.7 Grand Marais, or stream it from the web at http://www.wtip.org.