- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2001

All that Sara Jane Olson, the 54-year-old Minnesota housewife about to stand trial for attempted murder and conspiracy, will admit to is that she is the former Kathy Soliah who went on the lam a quarter-century ago after being indicted by a grand jury. She denies having belonged to the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), the terrorist group that most sensationally kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst in 1974; she denies having been involved in a California bank robbery in 1975 that left Myrna Lee Opsahl, a 42-year-old mother of four, dead of shotgun wounds; and she denies having booby-trapped police cars that same year with pipe bombs. In fact, she denies having had anything to do with bombs although the discovery of her fingerprints inside a locked closetful of bomb-making materials led to her indictment.

"I need to go ahead with this trial so I can get on with my life," she has said. Her statement sounds a tad impatient, no? To be sure, it must be most inconvenient to face felony charges a quarter-century after the fact sorry, after the alleged fact. After all, there she was, a bona fide suburban housewife with three children, a doctor-husband, and a reputation for feather-light cheesecake, when an episode of "America´s Most Wanted" aired Kathy Soliah´s photograph. This, remarkably enough, led to Sara Jane Olson´s 1999 arrest near her home in St. Paul.

Since then, after having been able to "get on with my life" for so many years by just turning her back on a vicious past, Sara Jane Olson has finally had to interrupt her not-so-new, American-dreamy existence and face the evidence of Kathy Soliah´s old infamy. (This is expected to include testimony by Patty Hearst Shaw identifying Ms. Olson as one of four gunmen at the bank where Mrs. Opsahl was killed.)

At first, Ms. Olson´s supporters and they are legion in her community, which raised a snappy $1 million in bail were encouraged by what they believed to be largely circumstantial evidence against her. That was before the court ruled that evidence in 22 other felony cases linked to the SLA could be used in support of the conspiracy charge. As Tony Serra, Ms. Olson´ s lead attorney, put it to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the conspiracy charge "is what I truly worry about. If all this was about is whether Sara placed bombs under police cars, it would be no contest because it would be easy to prove reasonable doubt." "But," continued Mr. Serra, who counts as clients various drug dealers, Hell´s Angels and Black Panthers, "if you´re part of a murderous conspiracy, whether or not you were present during the act, you´re guilty."

The SLA, a small, revolutionary group a gang, really may have come and gone inside of 19 months. But in that time, it carried out two murders, a notorious kidnapping, and a rash of violent bank robberies, bombings and attempted bombings, about all of which Ms. Olson claims complete innocence. In fact, she goes further. She claims she is now a victim of a government scheme to indict, gasp, a generation. Turns out, she is a victim of the spirit of the times, wouldn´t you know it, not just accused as a miserable terrorist, but more like a martyr.

Or, in Ms. Olson´s own inimitable words: "What I mean by indictment of a generation is, they want to make sure, I would think to some extent, because there is a sort of a reawakening now of protests and people beginning to question what is going on in their society, to make sure they are aware of what can happen if you do that, and it can come back to haunt you years later." Translation: Ms. Olson is saying that "they" are prosecuting her to scare others out of protesting or questioning "what is going on in society" lest, years later, they be plucked from the driver´s seat of some kiddie carpool to face a stretch in the slammer.

"Rot" just doesn´t do justice to this grandiose illogic. While Ms. Olson´s case reminds us of a time when the forces of a newly transgressive kind of chaos and violence took shape in our society, she is being prosecuted because there is compelling evidence that she, not her "generation," took part in a wild spree of violence that even now, even as Ms. Olson has lived so pleasantly and so well, amounts to a wreckage of broken lives. And there´s no running away from that.


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