Not the Camilla We Knew

One Woman’s Path from Small-town America to the Symbionese Liberation Army

2022
Author:

Rachael Hanel

The mystery of how an ordinary Minnesota girl came to be, briefly, one of the most wanted domestic terrorists in the United States

During this time of mounting unrest and violence, Camilla Hall’s story is of urgent interest for what it reveals about the forces of radicalization. But as Rachael Hanel ventures further into Camilla’s past, searching out the critical points where character and cause intersect, her book becomes an intriguing, disturbing, and deeply moving journey into the dark side of America’s promise.

Who are the shadows in the background of shocking events? Rachael Hanel’s compelling exploration of Camilla Hall, a likable Minnesota social worker turned Berkeley lesbian artist turned player in the most notorious political kidnapping of its time, grippingly illuminates the barely perceptible line between an unrelenting passion for justice and devastating choices from which one can’t return.

Barrie Jean Borich, author of Apocalypse, Darling and Body Geographic

Behind every act of domestic terrorism there is someone’s child, an average American whose life took a radical turn for reasons that often remain mysterious. Camilla Hall is a case in point: a pastor’s daughter from small-town Minnesota who eventually joined the ranks of radicals like Sara Jane Olson (aka Kathleen Soliah) in the notorious Symbionese Liberation Army before dying in a shootout with Los Angeles Police in May 1974. How could a “good girl” like Camilla become one of the most wanted domestic terrorists in the United States? Rachael Hanel tells her story here, revealing both the deep humanity and the extraordinary circumstances of Camilla Hall’s life.

Camilla’s childhood in a tight-knit religious family was marred by loss and grief as, one after another, her three siblings died. Her path from her Minnesota home to her final, radical SLA family featured years as an artist and activist—in welfare offices, political campaigns, union organizing, culminating in a love affair that would be her introduction to the SLA. Through in-depth research and extensive interviews, Hanel pieces together Camilla’s bewildering transformation from a “gentle, zaftig, arty, otherworldy” young woman (as one observer remarked), working for social change within the system, into a gun-wielding criminal involved in the kidnapping of Patty Hearst.

During this time of mounting unrest and violence, Camilla Hall’s story is of urgent interest for what it reveals about the forces of radicalization. But as Hanel ventures ever further into Camilla’s past, searching out the critical points where character and cause might intersect, her book becomes an intriguing, disturbing, and ultimately deeply moving journey into the dark side of America’s promise.

Cover alt text: Group photo, with Camilla in black and white divided by slashes from colorized parents on left and Patricia Soltysik on right.

Rachael Hanel is associate professor of creative nonfiction and journalism at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her book We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, also from the University of Minnesota Press, was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award. Her essays have been published in print and online in the anthology Love and Profanity: A Collection of True, Tortured, Wild, Hilarious, Concise, and Intense Tales of Teenage Life; Slag Glass City; Midwestern Gothic; WLA: War, Literature, and the Arts; The Bellingham Review; and New Delta Review.

Who are the shadows in the background of shocking events? Rachael Hanel’s compelling exploration of Camilla Hall, a likable Minnesota social worker turned Berkeley lesbian artist turned player in the most notorious political kidnapping of its time, grippingly illuminates the barely perceptible line between an unrelenting passion for justice and devastating choices from which one can’t return.

Barrie Jean Borich, author of Apocalypse, Darling and Body Geographic

In this captivating work of narrative journalism, Rachael Hanel explores how people can become radicalized in the face of governmental failure, charting the path from idealism to violence to tragedy. At its heart, this is a book about womanhood and belonging—and one woman’s quest to understand another, to find the empathy and humanity that live beyond the headlines if we only try hard enough to see.

Melissa Faliveno, author of Tomboyland: Essays

Contents

Prologue. Camilla Is Killed: May 17, 1974

Introduction: The Woman in the Picture

Part I. Camilla Established

1. “We Begin When We First Met”

2. “Their First Concern”

3. “It Was a Troubled Spring, Heavy with Grief”

4. Camilla Goes to College

5. Camilla Gets a Job

6. A Turning Point

Part II. Camilla Transformed

7. Camilla Moves to California

8. Camilla and Mizmoon

9. The SLA Forms

10. Camilla Moves to Francisco Street

11. Camilla Joins the SLA

12. The SLA Kidnaps Patty: February 4, 1974

13. Camilla Slips Away

14. Camilla inside the SLA

Part III. Camilla Revealed

15. Crumbs on the Trail

16. The Missing Letters

17. “A Perfect, Loving Daughter”

18. The Last Christmas

19. The Sole Survivor

20. “She Was a Pacifist”

21. “I’m Not Surprised”

22. Camilla Reveals Herself

23. A Parallel Story

24. A Visit to Chowchilla

25. Nan

26. Good Girls Gone Bad

Epilogue: “It Has Been a Wonderful Life”

Acknowledgments

Notes

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About E-books

Available in December 2022