Not the Camilla We Knew: One Woman's Life from Small-town America to the Symbionese Liberation Army
The mystery of how an ordinary Minnesota girl came to be, briefly, one of the most wanted domestic terrorists in the United States
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.
Praise for Not the Camilla We Knew: One Woman's Life from Small-town America to the Symbionese Liberation Army
"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
"In this affecting account, creative writing professor Hanel delves into the life of Camilla Hall, who was raised in rural Minnesota by religious parents and died at 29 in a 1974 shoot-out between members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the radical group that kidnapped Patty Hearst, and the Los Angeles police. This nuanced portrait will resonate with many."—Publishers Weekly
"The story’s relevant connections to the happenings in today’s political world will linger with you. You will keep thinking about Camilla’s life and her family long after you finish the book."—KYMN Radio
"Hanel breathes new life and understanding into Hall, who was often ridiculed in mainstream media, and invites readers to understand one woman’s story through a lens less viewed."—Mankato Free Press