The judgement of the Symbionese Liberation Army : displaced narratives of 1970s American political violence
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This thesis outlines the perception of homegrown political violence in The United States during the 1970s, as personified by the Symbionese Liberation Army, through a reconstruction and analysis of the critical narratives used to ascribe meaning to them contemporaneously. Scholarship thus far has failed to recognize the importance of this group, dismissing their ineffectual actions and ideology rather than recognizing the broader importance of their cultural permeation. Although the SLA was informed by juvenile political awareness and characterized by largely ineffective revolutionary actions, the failure by most historians of the period to address the form and function of their ubiquitous public image has contributed to the groundless historical assumption that the political violence of the early 1970s was no more than the inevitable result of the personal and political self-indulgences of the 1960s. This misconception has thus far preempted meaningful analysis of this chapter of unprecedented American political violence and the American public’s first interaction with political extremism, articulated through civilian casualties, bombings, kidnapping, and the co-option of print and broadcast media. This experience, and particularly the way in which the SLA was portrayed at that time, contributed to the construction of simplistic dichotomies and vague explanations for political violence that were used contemporaneously to delegitimize protest by the left and justify the governmental abuse of civil liberties and have carried through largely unchanged to public discourse today. A careful analysis of the construction and reception of the SLA's meaning is therefore essential to a more lucid understanding of the times. Accordingly, the goal of this thesis is to reconstruct and analyze the narratives of the SLA in order to understand their role in American culture and 1970s political violence and ultimately to chart their loss of agency and the devaluation of their meaning in both history and public memory.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2024-11-05
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 5th November 2024
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