Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Taking Aim at the President"

Geri Spieler is an investigative journalist and award-winning speaker. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Forbes. She has a strong professional relationship with her subject, Sara Jane Moore, who she has visited and interviewed in prison for the last thirty years.

Spieler applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Taking Aim at the President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford, and reported the following:
A stable childhood in West Virginia, two attentive parents and plenty of siblings are not what most would consider the makings of a would-be presidential assassin. To the shock of the entire United States, Sara Jane Moore emerged from these seemingly normal beginnings and catapulted herself to the forefront of the public eye when her shot came within six inches of killing President Gerald Ford in 1975.

Sara Jane's assassination attempt failed, but an aura of secrecy still follows in her wake. What led this woman to shun the many opportunities for a typical, sheltered existence as a housewife and mother and opt instead for notoriety? Sara Jane was only 40 feet away when the FBI had arrested her and confiscated her gun only a day prior to the shooting.

I received a letter from Sara Jane Moore asking to meet with her at the prison. My relationship with Sara Jane spanned three decades.

In my book, Taking Aim At The President, I follow Sara Jane's life from her small town childhood to her release from prison in December 2007. Along the way, she entered and dropped out of the military, was married five times, abandoned three children, and was a double agent who infiltrated the political radical community and at the same time was an FBI informant.

My Page 69 is a half a page of text. It is the beginning of Chapter 5, San Francisco's Radical Underground. It is just a slice of the book and would not give the reader any insight to the rest of the story. It is not representative of the scope of the book. If the reader read only this page they would consider it a history of the Symbionese Liberation Army and the architecture Vacaville prison.

The halls of Vacaville prison extend in opposite directions; so far out that it seems infinite. Inmates are housed in cells within the immense complex and form communities with their brothers to better cope with the vastness of the institution.

This chapter forms the background for the stage where Sara Jane enters the life of radical politics. It all began with the birth of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

A significant part of the book deals with the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, her father Randolph and the food giveaway program, People in Need (PIN) the SLA demanded the Hearsts create before they would release Patricia.

The origins of the SLA are little known to most people. The members were largely former UC Berkeley students. The students formed an outside visitation program called the Black Cultural Association (BCA). It was designed to help specifically Black male offenders learn new skills.

BCA had thirty volunteer tutors, mostly from the University of California at Berkeley, who went to the prison to conduct educational programs in math, reading and writing, art, history, political science, black sociology, and African heritage.

Some of the more well known members of the SLA were Emily Harris and Patricia Soltysik who were studying at UC Berkeley on state scholarships. Berkeley radical Wendy Yoshimura was hiding out at Berkeley from a previous bomb charge. William “Willy” Wolfe was the son of an anesthesiologist. He attended prep schools and was a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

Inmate Donald DeFreeze, a BCA member, eventually left Vacaville for Soledad, escaped and became the leader of the SLA. He recruited the visiting college volunteers and they became the army known as the SLA.
Read an excerpt from Taking Aim at the President, and learn more about the book and author at Geri Spieler's website and blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue