Jewish World Review Nov. 14, 2001 / 28 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- ONE overlooked detail in the Sara Jane Olson case is the matter of where the former revolutionary-turned-privileged-housewife was driving when the law nabbed her. By the day of her arrest in 1999, it had been almost a quarter century since Olson changed her name from Kathleen Soliah to go underground as a fugitive, popping up as a doctor's wife and mother in Midwestern suburbia with a busy schedule of volunteering, gourmet cooking and oodles of explosive-free activism. Needless to say, Olson didn't make it to her appointment that day; too many federal agents and policemen surrounded her new minivan.
Now that the well-coifed, 54-year-old ex-member of the Symbionese Liberation Army has finally, if reluctantly, pleaded guilty to conspiring to blow policemen to smithereens, her destination the day of her arrest offers a grim punchline to a sorry story: When apprehended for her former life as a domestic terrorist, Olson was en route to the Ronald M. Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning in St. Paul, where she taught ... citizenship. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, she taught this course "every Wednesday for years."
Scary thought. Imagine the curriculum: "False ID and how to find it"; "Explosives, your rights and the police"; "Remaining a fugitive while driving a minivan." But no, this was a lady in disguise. A hallmark of the Olson case is the way she hoodwinked friends, neighbors and even family members into believing in her innocent ordinariness -- or so they say. Something tells me, though, that turning a blind eye is a reflex action for the grizzled ex-hippies, or "progressives," as they like to be called, who make up the Olson circle.
"Everyone is sad, because she does not deserve to go to jail," longtime friend Mary Ellen Kauza told the Los Angeles Times, still attesting to Olson's blamelessness, if not innocence, even after the guilty plea.
"She would never have copped this plea if she had an option." The newspaper went on to explain that the prevailing view among Olson supporters -- some of whom put second mortgages on their homes and emptied their savings accounts to help make her $1 million bail -- is that Olson had no choice but to plead guilty after Sept. 11. They, along with Olson herself, actually believe she is another victim of the terrorist attack. "Sara had no choice but to plead guilty to something she did not do because she had no chance of getting an impartial jury after Sept. 11," said Hadassa Gilbert, a member of Olson's defense committee.
On one extremely offensive level, this argument is sacrilege. On another, it's plain goofy. Because Arab terrorists recently massacred 5,000 Americans, it doesn't follow that American jurors are champing at the bit to convict a Minnesota doctor's wife for crimes she didn't commit 26 years ago.
Then again, as even some Olson supporters must be wondering, maybe she did commit them. After all, Olson was never exactly willing to face the music, going so far as to seek one trial delay by arguing there weren't enough Latinos on the 1976 grand jury that indicted her (request denied). Now, after all the bake sales are over and the pension plans have been drained, Olson decides to plead guilty. This turn of events doesn't bode well for sales of that wacky cookbook published in the heady days after Olson's arrest: "Serving Time: America's Most Wanted Recipes," by Sara Jane Olson, Her Family and Friends. (Outre touch even Olson might regret: "Photos in the book," the Star Tribune reported, "show Olson vamping for the camera; in one she holds a spatula in one hand, handcuffs in the other.")
"If this was going to be the outcome, I think she should have done this two years ago," Olson friend and fund-raiser Kathy Cima told the Los Angeles Times. The voice of disgruntlement? Hardly. Cima explained that Olson's chances of acquittal were greater two years ago when the prosecution had less evidence.
The absence of outrage is startling. Olson's admission of guilt seems irrelevant to those who now cling, limpet-like, to the belief that a "fair" trial for a woman accused of terrorism at home is impossible while the nation fights terrorism abroad. But is fairness at issue?
Holding reality at bay may come as naturally as recycling to the Olson circle, but here it comes in language any ex-hippie can understand: Sept. 11 raised America's consciousness to the level where violent assaults on democracy, whether aimed at two 2,000, may no longer be justified by facile apologists citing root causes, American hegemony, youthful indiscretion, Kent State, The System or daddy. The prosecution believed it had the evidence to convict. So, obviously, did the defense. Sara Jane Olson will be sentenced on Dec.
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.