LOS ANGELES - The world as we have known it since Sept. 11 has changed, perhaps irrevocably, but some things remain the same. The '60s - that decade of self indulgent certainty in which many of the spoiled young thought themselves morally superior to their parents' generation - live on, especially in California.
The latest evidence came last week in a courtroom that lacked only the songs of Peter, Paul and Mary to complete the trip back to nostalgiaville.
Sara Jane Olson, aka Kathleen Soliah, went into hiding and embraced a different life and identity after she was charged in 1976 with plotting to kill two police officers by planting bombs under their cars. Arrested in 1999 in St. Paul, Minn., Olson last week plead guilty to two felony counts, shocking many in the courtroom. In a plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to drop three other felony charges which, like the other charges, stemmed from Olson's association with the Symbionese Liberation Army. This radical group gained fame when members kidnapped publishing heiress Patricia Hearst, who eventually joined the SLA. Hearst was pardoned this year by President Clinton before he left office.
What recalled the '60s and the self-absolution of anyone acting in the name of its skewed ideas about justice was that immediately after Olson's guilty plea, she emerged from the courtroom and renounced her plea. Olson promptly began to justify her acts, while simultaneously not admitting to them.
First, there was her explanation about pleading guilty. It wasn't about her. It was about "the tenor of the times," as she put it. She plead guilty, she said, because of the terrorist events of Sept. 11. Olson didn't think she could get an unbiased jury if she went to trial.
Prosecutors said they had an overwhelming amount of evidence that would have convicted Olson at trial. She could have faced a life sentence, but the guilty plea makes it more likely she will only be sentenced to two, 5-year terms.
"I pleaded guilty to something for which I'm not guilty," said Olson. She said the recent terrorist attacks and pro-government mood in the country had persuaded her to accept a deal from prosecutors she had vowed never to accept. "I'm still the same person I was then," she said, referring to her days of political activism.
One of Olson's lawyers, Tony Serra, engaged in legal hair-splitting: "She will explain that she meant she is not guilty of holding the bombs and planting them, but that she is guilty of aiding and abetting. She is factually innocent, but there was a legal basis for her guilt," he stated. Come again?
State Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler called for a private meeting this week with attorneys in the case to determine the next course of action. The question for the meeting will be whether, in fact, Olson understood her plea and, if so, what effect - if any - her subsequent comments should have on the plea bargain and her sentence.
Personal guilt is a concept that continues to afflict many of Olson's generation. Oh, they felt guilty about a lot of things -- but never about what they did. They saw themselves as afflicted only with pristine motives that could tolerate, justify and in some cases even promote violence and murder in order to advance a cause they viewed as holy (in a secular sense, of course, because their focal point of worship was the unholy trinity of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll).
Ronald Bergmann, Deputy Chief of the LAPD, observed the courtroom farce and wrote a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times. Bergmann says he was working in the Hollywood Patrol Division in 1975 when Olson and her friends were role-playing revolutionaries. "I worked with the officers who were targeted by the bomb makers for no other reason than that they were two police officers out doing their job in the community to make it a better place."
Concerning Olson's plea, Bergmann wrote: "Pleading guilty in a court of law means 'I did it.' Olson had the best attorneys, friends who raised the $1 million bail and the passing of 25 years to dull the memories of witnesses. She is guilty and still refuses to accept the responsibility for her actions."
Yes, whether making love or her own kind of war, a '60s radical never has to say she's sorry. The judge should accept Olson's guilty plea, hand down the sentence required by law and declare the '60s over. Olson and her attorneys are blowing in the wind.