Spies and psychological warfare defeats the Black Panthers
Paid informers, FBI agents infiltrated to foment internal disagreement, homicides, repeated raids and the unscrupulous use of means of information: using methods which were on the very edge of legality, between the second half of the 60’s and the beginning of the 70’s, FBI agents destroyed the Black Panthers, the organization of militant Afro-Americans which aimed to subvert public order. The record of the Black Panthers is studied by the American Intelligence Community because it has certain likenesses to the danger posed by the Islamic terrorist cells. Today, as before, the danger comes from groups of American citizens which, joined by strong ideological motivations, operate in an organized way on the national territory constituting a serious threat to public security and relying on charitable works to strengthen their position and recruit new followers.
The Black Panther party
The Black Panther party for Self-defence originated in the Autumn of 1996 at Oakland, in California, on the initiative of three black revolutionary nationalist militants – Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Richard Aoki, co-authors of a ten point programme, which proposed as a political objective, the total autonomy of the Afro-Americans and legitimized the use of violence to protects themselves from the white abuse of power.
The three founders, ideologists of the black liberation, refuse Martin Luther King’s approach in favour of integration into the American society and, instead, pursue a face-to-face confrontation with what they define as “the white racist power structure”.
While Martin Luther was a non-violent, the Black Panthers organized themselves in self-defence cells according to the writings of Malcolm X, in which the rebellion of the minority, “by all possible means”, is invoked.
The resentment of the Afro-American community towards the racist attitude of the police, defined “occupation force” is what helps the Black Panthers in their recruiting efforts: in 1966 only 16 out of the 661 police officers in Oakland are Afro-American, while the turmoil which spread from Los Angeles to Birmingham, Alabama, has, as a background, the excesses of police agents towards the black people, particularly in the poor districts.
In order to confront these excesses, the Black Panthers organize patrols of volunteers – the Copwatch – to follow the policemen, at a distance, to watch their behaviour. Often the volunteers are armed and clashes with police cause many victims.
These episodes induce the Police Departments to increase the number of Afro-American agents which, in time, become a decisive factor in facing the armed militants on the streets. In 1972, when the Black Panthers cease to exist as an organized group, there is no longer disproportion between the number of white and Afro-American agents.
Another characteristic of the Black Panthers is, since its foundation, their commitment to the poorest communities – from California, Chicago to New York – consisting in the distribution of food, clothes and any other kind of help, even free lessons in the schools, with the purpose of diffusing ideas and programmes of black nationalism, in which the aim is to reach “total independence under the protection of the UNO” and in this way, dividing the United States.
The five pillars of Cointelpro
In 1967, the FBI resorts to the secret programme named Cointelpro (Counter Intelligence Program) to neutralize all of the groups of black nationalists. The following year, Edgar Hoover, defines the Black Panthers as “the most serious threat to the internal security of the nation” because “it is a case of militants who are schooled in the Marxist-Leninist and Chinese-communist teachings. They attack police agents and go around the United States to spread a gospel of violence, not only in the ghettos, but also among students of colleges, universities and, even high schools”.
With a view to dismantling these cells, the FBI launches, within the Cointelpro, an unprecedented plan of intervention with the aim of exploiting the Black Panthers’ own violence to neutralize them.
Five directive actions are chosen: infiltrate agents and informers, not only to spy on the political activists, but to undermine the unity of the group, pushing them to fight among themselves; spread false news through anonymous letters, telephone calls and newspaper articles; exploit every legal cavil to render their lives impossible; instigate violence between the Black Panthers and other militant groups; organize raids and arrests in order to decimate the organization.
The war of the FBI
The method chosen was that of “intensifying the level of animosity” between the Black Panthers and the rival groups, for example, the Blackstone Rangers of Chicago, by sending poison pen letters, which reveal conspiracies, ambushes and intrigues.
The objective, of course, is to push the Rangers to avenge themselves by attacking the Black Panther leaders, thus sparking off gang warfare capable of decimating both factions.
Something similar also happened in South California, where the FBI used anonymous letters to create suspicion among the Black Panther ranks: certain missives contained cartoons which ridiculed the more prominent leaders, while other fomented dissension with the rival group, the United Slaves.
The result is a gang war which leads to the elimination, by the United Slaves, of four local Black Panther leaders in the area of San Diego, with the federal agents monitoring every single clash, but without once intervening.
Between 1975 and 1976, when the Washington Senate Intelligence Commission conducted and enquiry on the “Secret FBI programme to destroy the Black Panthers”, the deposition of the Vice-director of the FBI, James Adamas excluded that there had ever been any decision adopted to “favour violence”, but in reality, what Congress revealed was quite different.
In May 1970, for instance, FBI documents of Los Angeles prove that the agents believed they could capitalize on the reciprocal hostility among the Black Nationalist groups and on the spreading of anonymous letters. And this was only the tip of the iceberg.
The FBI does not spare means to push the various groups into war: thanks to the informers, false information on non-existent rivalry is circulated and elements of discord are spread among the leaders. In some cases, members of the gang in the pay of the FBI, are literally ordered to eliminate the Black Panthers with strategically selected executions.
The office of the San Diego FBI, experiment a new tactic: first push the United Slaves to kill two members of the Black Panthers and then send to the homes of other Black Panther members, ironical cartoons on the murdered members, signed by the United Slaves.
The acceleration of the gang war is the objective of FBI and when occasional truces are established among the rivals – as it happened in South California in 1969, – a new homicide is committed to revive the dormant tensions.
From a memorandum of the San Diego Police, dated 18th of September 1969, a certain note of satisfaction leaks out: “Homicides, ambushes and a high rate of violence continues to prevail in the San Diego South-East ghetto, and an important part of this situation of rebellion is to be ascribed to our programme”.
One of the most “productive” elements proves to be the cartoons which are diffused in leaflet form or wall graffiti: they illustrate betrayals, inefficiency, complicity with the police and, on the whole, sting the pride of both the Black Panthers and the United Slaves, forcing them into the abyss of an endless and lethal feud.
The same operative scheme is applied in Chicago, where the rivals of the Black Panthers are the Blackstone Rangers; on the 18th of December, 1968, a stand-up battle following an ambush, concludes with the arrest of 17 militants of the two groups. Eight days later the rival leaders attempt a meeting to sign a ceasefire, but an FBI informer succeeds in obstructing the plan.
The same tactics are repeated in other American cities with the result of an overall weakening of the Black Panthers, who are compelled to defend themselves, contemporaneously, against more than one rival gang.. At this point, Hoover adds to the current activities, an attempt to transfer the rivalry and dissension to the interior of the Black Panther organization.
In March 1969, the FBI send anonymous letters to the Chicago leaders, stating that a certain group of militants intends to desert and, at the same time, in San Diego, anonymous telephone calls are received, reporting certain Black Panthers as “police agents”, while in Los Angeles a wave of arrests takes place in an effort to deter the youngest and most inexperienced recruits from the party.
The detention of Huey Newton in a California jail is instrumental in the organization, by the FBI, of a false correspondence with the representatives of the Black Panthers in Algeria, France and Scandinavia with an end to de-legitimate the groups abroad.
Not infrequently, the militants suspected that behind disputes and false information – such as the alliance with certain homosexual associations – was the hand of the police, but the absence of concrete proof and the difficulties in communication did not help in maintaining the solidarity of the black nationalist groups. The hardest blows found their targets thanks to the informers.
In the May of 1969, Alex Rackley, 24 years old, member the New York group is tortured and killed by his companions as a suspected informer and in the following month of December, during the night, the Federals break into the Chicago home of Fred Hampton, the Black Panther main organizer in the city, while all those present in the house are sleeping due to having been drugged by the police informer, William O’Neal.
Hampton is killed, with his body guard, and other members are dragged in the street and brutally beaten.
The other pillar of Cointelpro is the activity concerned with the destruction of the public image of the Black Panthers: actors, singers, and businessmen who had publicly spoken in their favour, are contacted, summoned to the various precincts and warned about the risks of complicity with “criminal groups”. Also the churches which had hosted charity events, are requested to cease any support to the groups, so as to “guarantee the security of the people attending religious functions”.
Although decimated by arrests, homicides and defections, the Black Panthers party still has a strong point in its own newspaper and so, in May 1970, the FBI offices of Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Haven, New York and San Diego launch a joint operation to sabotage the newspaper circulation which surpasses the 100.000 copies mark and can reach 140.000.
It is the FBI San Diego office that discovers that the Black Panther newspaper enjoys undue fiscal exemptions: once abolished, the new financial weight is exacerbated by a “rarely adopted” tax which impedes commercial activities in residential areas.
To this can be added the pressures on the United Airlines – the air company which transports the newspaper - to make the Black Panther organization pay the highest possible cost for the shipment of the publications. The effect is felt after very few months: the printed copies diminish and so, therefore, also the distribution.
It is still not the KO blow and so Hoover moves another pawn; through printed articles, he manages to mobilize the union of the papers distributors until they refuse to distribute the ]<i>]Black Panther newspaper. As a reaction, the militants turn to the radio, while the founding leaders like Seale launch a tour of meetings. In the first case, the FBI manages to have the radio programmes transmitted with delay while the tour meetings are hampered by bomb attacks – the authors of which are always able to escape.
The last turn of the screw by the FBI, between 1971 and 1972, is applied with the cooperation of the Police Departments: the objective is to tail, obsessively, the remaining members of the Black Panthers till they fall into banal law infringements – to start with traffic violations – to stop and arrest them in continuation, keeping them under constant psychological pressure.
Decimated by arrests, lacerated by internal fights and overburdened by growing costs, the Black Panthers are abandoned by many militants who prefer to enrol with the Black Liberation Army. Others – as is the case of Eldgride Cleaver - move to more moderate positions, decreeing, in fact, the end of the original organization, which had had its highest moment of popularity during the 1968 Olympic Games when the Afro-American sprinters, on the prize giving podium, raised their fists heavenward, in sign of protest.