Black Panther Party: Confronting The FBI’s COINTELPRO

“They came down on us because we had a grass-roots, real people’s revolution, complete with the programs, complete with the unity, complete with the working coalitions, we were crossing racial lines.” (Bobby Seale: Black Panther Party Founding Member)

Its no coincidence that Marvel’s Black Panther Film features a scene in which our hero, the King of Wakanda is seated on his Throne. The scene which is based on a famous photograph of Huey Newton, one of the Founding Member of the Black Panther Party, is a homage not only to Huey Newton himself, but the entire Black Panther Resistance movement.

It is a reference to actual History within what is essentially a fictional narrative. Nevertheless, in making this reference,  we are reminded of the real Black Panther Party, and ultimately, the reality of Black, African-American and broader class struggle that  the Black Panther Party represented.

In recognising this struggle, we are similarly confounded by its virtual disappearance, only to discover that this disappearance was effectively planned and executed at the highest levels of American Government via Counter-Intelligence Programmes such as the now infamous COINTELPRO.

COINTELPRO: STATE REPRESSION OF PROTEST MOVEMENTS

COINTELPRO (an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) was a series of covert, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. FBI records show that COINTELPRO resources targeted groups and individuals that the FBI deemed subversive, including anti-Vietnam War organizers, activists of the Civil Rights Movement or Black Power movement (e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panther Party) and a variety of organizations that were part of the broader New Left.

The FBI has used covert operations against domestic political groups since its inception; however, covert operations under the official COINTELPRO label took place between 1956 and 1971.

Beginning in 1969, leaders of the Black Panther Party were targeted by the COINTELPRO and “neutralized”. Some of the Black Panthers affected included Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Zayd Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Marshall Conway.

On March 24, 1971, The Washington Post ran a cover story on the vast program initiated by the FBI in 1956 to neutralize suspicious persons and organizations. Although initially formed to target the Communist Party U.S.A., it was quickly expanded to include a wide range of groups considered “subversive.”

No segment had been as central to COINTELPRO operations as civil rights activists. A wider scope of the FBI’s actions, however, was not known until Congressional hearings five years later. What came to light was exceptionally chilling—seeped in its own racism, without any checks or balances, the FBI devoted more resources to harming the Civil Rights movement than any other task in its purview.

Hoover

J Edgar Hoover: FBI Director

Every major advocate for black people in the country had been targeted by the Bureau. In fact, there was little differentiation between ideological lines and black leadership. In a meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson, Hoover said in reference to black nationalist Malcolm X and integrationist King, “we wouldn’t have any problem if we could get those two guys fighting, if we could get them to kill one another off…”

LEGACY: FROM COINTELPRO TO NYPD’S HIP HOP SQUAD (RAPCOINTELPRO)

COINTELPRO tactics are still used to this day, and have been alleged to include discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination.

Hoover’s behavior is often viewed as paranoid and even exceptional, but he operated with the full sanction of the wider state. During the civil rights movement, three U.S. presidents: John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon all supported Hoover’s efforts which were codified to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize” targeted organizations. This would be achieved through various and sundry tools, including illegal activities.

COINTELPRO used informants, agent provocateurs, infiltrators, legal and illegal wiretaps, break-ins, false correspondence, and “bad-jacketing,” which was the act of making a legitimate member of a group appear to be a collaborator with the state. Psychological warfare included calling the parents of young civil rights activists to inform them that their children had been murdered or kidnapped.

For the past decade, the New York Police Department has had an established ‘Hip Hop Squad’ monitoring the activities and influence of the Hip Hop Industry. This seems to be an adapted version of COINTELPRO for the 21st Century dubbed ‘RAPCOINTELPRO’.

Conclusion

The FBI ultimately succeeded in neutralising organisations like the Black Panther Party as charges were brought against the top membership who were then imprisoned for long periods. Mutulu Shakur and Geronimo Pratt are amongst the most known former Black Panther leaders handed long prison sentences.

Other members like Assata Shakur sought exile in Cuba, and those that remained, most notably Tupac’s mother, faced a hostile system as ‘Red-flagged’ individuals with limited Job opportunities etc even when they were not convicted of any crimes.

Nevertheless, the Black Panther Party symbolised an important resurgence in class struggle within America post Civil Rights, and the fact that today we have a Film that has become a Pop-Culture phenomenon bears witness to the Black Panther Party’s impact.

Check out the links below for more on COINTELPRO, the Black Panther Party and the NYPD’s Hip Hop Taskforce.

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Links & Credits

COINTELPRO https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-fbis-war-on-civil-rights-leaders

Black Panther Party History: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/workers/black-panthers/index.htm

NYPD Hip Hop Taskforce: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/politicalpalace/is-nypd-s-hip-hop-task-force-for-real-t9343.html

Wikipedia.com

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