The FBI's Covert Program
To Destroy the Black Panther Party
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In August 1967, the FBI initiated a covert action program -- COINTELPRO -- to disrupt and "neutralize" organizations which the Bureau characterized as "Black Nationalist Hate Groups." 1 The FBI memorandum expanding the program described its goals as:
1. Prevent a coalition of militant black nationalist groups....
2. Prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the militant nationalist movement ... Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammad all aspire to this position....
3. Prevent violence on the part of black nationalist groups....
4. Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability by discrediting them....
5. . . . prevent the long-range growth of militant black nationalist organizations, especially among youth. 2
The targets of this nationwide program to disrupt "militant black nationalist organizations" included groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), and the Nation of Islam (NOI). It was expressly directed against such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokley Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Maxwell Stanford, and Elijah Muhammad.
The Black Panther Party (BPP) was not among the original "Black Nationalist" targets. In September 1968, however, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described the Panthers as:
"the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.
"Schooled in the Marxist-Leninist ideology and the teaching of Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung, its members have perpetrated numerous assaults on police officers and have engaged in violent confrontations with police throughout the country. Leaders and representatives of the Black Panther Party travel extensively all over the, United States preaching their gospel of hate and violence not only to ghetto residents, but to students in colleges, universities and high schools is well." 3
By July 1969, the Black Panthers had become the primary focus of the program, and was ultimately the target of 233 of the total authorized "Black Nationalist" COINTELPRO actions. 4
Although the claimed purpose of the Bureau's COINTELPRO tactics was to prevent violence, some of the FBI's tactics against the BPP were clearly intended to foster violence, and many others could reasonably have been expected to cause violence. For example, the FBI's efforts to "intensify the degree of animosity" between the BPP and the Blackstone Rangers, a Chicago street gang, included sending an anonymous letter to the gang's leader falsely informing him that the the Chicago Panthers had "a hit out" on him. 5 The stated intent of the letter was to induce the Ranger leader to "take reprisals against" the Panther leadership. 6
Similarly, in Southern California, the FBI launched a covert effort to "create further dissension in the ranks of the BPP." 7 This effort included mailing anonymous letters and caricatures to BPP members ridiculing the local and national BPP leadership for the express purpose of exacerbating an existing "gang war" between the BPP and an organization called the United Slaves (US). This "gang war" resulted in the killing of four BPP members by members of US and in numerous beatings and shootings. Although individual incidents in this dispute cannot be directly traced to efforts by the FBI, FBI officials were clearly aware of the violent nature of the dispute, engaged in actions which they hoped would prolong and intensify the dispute, and proudly claimed credit for violent clashes between the rival factions which. in the words of one FBI official, resulted in "shootings, beatings, and a high degree of unrest in the area of southeast San Diego." 8
James Adams, Deputy Associate Director of the FBI's Intelligence Division, told the Committee:
None of our programs have contemplated violence, and the instructions prohibit it, and the record of turndowns of recommended actions in some instances specifically say that we do not approve this action because if we take it it could result in harm to the individual. 9
But the Committee's record suggests otherwise. For example, in May 1970, after US organization members had already killed four BPP members, the Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles FBI office wrote to FBI headquarters:
Information received from local sources indicate that, in general, the membership of the Los Angeles BPP is physically afraid of US members and take premeditated precautions to avoid confrontations.
In view of their anxieties, it is not presently felt that the Los Angeles BPP can be prompted into what could result in an internecine struggle between the two organizations. . . .
The Los Angeles Division is aware of the mutually hostile feelings harbored between the organizations and the first opportunity to capitalize on the situation will be maximized. It is intended that US Inc. will be appropriately and discreetly advised of the time and location of BPP activities in order that the two organizations might be brought together and thus grant nature the opportunity to take her due course. [Emphasis added.] 10
This report focuses solely on the FBI's counterintelligence program to disrupt and "neutralize" the Black Panther Party. It does not examine the reasonableness of the basis for the FBI's investigation of the BPP or seek to justify either the politics, the rhetoric, or the actions of the BPP. This report does demonstrate, however, that the chief investigative branch of the Federal Government, which was charged by law with investigating crimes and preventing criminal conduct, itself engaged in lawless tactics and responded to deep-seated social problems by fomenting violence and unrest.
A. The Effort to Promote Violence Between the Black Panther Party and Other Well-Armed, Potentially Violent Organizations
The Select Committee's staff investigation has disclosed a number of instances in which the FBI sought to turn violence-prone organizations against the Panthers in an effort to aggravate "gang warfare." Because of the milieu of violence in which members of the Panthers often moved we have been unable to establish a direct link between any of the FBI's specific efforts to promote violence, and particular acts of violence that occurred. We have been able to establish beyond doubt, however, that high officials of the FBI desired to promote violent confrontations between BPP members and members of other groups, and that those officials condoned tactics calculated to achieve that end. It is deplorable that officials of the United States Government, should engage in the activities described below, however dangerous a threat they might have considered the Panthers; equally disturbing is the pride which those officials took in claiming credit for the bloodshed that occurred.
1. The Effort to Promote Violence Between the Black Panther Party and the United Slaves (US), Inc.
FBI memoranda indicate that the FBI leadership was aware of a violent power struggle between the Black Panther Party and the United Slaves (US) in late 1968. A memorandum to the head of the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division, for example, stated:
On 11/2/68, BPP received information indicating US members intended to assassinate Leroy Eldridge Cleaver ... at a rally scheduled at Los Angeles on 11/3/68. A Los Angeles racial informant advised on 11/8/68 that [a BPP member] had been identified as a US infiltrator and that BPP headquarters had instructed that [name deleted] should be killed.
During BPP rally, US members including one [name deleted], were ordered to leave the rally site by LASS members (Los Angeles BPP Security Squad) and did so. US capitulation on this occasion prompted BPP members to decide to kill [name deleted] and then take over US organization. Members of LASS . . . were given orders to eliminate [name deleted] and [name deleted]. 11
This memorandum also suggested that the two US members should be told of the BPP's plans to "eliminate" them in order to convince them to become Bureau informants. 12
In November 1968, the FBI took initial steps in its program to disrupt the Black Panther Party in San Diego, California by aggravating the existing hostility between the Panthers and US. A memorandum from FBI Director Hoover to 14 field offices noted a state of "gang warfare" existed, with "attendant threats of murder and reprisals." between the BPP and US in southern California and added:
In order to fully capitalize upon BPP and US differences as well as to exploit all avenues of creating further dissention in the ranks of the BPP, recipient offices are instructed to submit imaginative and hard-hitting counterintelligence measures aimed at crippling the BPP. 13
As the tempo of violence quickened, the FBI's field office in San Diego developed tactics calculated to heighten tension between the hostile factions. On January 17, 1969, two members of the Black Panther Party -- Apprentice "Bunchey" Carter and John Huggins -- were killed by US members on the UCLA campus following a meeting involving the two organizations and university students. 14 One month later, the San Diego field office requested permission from headquarters to mail derogatory cartoons to local BPP offices and to the homes of prominent BPP leaders around the country. 15 The purpose was plainly stated:
The purpose of the caricatures is to indicate to the BPP that the US organization feels that they are ineffectual, inadequate, and riddled with graft and corruption. 16
In the first week of March, the first cartoon was mailed to five BPP members and two underground papers, all in the San Diego area. 17 According to an FBI memorandum, the consensus of opinion within the BPP was that US was responsible and that the mailing constituted an attack on the BPP by US. 18
In mid-March 1969, the FBI learned that a BPP member had been critically wounded by US members at a rally in Los Angeles. The field office concluded that shots subsequently fired into the, home of a US member were the results of a retaliatory raid by the BPP. 19 Tensions between the BPP and US in San Diego, however, appeared to lessen, and the FBI concluded that those chapters were trying "to talk out their differences." The San Diego field office reported:
On 3/27/69 there was a meeting between the BPP and US organization. . . . Wallace [BPP leader in San Diego] . . . concluded by stating that the BPP in San Diego would not hold a grudge against the US members for the killing of the Panthers in Los Angeles (Huggins and Carter). He stated that lie would leave any retaliation for this activity to the black community. . . .
On 4/2/69, there was a friendly confrontation between US and the BPP with no weapons being exhibited by either side. US members met with BPP members and tried to talk out their differences. 20
On March 27, 1969 -- the day that the San Diego field office learned that the local BPP leader had promised that his followers "would not hold a grudge" against local US members for the killings in Los Angeles -- the San Diego office requested headquarters' approval for three more cartoons ridiculing the BPP and falsely attributed to US. One week later, shortly after the San Diego office learned that US and BPP members were again meeting and discussing their differences, the San Diego field office mailed the cartoons with headquarters' approval. 21
On April 4, 1969 there was a confrontation between US and BPP members in Southcrest Park in San Diego at which, according to an FBI memorandum, the BPP members "ran the US members off." 22 On the same date, US members broke into a BPP political education meeting and roughed up a female BPP member. 21 The FBI's Special Agent in Charge in San Diego boasted that the cartoons had caused these incidents:
The BPP members ... strongly objected being made fun of by cartoons being distributed by the US organization (FBI cartoons in actuality) ... [Informant] has advised on several occasions that the cartoons are "really shaking up the BPP." They have made the BPP feel that US is getting ready to move and this was the cause of the confrontation at Southcrest Park on 4/4/69. 24
The fragile truce had ended. On May 23, 1969, John Savage, a member of the BPP in Southern California, was shot and killed by US member Jerry Horne, aka Tambuzi. The killing was reported in an FBI memorandum which staked that confrontations between the groups were now "ranging from mere harrassment up to and including beating of various individuals." 25 In mid-June, the San Diego FBI office informed Washington headquarters that members of the US organization were holding firearms practice and purchasing large quantities of ammunition:
Reliable information has been received ... that members of the US organization have purchased ammunition at one of the local gun shops. On 6/5/69, an individual identified as [name deleted] purchased 150 rounds of 9 MM ammunition, 100 rounds of .32 automatic ammunition, and 100 rounds of .38 special ammunition at a local gun shop. [Name deleted] was tentatively identified as the individual who was responsible for the shooting of BPP member [name deleted] in Los Angeles on or about 3/14/69. 26
Despite this atmosphere of violence, FBI headquarters authorized the San Diego field office to compose an inflammatory letter over the forged signature of a San Diego BPP member and to send it to BPP headquarters in Oakland, California. 27 The letter complained of the killing of Panthers in San Diego by US members, and the fact that a local BPP leader had a white girlfriend. 28
According to a BPP bulletin, two Panthers were wounded by US gunman on August 14,1969, and the next day another BPP member, Sylvester Bell, was killed in San Diego by US members. 29 On August 36, 1969, the San Diego office, of US was bombed. The FBI believed the BPP was responsible for the bombing. 30
The San Diego office of the FBI viewed this carnage as a positive development and informed headquarters: "Efforts are being made to determine how this situation can be capitalized upon for the benefit of the Counterintelligence Program .... " 31 The field office further noted:
In view of the recent killing of BPP member Sylvester Bell, a new cartoon is being considered in the hopes that it will assist in the continuance of the rift between BPP and US. 32
The San Diego FBI office pointed with pride to the continued violence between black groups:
Shootings, beatings, and a, high degree of unrest continues to prevail in the ghetto area of southeast San Diego. Although no specific counterintelligence action can be credited with contributing to this overall situation, it is felt that a substantial amount of the unrest is directly attributable to this program. [Emphasis added.] 33
In early September 1969, the San Diego field office informed headquarters that Karenga, the Los Angeles US leader, feared assassination by the BPP. 34 It received permission front headquarters to exploit this situation by sending Karenga a letter, purporting to be from a US member in San Diego, alluding to an article in the BPP newspaper criticizing Karenga and suggesting that he order reprisals against the Panthers. The Bureau memorandum which originally proposed the letter explained:
The article, which is an attack on Ron Karenga of the US organization, is self-explanatory. It is felt that if the following letter be sent to Karenga, pointing out that the contents of the article are objectionable to members of the US organization in San Diego, the possibility exists that some sort of retaliatory action will be taken against the BPP . . . . 35
FBI files do not indicate whether the letter, which was sent to Karenga by the San Diego office, was responsible for any violence.
In January 1970, the San Diego office prepared a new series of counterintelligence cartoons attacking the BPP and forwarded them to FBI headquarters for approval. 36 The cartoons were composed to look like a product of the US organization.
The purpose of the caricatures is to indicate to the BPP that the US Organization considers them to be ineffectual, inadequate, and [considers itself] vitally superior to the BPP. 37
One of the caricatures was "designed to attack" the Los Angeles Panther leader as a bully toward women and children in the black community. Another accused the BPP of "actually instigating" a recent Los Angeles Police Department raid on US headquarters. A third cartoon depicted Karenga as an overpowering individual "who has the BPP completely at his mercy . . . ." 38
On January 29, 1970, FBI headquarters approved distribution of these caricatures by FBI field offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The authorizing memorandum from headquarters stated:
US Incorporated and the Black Panther Party are opposing black extremist organizations. Feuding between representatives of the two groups in the past had a tendency to limit the effectiveness of both. The leaders and incidents depicted in the caricatures are known to the general public, particularly among the Negroes living in the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
The leaders and members of both groups are distrusted by a large number of the citizen within the Negro communities. Distribution of caricatures is expected to strengthen this distrust. 39
Bureau documents provided to the Select Committee do not indicate whether violence between BPP and US members followed the mailing of this third series of cartoons.
In early May 1970, FBI Headquarters became aware of an article entitled "Karenga King of the Bloodsuckers" in the May 2, 1970, edition of the BPP newspaper which "vilifies and debases Karenga and the US organization." 40 Two field offices received the following request from headquarters:
[s]ubmit recommendation to Bureau . . . for exploitation of same under captioned program. Consider from two aspects, one against US and Karenga from obvious subject matter; the second against BPP because, inherent in article is admission by BPP that it has done nothing to retaliate against US for killing of Panther members attributed to US and Karenga, an admission that the BPP has been beaten at its own game of violence. 41
In response to this request, the Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles reported that the BPP newspaper article had already resulted in violence, but that it was difficult to induce BPP members to attack US members in Southern California because they feared US members. 42 The Los Angeles field office hoped, however, that "internecine struggle" might be triggered through a skillful use of informants within both groups:
The Los Angeles Division is aware of the mutually hostile feelings harbored between the organizations and the first opportunity to capitalize on the situation will be maximized. It is intended that US Inc. will be appropriately and discretely advised of the time and location of BPP activities in order that the two organizations might be brought together and thus grant nature the opportunity to take her due course. [Emphasis added.] 43
The release of Huey P. Newton, BPP Minister of Defense, from prison in August 1970 inspired yet another counterintelligence plan. An FBI agent learned from a prison official that Newton had told an inmate that a rival group had let a $3,000 contract on his life. The Los Angeles office presumed the group was US, and proposed that an anonymous letter be sent to David Hilliard, BPP Chief of Staff in Oakland, purporting to be from the person holding the contract on Newton's life. The proposed letter warned Hilliard not to be around when the "unscheduled appointment" to kill Newton was kept, and cautioned Hilliard not to "got in my way." 44
FBI headquarters, however, denied authority to send the letter to Hilliard. Its concern was not that the letter might cause violence or that it was improper action by a law enforcement agency, but that the letter might violate a Federal statute:
While Bureau appreciates obvious effort and interest exhibited concerning anonymous letter ... studied analysis of same indicates implied threat therein may constitute extortion violation within investigative jurisdiction of Bureau or postal authorities and may subsequently be embarrassing to Bureau. 45
The Bureau's stated concern with legality was ironic in light of the activities described above.
2. The Effort To Promote Violence Between the Blackstone Rangers and the Black Panther Party
In late 1968 and early 1969, the FBI endeavored to pit the Blackstone Rangers, a heavily armed, violence-prone, organization, against the Black Panthers. 46 In December 1968, the FBI learned that the recognized leader of the Blackstone Rangers, Jeff Fort, was resisting Black Panther overtures to enlist "the support of the Blackstone Rangers." 47 In order to increase the friction between these groups, the Bureau's Chicago office proposed sending an anonymous letter to Fort, informing him that two prominent leaders of the Chicago BPP had been making disparaging remarks about his "lack of commitment to black people generally." The field office observed:
Fort is reportedly aware that such remarks have been circulated, but is not aware of the identities of the individual responsible. He has stated that he would "take care of" individuals responsible for the verbal attacks directed against him.
Chicago, consequently, recommends that Fort be made aware that [name deleted] and [name deleted] together with other BPP members locally, are responsible for the circulation of these remarks concerning him. It is felt that if Fort were to be aware that the BPP was responsible, it would lend impetus to his refusal to accept any BPP overtures to the Rangers and additionally might result in Fort having active steps taken to exact some form of retribution toward the leadership of the BPP. [Emphasis added.] 48
On about December 18, 1968, Jeff Fort and other Blackstone Rangers were involved in a serious confrontation with members of the Black Panther Party.
During that day twelve members of the BPP and five known members of the Blackstone Rangers were arrested on Chicago's South Side. 49 A report indicates that the Panthers and Rangers were arrested following the shooting of one of the Panthers by a Ranger. 49a
That evening, according to an FBI informant, around 10:30 p.m., approximately thirty Panthers went to the Blackstone Rangerss' headquarters at 6400 South Kimbark in Chicago. Upon their arrival Jeff Fort invited Fred Hampton, Bobby Rush and the other BPP members to come upstairs and meet with him and the Ranger leadership. 49b The Bureau goes on to describe what transpired at this meeting:
. . . everyone went upstairs into a room which appeared to be a gymnasium, where Fort told Hampton and Rush that he had heard about the Panthers being in Ranger territory during the day, attempting to show their "power" and he wanted the Panthers to recognize the Rangers "power." Source stated that Fort then gave orders, via walkie-talkie, whereupon two men marched through the door carrying pump shotguns. Another order and two men appeared carrying sawed off carbines then eight more, each carrying a .45 caliber machine gun, clip type, operated from the shoulder or hip, then others came with over and under type weapons. Source stated that after this procession Fort had all Rangers present, approximately 100, display their side arms and about one half had .45 caliber revolvers. Source advised that all the above weapons appeared to be new.
Source advised they left the gym, went downstairs to another room where Rush and Hampton of the Panthers and Fort and two members of the Main 21 sat by a table and discussed the possibility of joining the two groups. Source related that Fort took off his jacket and was wearing a .45 caliber revolver shoulder holster with gun and had a small caliber weapon in his belt.
Source advised that nothing was decided at the meeting about the two groups actually joining forces, however, a decision was made to meet again on Christmas Day. Source stated Fort did relate that the Rangers were behind the Panthers but were not to be considered members. Fort wanted the Panthers to join the Rangers and Hampton wanted the opposite, stating that if the Rangers joined the Panthers, then together they would be able to absorb all the other Chicago gangs. Source advised Hampton did state that they couldn't let the man keep the two groups apart. Source advised that Fort also gave Hampton and Rush one of the above .45 caliber machine guns to "try out."
Source advised that based upon conversations during this meeting, Fort did not appear over anxious to join forces with the Panthers, however, neither did it appear that he wanted to terminate meeting for this purpose. 49c
On December 26, 1968 Fort and Hampton met again to discuss the possibility of the Panthers and Rangers working together. This meeting was at a South Side Chicago bar and broke up after several Panthers and Rangers got into an argument. 49d On December 27, Hampton received a phone call at BPP Headquarters from Fort telling him that the BPP had until December 28, 1968 to join the Blackstone Rangers. Hampton told Fort he had until the same time for the Rangers to join the BPP and they hung up. 49e
In the, wake of this incident, the Chicago office renewed its proposal to send a letter to Fort, informing FBI headquarters:
As events have subsequently developed . . . the Rangers and the BPP have not only not been able to form any alliance, but enmity and distrust have arisen, to the point where each has been ordered to stay out of the other territory. The BPP has since decided to conduct no activity or attempt to do recruiting in Ranger territory. 50
The proposed letter read:
I've spent some time with some Panther friends on the west side lately and I know what's been going on. The brothers that run the Panthers blame you for blocking their thing and there's supposed to be a hit out for you. I'm not a Panther, or a Ranger, just black. From what I see these Panthers are out for themselves not black people. I think you ought to know what they're up to, I know what I'd do if I was you. You might hear from me again.
(sgd.) A black brother you don't know. [Emphasis added.] 51
The FBI's Chicago office explained the purpose of the letter as follows:
It is believed the above may intensify the degree of animosity between the two groups and occasion Forte to take retaliatory action which could disrupt the BPP or lead to reprisals against its leadership.
Consideration has been given to a similar letter to the BPP alleging a Ranger plot against the BPP leadership; however, it is not felt this would be productive principally because the BPP at present is not believed as violence prone as the Rangers to whom violent type activity -- shooting and the like -- is second nature. 52
On the evening of January 13, 1969, Fred Hampton and Bobby Rush appeared on a Chicago radio talk show called "Hot Line." During the course of the program Hampton stated that the BPP was in the "process of educating the Blackstone Rangers." 52a Shortly after that statement Jeff Fort was on the phone to the radio program and stated that Hampton had his facts confused and that the Rangers were educating the BPP. 52b
Oil January 16, Hampton, in a public meeting, stated that Jeff Fort had threatened to blow his head off if he came within Ranger territory. 52c
On January 30, 1969, Director Hoover authorized sending the anonymous letter. 53 While the Committee staff could find no evidence linking this letter to subsequent clashes between the Panthers and the Rangers, the Bureau's intent was clear. 54
B. The Effort To Disrupt the Black Panther Party by Promoting Internal Dissension
1. General Efforts to Disrupt the Black Panther Party Membership
In addition to setting rival groups against the Panthers, the FBI employed the full range of COINTELPRO techniques to create rifts and factions within the Party itself which it was believed would "neutralize" the Party's effectiveness."
Anonymous letters were commonly used to sow mistrust. For example, in March 1969 the Chicago FBI Field Office learned that a local BPP member feared that a faction of the Party, allegedly led by Fred Hampton and Bobby Rush, was "out to get" him. 56 Headquarters approved sending an anonymous letter to Hampton which was drafted to exploit dissension within the BPP as well as to play on mistrust between the Blackstone Rangers and the Chicago BPP leadership:
Just a word of warning. A Stone friend tells me [name deleted] wants the Panthers and is looking for somebody to get you out of the way. Brother Jeff is supposed to be interested. I'm just a black man looking for blacks working together, not more of this gang banging. 57
Bureau documents indicate that during this time an informant within the BPP was also involved in maintaining the division between the Panthers and the Blackstone Rangers. 57a
In December 1968, the Chicago FBI Field Office learned that a leader of a Chicago youth gang, the Mau Mau's, planned to complain to the national BPP headquarters about the local BPP leadership and questioned its loyalty. 58 FBI headquarters approved an anonymous letter to the Mail Mau leader, stating:
Brother [deleted] :
I'm from the south side and have some Panther friends that know you and tell me what's been going. I know those two [name deleted] and [name deleted] that run the Panthers for a long time and those mothers been with every black outfit going where it looked like they was something in it for them. The only black people they care about is themselves. I heard too they're sweethearts and that [name deleted] has worked for the man that's why he's not in Viet Nam. Maybe that's why they're just playing like real Panthers. I hear a lot of the brothers are with you and want those mothers out but don't know how. The Panthers need real black men for leaders not freaks. Don't give up 'brothers. [Emphasis added.] 59
A black friend.
The FBI also resorted to anonymous phone calls. The San Diego Field Office placed anonymous calls to local BPP leaders naming other BPP members as "police agents." According to a report from the field office, these calls, reinforced by rumors spread by FBI informants within the BPP, induced a group of Panthers to accuse three Party members of working for the police. The field office boasted that one of the accused members fled San Diego in fear for his life. 60
The FBI conducted harassing interviews of Black Panther members to intimidate them and drive them from the Party. The Los Angeles Field Office conducted a stringent interview program
in the hope that a state of distruct [sic] might remain among the members and add to the turmoil presently going on within the BPP. 61
The Los Angeles office claimed that similar tactics had cut the membership of the United States (US) by 50 percent. 62
FBI agents attempted to convince landlords to force Black Panther members and offices from their buildings. The Indianapolis Field Office reported that a local landlord had yielded to its urgings and promised to tell his Black Panther tenants to relocate their offices. 63 The San Francisco office sent in article from the Black Panther newspaper to the landlord of a BPP member who had rented an apartment under an assumed name. The article, which had been written by that member and contained her picture and true name, was accompanied by an anonymous note stating, "(false name) is your tenant (true name)" 64 The San Francisco office secured the eviction of one Black Panther who lived in a public housing project by informing the Housing Authority officials that she was using his apartment for the BPP Free Breakfast Program. 65 When it was learned that the BPP was conducting a Free Breakfast Program "In the notorious Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco," the Bureau mailed a letter to the owners of the building:
Dear Mr. (excised):
I would call and talk to you about this matter, but I am not sure how you feel, and I do not wish to become personally embroiled with neighbors. It seems that the property owners on (excised) Street have had enough trouble in the past without bringing in Black Panthers.
Maybe you are not aware, but the Black Panthers have taken over (address deleted). Perhaps if you drive up the street, you can see what they are going to do to the property values. They have already plastered a nearby garage with big Black Panther posters.
-- A concerned property owner. 66
The Bureau also attempted to undermine the morale of Panther members by attempting to break up their marriages. In one case, an anonymous letter was sent to the wife of a prominent Panther leader stating that her husband had been having affairs with several teenage girls and had taken some of those girls with him on trips. 67 Another Panther leader told a Committee staff member that an FBI agent had attempted to destroy his marriage by visiting his wife and showing photographs purporting to depict him with other women. 68
2. FBI Role in the Newton-Cleaver Rift
In March 1970, the FBI initiated a concerted program to drive a permanent wedge between the followers of Eldridge Cleaver, who was then out of the country and the supporters of Huey P. Newton, who was then serving a prison sentence in California. 69 An anonymous letter was sent to Cleaver in Algeria stating that BPP leaders in California were seeking to undercut his influence. The Bureau subsequently learned that Cleaver had assumed the letter was from the then Panther representative in Scandanavia, Connie Matthews, and that the letter had led Cleaver to expel three BPP international representatives from the Party. 70
Encouraged by the apparent success of this letter, FBI headquarters instructed its Paris Legal Attache to mail a follow-up letter, again written to appear as if Matthews was the author, to the Black Panther Chief-of-Staff, David Hilliard, in Oakland, California. The letter alleged that Cleaver "has tripped out. Perhaps he has been working too hard," and suggested that Hilliard "take some immediate action before this becomes more serious." The Paris Legal Attache was instructed to mail the letter:
At a time when Matthews is in or has just passed through Paris immediately following one of her trips to Algiers. The enclosed letter should be held by you until such an occasion arises at which time you are authorized to immediately mail it in Paris in such a manner that it cannot be traced to the Bureau. 71
In early May, Eldridge Cleaver called BPP national headquarters from Algeria and talked with Connie Matthews, Elbert Howard, and Roosevelt Hilliard. A Bureau report stated:
Various items were discussed by these individuals with Hilliard. Connie Matthews discussed with Hilliard "those letters" appearing to relate to the counterintelligence letters, which have been submitted to Cleaver and Hilliard purportedly by Matthews ....
It appears ... that [Elbert Howard] had brought copies of the second counterintelligence letter to David Hilliard with him to Algiers which were then compared with the ... letter previously sent to Cleaver in Algiers and that ... discussed this situation .... 72
The San Francisco Field Office reported that some BPP leaders suspected that the CIA or FBI had sent the letters, while Others suspected the Black Panther members in Paris. A subsequent FBI memorandum indicated that suspicion had focused on the Panthers in Europe. 73
On August 13 1970 -- the day that Huey Newton was released from prison -- the Philadelphia Field Office had an informant distribute a fictitious BPP directive to Philadelphia Panthers, questioning Newton's leadership ability. 74 The Philadelphia office informed FBI Headquarters that the directive:
stresses the leadership and strength of David Hilliard and Eldridge Cleaver while intimating Huey Newton is useful only as a drawing card.
It is recommended this directive ... be mailed personally to Huey Newton with a short anonymous note. The note would indicate the writer, a Community Worker in Philadelphia for the BPP, was incensed over the suggestion Huey was only being used by the Party after founding it, and wanted no part of this Chapter if it was slandering its leaders in private. 75
Headquarters approved this plan on August 19,1970. 76
FBI officials seized on several incidents during the following months as opportunities to advance their program. In an August 1970 edition of the BPP newspaper, Huey Newton appealed to "oppressed groups," including homosexuals, to "unite with the BPP in revolutionary fashion." 77 FBI headquarters approved a plan to mail forged letters from BPP sympathizers and supporters in ghetto areas to David Hilliard, protesting Newton's statements about joining with homosexuals, hoping this would discredit Newton with other BPP leaders. 78
In July and August 1970, Eldridge Cleaver led a United States delegation to North Korea and North Vietnam. Ramparts editor Robert Scheer, who had been a member of the delegation, held a press conference in New York and, according to the Bureau, glossed over the Panther's role in sponsoring the tour. 79 The New York office was authorized to send an anonymous letter to Newton complaining about Sheer's oversight to strain relations between the BPP and the "New Left."'80 On November 13, 1970, the Los Angeles field office was asked to prepare an anonymous letter to Cleaver criticizing Newton for not aggressively obtaining BPP press coverage of the BPP's sponsorship of the trip. 81
In October 1970, the FBI learned that Timothy Leary, who had escaped from a California prison where he was serving a sentence for possessing marijuana, was seeking asylum with Eldridge Cleaver in Algiers. The San Francisco field office, noting that the Panthers were officially opposed to drugs, sent Newton an anonymous letter calling his attention to Cleaver "playing footsie" with Leary. 82 In January when Cleaver publicly condemned Leary, FBI headquarters approved sending Newton a bogus letter from a Berkeley, California commune condemning Cleaver for "divorcing the BPP from white revolutionaries." 83
In December 1970, the BPP attempted to hold a Revolutionary Peoples' Constitutional Convention (RPCC) in Washington, D.C. The Bureau considered the convention a failure and received reports that most delegates had left it dissatisfied. 84 The Los Angeles FBI field office suggested a letter to Cleaver designed to
provoke Cleaver to openly question Newton's leadership ... It is felt that distance and lack of personal contact between Newton and Cleaver do offer a counterintelligence opportunity that should be probed.
In view of the BPP's unsuccessful attempt to convene a Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention (RPCC), it is suggested that each division which had individuals attend the RPCC write numerous letters to Cleaver criticizing Newton for his lack of leadership. It is felt that, if Cleaver received a sufficient number of complaints regarding Newton it might . . . create dissension that later could be more fully exploited. 85
FBI headquarters approved the Los Angeles letter to Cleaver and asked the Washington field office to supply a list of all organizations attending the RPCC. 86 A barrage of anonymous letters to Newton and Cleaver followed:
Two weeks later, the San Francisco office mailed Newton an anonymous letter, supposedly from a "white revolutionary," complaining about the incompetence of the Panthers who had planned the conference. 86a The New York office mailed a complaint to the BPP national headquarters, purportedly from a black student at Columbia University who attended the RPCC as a member of the University's student Afro-American Society. 86b The San Francisco office sent a letter containing an article from the Berkeley Barb to Cleaver, attacking Newton's leadership at the RPCC. Mailed with the article was a copy of a letter to Newton criticizing the RPCC and bearing the notation:
Here is a letter I sent to Huey Newton. I'm sincere and hope you can do something to set him right and get him off his duff. 86c
In January 1971, the Boston office sent a letter, purportedly from a "white revolutionary," to Cleaver, stating in part:
Memorandum from Boston Field Office to FBI Headquarters, 1/8/71. This letter was sent to Cleaver through Oakland BPP headquarters to determine whether the BPP in California would forward the letter to him. (Ibid.)
Dear Revolutionary Comrade:
The people's revolution in America was greatly impeded and the stature of th Black Panther Party, both nationally and internationally, received a major setback as an outcome of the recent Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention. . . .
The Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention did little, if anything, to organize our forces to move against the evils of capitalism, imperialism and racism. Any unity or solidarity which existed between the Black Panther Party and the white revolutionary movement before the Convention has now gone down the tube. . . .
The responsibility of any undertaking as meaningful and important to the revolution . . . should not have been delegated to the haphazard ways of [name deleted] whose title of Convention Coordinator . . . places him in the . . . position of receiving the Party's wrath . . . Huey Newton himself (should) have assumed command . . . .
The Black Panther Party has failed miserably. No longer can the Party be looked upon as the "Vanguard of the Revolution."
Yours in Revolution,
Students for a Democratic Society.
One letter to Cleaver, written to appear as if it had come from Connie Matthews, Newton's personal secretary read in part:
Things around headquarters are dreadfully disorganized with the comrade commander not making proper decisions. The newspaper is in a shambles. No one knows who is in charge. The foreign department gets no support . . . I fear there is rebellion working just beneath the surface . . . .
We must either get rid of the Supreme Commander [Newton] or get rid of the disloyal members. 87
In a January 28, 1971, evaluation, FBI headquarters noted that Huey Newton had recently disciplined high BPP officials and that he prepared "to respond violently to any question of his actions or policies." The Bureau believed that Newton's reaction was in part a "result of our counterintelligence projects now in operation."
The present chaotic situation within the BPP must be exploited and recipients must maintain the present high level of counterintelligence activity. You should each give this matter priority attention and immediately furnish Bureau recommendations . . . designed to further aggravate the dissention within BPP leadership and to fan the apparent distrust by Newton of anyone who questions his wishes. 88
The campaign was intensified. On February 2, 1971, FBI headquarters directed each of 29 field offices to submit within eight days a proposal to disrupt local BPP chapters and a proposal to cause dissention between local BPP chapters and BPP national headquarters. The directive noted that Huey Newton had recently expelled or disciplined several "dedicated Panthers" and
This dissention coupled with financial difficulties offers an exceptional opportunity to further disrupt, aggravate and possibly neutralize this organization through counterintelligence. In light of above developments this program has been intensified ... and selected offices should ... increase measurably the pressure on the BPP and its leaders. 89
A barrage of anonymous letters flowed from FBI field offices in response to the urgings from FBI headquarters. A fictitious letter to Cleaver, signed by the "New York 21," criticized Newton's leadership and his expulsion of them from the BPP. 90 An imaginary New York City member of the Youth Against War and Facism added his voice to the Bureau's fictitious chorus of critics of Newton and the RPCC. 91 An anonymous letter was sent to Huey Newton's brother, Melvin Newton, warning that followers of Eldridge Cleaver and the New York BPP chapter were planning to have him killed. 92 The FBI learned that Melvin Newton told his brother he thought the letter had been written by someone "on the inside" of the BPP organization because of its specificity. 93 Huey Newton reportedly remarked that he was "definitely of the opinion there is an informer in the party right in the ministry." 93a
On February 19, 1971, a false letter, allegedly from a BPP official in Oakland, was mailed to Don Cox, a BPP official close to Cleaver in Algeria. The letter intimated that the recent death of a BPP member in California was the result of BPP factionalism (which the Bureau knew was not the case.) The letter also warned Cleaver not to allow his wife, Kathleen, to travel to the United States because of the possibility of violence. 94
A letter over the forged signature of "Big Man" Howard, editor of the BPP newspaper, told Cleaver:
[Name deleted] told me Huey talked with you Friday and what he had to say. I'm disgusted with things here and the fact that you are being ignored.... It makes me mad to learn that Huey now has to lie to you. I'm referring to his fancy apartment which he refers to as the throne. . . .
I can't risk a call as it would mean certain expulsion. You should think a great deal before sending Kathleen. If I could talk to you I could tell you why I don't think you should. 95
The San Francisco office reported to headquarters that because of the various covert actions instituted against Cleaver and Newton since November 11, 1970:
fortunes of the BPP are at a low ebb.... Newton is positive there is an informant in Headquarters. Cleaver feels isolated in Algeria and out of contact, with Newton and the Supreme Commander's [Newton's] secretary (Connie Matthews) has disappeared and been denounced. 96
On April 8, 1976 in Executive Testimony Kathleen Cleaver testified that many letters, written to appear as if they had come from BPP members living in California caused disruption and confusion in the relationship between the Algerian Section and the BPP leadership in Oakland. She stated:
We did not know who to believe about what, so the general effect, not only of the letters but the whole situation in which the letters were part was creating uncertainty. It was a very bizarre feeling. 96a
On February 26, 1971, Eldridge Cleaver, in a television interview, criticized the expulsion of BPP members and suggested that Panther Chief of Staff David Hilliard be removed from his post. As a result of Cleaver's statements, Newton expelled him and the "Intercommunal Section of the Party" in Algiers, Algeria. 97
On March 25, 1971, the Bureau's San Francisco office sent to various BPP "Solidarity Committees*' throughout Europe bogus letters on "fascsimiles of BPP letterhead," stating:
To Black Panther Embassies,
You have received copies of February 13, 1971 issue of The Black Panther declaring [three BPP members] as enemies of the People.
The Supreme Servant of the People, Huey P. Newton, with concurrence of the Central Committee of the Black Panther Party, has ordered the expulsion of the entire Intercommunal Section of the Party at Algiers. You are advised that Eldridge Leroy Cleaver is a murderer and a punk without genitals. D.C. Cox is no better.
Leroy's running dogs in New York have been righteously dealt with. Anyone giving any aid or comfort to Cleaver and his jackanapes will be similarly dealt with no matter where they may be located.
[Three BPP international representatives, names deleted] were never members of the Black Panther Party and will never become such.
Immediately report to the Supreme Commander any attempts of these elements to contact you and be guided by the above instructions.
Power to the People
David Hilliard, Chief of Staff
For Huey P. Newton
Supreme Commander. 98
On the same day, FBI headquarters formally declared its counterintelligence program aimed at "aggravating dissension" between Newton and Cleaver a success. A letter to the Chicago and San Francisco Field Offices stated:
Since the differences between Newton and Cleaver now appear to be irreconcilable, no further counterintelligence activity in this regard will be undertaken at this time and now new targets must be established.
David Hilliard and Elbert "Big Man" Howard of National Headquarters and Bob Rush of Chicago BPP Chapter are likely future targets....
Hilliard's key position at National Headquarters makes him an outstanding target.
Howard and Rush are also key Panther functionaries; and since it was necessary for them to affirm their loyalty to Newton in "The Black Panther" newspaper of 3/20/71, they must be under a certain amount of suspicion already, making them prime targets.
San Francisco and Chicago furnish the Bureau their comments and recommendations concerning counterintelligence activity designed to cause Newton to expel Hilliard, Howard and Rush. 99
C. Covert Efforts To Undermine Support of the Black Panther Party and to Destroy the Party's Public Image
1. Efforts To Discourage and To Discredit Supporters of the Black Panthers
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's program to "neutralize" the Black Panther Party included attempts to deter individuals and groups from supporting the Panthers and, when that could not be accomplished, often extended to covert action targeted against those supporters.
The Bureau made a series of progressively more severe efforts to destroy the confidence between the Panthers and one of their major California supporters, Donald Freed, a writer who headed an organization of white BPP sympathizers called "Friends of the Panthers." In July 1969, the Los Angeles Field Office sent the local BPP office a memorandum bearing Freed's name and address to "Friends of the Panthers." Written in a condescending tone and including a list of six precautions whites should keep in mind when dealing with Panthers, the memorandum was calculated to cause a "rift between the Black Panther Party and their assisting organizations." 100 A few days later, the Bureau had leaflets placed in a park near a BPP-sponsored national conference in Oakland, California, alleging that Freed was a police informant. 101
The FBI viewed with favor an intensive local investigation of Freed for "harboring" and "possession of illegal firearms."
It is felt that any prosecution or exposure of either Freed or [name deleted] will severely hurt the BPP. Any exposure will not only deny the Panthers money, but additionally, would cause other white supporters of the BPP to withdraw their support. It is felt that the Los Angeles chapter of the BPP could not operate without the financial support of white sympathizers. 102
The Bureau's Los Angeles Division also arranged for minutes of a BPP support group to be provided to the BPP when it was learned that statements of members of the support group were critical of Panther leaders. 103
The FBI attempted to disaffect another BPP supporter, Ed Pearl of the Peace and Freedom Party, by sending him a cautionary letter bearing a fictitious signature. A Bureau memorandum describing the letter says:
The writer states that although he is not a member of the BPP, he is a Mexican who is trusted by BPP members. The writer advises that he has learned from BPP members that certain whites in the PFP who get in the way of the Panthers will be dealt with in a violent manner. The object sought in this letter is to cause a breach between the PFP and the BPP. The former organization had been furnishing money and support to the latter. 104
Famous entertainment personalities who spoke in favor of Panther goals or associated with BPP members became the targets of FBI programs. When the FBI learned that one well-known Hollywood actress had become pregnant during in affair with a BPP member, it reported this information to a famous Hollywood gossip columnist in the form of an anonymous letter. The story was used by the Hollywood columnist. 105 In June 1970, FBI headquarters approved an anonymous letter informing Hollywood gossip columnist, Army Archerd that actress Jane Fonda had appeared at a BPP fund-raising function, noting that "It can be expected that Fonda's involvement with the BPP cause could detract from her status with the general public if reported in a Hollywood 'gossip column.'" 106 The wife of a famous Hollywood actor was targeted by the FBI when it discovered that she was a financial contributor and supporter of the BPP in Los Angeles. 107 A caricature attacking her was prepared by the San Diego FBI office. 108
A famous entertainer was also targeted after the Bureau concluded that he supported the Panthers. Two COINTELPRO actions against this individual were approved because FBI headquarters "believed" they:
would be an effective means of combating BPP fund-raising activities among liberal and naive individuals. 109
The Bureau also contacted the employers of BPP contributors. It sent a letter to the President and a Vice-President of Union Carbide in January 1970 after learning that a production manager in its San Diego division contributed to the BPP. The letter, which centered around a threat not to purchase Union Carbide stock, stated in part:
Dear Mr. [name deleted]:
I am writing to you in regards to an employee in your San Diego operation, [name deleted]. . . .
I am not generally considered a flag-waving exhibitionist, but I do regard myself as being a loyal American citizen. I, therefore, consider it absolutely ludicrous to invest in any corporation whose ranking employees support, assist, and encourage any organization which openly advocates the violent overthrow of our free enterprise system.
It is because of my firm belief in this self-same free enterprise, capitalistic system that I feel morally obligated to bring this situation to your attention.
T. F. Ellis
Post Office Box ---
San Diego, California 110
The response of Union Carbide's Vice President was reported in a San Diego Field Office memorandum:
On 3/21/70, a letter was received from Mr. [name deleted], Vice President of the Union Carbide Corporation, concernIng a previously Bureau-approved letter sent to the Union Carbide Corporation objecting to the financial and other support to the BPP of one of their employees, [name deleted]. The letter indicated that Union Carbide has always made it a policy not to become involved in personal matters of their employees unless such activity had an adverse affect upon that particular employee's performance. 111
One of the Bureau's prime targets was the BPP's free "Breakfast for Children" program, which FBI headquarters feared might be a potentially successful effort by the BPP to teach children to hate police and to spread "anti-white propaganda." 112 In an admitted attempt "to impede their contributions to the BPP Breakfast Program," the FBI sent anonymous letters and copies of an inflammatory Black Panther Coloring Book for children to contributors, including Safeway Stores, Inc., Mayfair Markets, and the Jack-In-The-Box Corporation. 113
On April 8, 1976 in Executive Testimony a former member of the BPP Central Steering Committee stated that when the coloring book came to the attention of the Panther's national leadership, Bobby Seale ordered it destroyed because the book "did not correctly reflect the ideology of the Black Panther Party . . ." 114
Churches that permitted the Panthers to use their facilities in the free breakfast program were also targeted. When the FBI's San Diego office discovered that a Catholic Priest, Father Frank Curran, was permitting his church in San Diego to be used as a serving place for the BPP Breakfast Program, it sent an anonymous letter to the Bishop of the San Diego Diocese informing him of the priest's activities. 115 In August 1969, the San Diego Field Office requested permission from headquarters to place three telephone calls protesting Father Curran's support of the BPP program to the Auxiliary Bishop of the San Diego Diocese:
All of the above calls will be made from "parishioners" objecting to the use of their church to assist a black militant cause. Two of the callers will urge that Father Curran be removed as Pastor of the church, and one will threaten suspension of financial support of the church if the activities of the Pastor are allowed to continue..
Fictitious names will be utilized in the event a name is requested by the Bishop. It is felt that complaints, if they do not effect the, removal of Father Curran . . . will at least result in Father Curran becoming aware that his Bishop is cognizant of his activities and will thus result in a curtailment of these activities. 116
After receiving permission and placing the calls, the San Diego office reported: "the Bishop appeared to be . . . quite concerned over the fact that one of his Priests was deeply involved in utilization of church facilities for this purpose. 117
A month later, the San Diego office reported that Father Curran had been transferred from the San Diego Diocese to "somewhere in the State of New Mexico for permanent assignment."
In view of the above, it would appear that Father Curran has now been completely neutralized.
The BPP Breakfast Program, without the prompting of Father Curran, has not been renewed in the San Diego area. It is not anticipated at this time that any efforts to re-establish the program will be made in the foreseeable future. 118
In another case, the FBI sent a letter to the superior of a clergyman in Hartford, Connecticut who had expressed support for the Nlack Panthers, which stated in part:
It pains me to have to write this letter to call to your attention a matter which, if brought to public light, may cause the church a great deal of embarrassment. I wish to remain anonymous with regard to the information because in divulging it I may have violated a trust. I feel, however, that what I am writing is important enough that my conscience is clear.
Specifically, I'm referring to the fact that Reverend and Mrs. [name deleted] are associating with leaders of the Black Panther Party. I recently heard through a close friend of Reverend [name deleted] that he is a revolutionist who advocates overthrowing the Government of the United States and that he has turned over a sizable sum of money to the Panthers. I can present no evidence of fact but is it possible Reverend [name deleted] is being influenced by Communists? Some statements he has made both in church and out have led me to believe he is either a Communist himself, or so left-wing that the only thing he lacks is a card.
I beseech you to counsel with Reverend [name deleted] and relay our concern over his political philosophies which among other things involves association with a known revolutionist, [name deleted], head of the Black Panther Party in New Haven. I truly believe Reverend [name deleted] to be a good man, but his fellow men have caused him to go overboard and he now needs a guiding light which only you can provide.
A Concerned Christian. 119
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Transcription by Paul Wolf, 2002.
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