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COINTELPRO: A CATALYST IN THE MISREPRESENTATION AND ULTIMATE DOWNFALL OF THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY BY: CHRISTIANA HARRY

During the late 1960s to the early 1970s, the peak of the Civil Rights movement, the United States was at a crossroads between progression and regression. For the majority of this decade, older African American citizens had been fighting to no avail in a quest for the acquisition of equal rights for people of color in the country. However, after witnessing the various failed attempts at achieving their goal of equality, African American youth, unsatisfied with the peaceful strides made by their elders, united by the shared desire of securing equal rights for their community by way of a more assertive approach. The African American youth unified themselves in the form of what were viewed in the time period as African-American revolutionary left-wing organizations; and the most infamously known of those organization, as viewed by society, was The Black Panther Party. Though good intentioned, the Black Panther Party was not perceived as such by the American government as a result of at the time president, Richard Nixon's "lukewarm attitude towards black civil rights;" a feeling which was also shared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (Verney 85). During the Black Panther Party's prime, the FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, set out to disestablish what he believed to be the greatest threat to the internal security of the country," The Black Panther Party (The New York Times). A task he planned to cary out by "expos[ing], disrupt[ing], misdirect[ing], discredit[ing], or

otherwise neutraliz[ing] the activities of black nationalists and... their leadership, membership, and supporters" (Churchill 58). Ultimately, as a result of this desire, the FBI re-directed the previously created COINTELPRO unit, an exclusive counter-intelligence group, to the Black Panther Party in an attempt to limit the productivity of the Party by using tactics such as propaganda, infiltration, and harassment through the legal system. The Black Panther Party was founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale of the Oakland, California chapter with one goal in mind: to set forth a doctrine which called for the self-defense or protection of African American neighborhoods from police brutality. However, as time progressed, the objectives of the party expanded to include other goals such as achieving sufficient housing, education, and employment opportunities for African American, as well as free breakfast programs for African American children, all of which were expressed in their 10 Point Program (Black Panther Party Online). The 10 Point Program, although seemingly progressive, positive, and harmless, was viewed by the FBI as a threat due to point number seven of the 10 Point Program. This point stated that the Party desired the right to "defend [them]selves against... armed forces" and called for all "black and oppressed people" to own a firearm (Black Panther Party Online). The FBI viewed this point as a overt call for a black, left-wing, hyperviolent revolution, and thus associating the Party with "Marxist-Leninist ideology, and the teaching[s] of Mao Tse-tung" (The New York Times.) This fear of violence combined with that of a black Communist movement, that, if occurred, would destroy the correct Democratic order of society thus probed J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, to supervise "an extensive program of counter-organizing that included surveillance,

eavesdropping, infiltration, police harassment, perjury, and a laundry list of other tactics designed to jail party members and drain the organization of resources and manpower" in order to to maintain the Democratic power structure set in place during this time period (Lazerow 45). One tactic out of that "laundry list" that COINTELPRO employed in order to cripple the progress of the Black Panther Party would be the use of false propaganda. COINTELPRO manufactured fake leaflets, media stories and cartoons, that were distributed around the Oakland area, which portrayed the mentality and attitudes of members of the Black Panther Party in a negative light meanwhile simultaneously swaying the attitude of the public (Newton 104-106). A specific example of this would be the Black Panther Coloring Book, a book created in 1968, not by the party members themselves, but rather by the FBI's COINTELPRO which consisted of twelve political cartoons meant to portray Black party members in a negative light, and was distributed to the white masses in an attempt to elicit negative feelings from white Americans towards party members (Lora 494). One specific image, out of the Black Panther Coloring Book, that COINTELPRO manufactured in order to sway public opinion of the Black Panthers, depicts a scene in which an African American man shot a police officer, personified as a pig, with a gun in order to protect two African American children. The caption underneath the cartoon reads, "black brothers protect black children" (Black Panther Coloring Book). This cartoon's tone, indicative of the message of the entire coloring book, portrayed Back Panther Party members as violent, police-hating delinquents with no respect for authority, or the white race in general (Time Magazine).

This Coloring Book, which "did not correctly reflect the ideology of the Black Panther Party" was sent by the FBI's COINTELPRO to many white-owned coorporations that contributed to the Black Panther Party's breakfast program, due eo the fact that the FBI's COINTELPRO was fearful that the program might be an attempt by the Black Panthers to spread "anti-white propoganda" to African American youth (Cleaver 16). (FBI Memorandum 6/1/70). When coorporations such as Safeway Stores, Inc., Mayfair Markets, and the Jack-In-The-Box Coorporation, all of whom were once supporters of the party, recieved the Coloring Book, they became infuriated with the party; and those companies which once advoated for the cause, as a result of the publication and spread of the Black Panther Coloring Book, stopped assisting, and listening to the grievances of African Americans (most of which were legitimate) altogether (Grady-Willis 372). The FBI also used the Coloring Book to target critical relationships between the Party and the local white citizens who asissted them. When the FBI's San Diego office found that Father Frank Curran, a Catholic Preist, was allowing his San Diego Diocese to be used by the Black Panther Party as a meeting/serving place for their free breakfast program, the FBI's COINTLELPRO set out to target and eliminate that alliance (FBI Memorandum 8/29/69). In order to do so, COINTELPRO sent out an anomyous letter to the Bishop of the San Diego Diocese which informed him of the preists activties (FBI Memorandum 8/29/69). When Father Curran did not cease the meeting of the Black Panther Party in his curch, the San Diego Field office requested permission from the FBI headquarters to place three phonecalls to protest Father Curran's support of the Black Panther Party's free breakfast program to the Auxillary Bishop of the San Diego Diocese.

After the calls were placed and recieved by the Bishop, they San Diego office reported that, "the Bishop appeard to be... concerned over the fact that one of his Priests was... involved in the utilization of church facilities for this purpose." (FBI Memoradum 9/18/69). Then, a month later, Father Curran was reasigned to another church; and the Black Panther Party was no longer able to contiune the running their breakfast program in the San Diego area. Ultimately, due to the sabatoge of various alliances between the Black Panther Party and supportive white leaders/coorporations by COINTELPRO in conjunction with the San Diego office (an occurance which echoed throughout other chapters of the party in various locations) it became increasingly diffcult for the Party to appear progressive and legitimate in the eyes of the public due to their lack of community resources. In addition to the employing of public visual propaganda by the FBI's COINTELPRO as a means of swaying public opinion of The Black Panther Party; other forms of more personal propaganda were used by COINTELPRO to incite crippling internal feuds between members of the Party. In September of 1968, the FBI approved a plan, later carried out by COINTELPRO operatives, which allowed for the creation of a fraudulent letter which insinuated that two leaders of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party were, in fact, homosexual lovers (Grady-Willlis 374). The letter, signed "a black friend," also stated the following: "[t]he Panthers need real black men for leaders, not freaks" (Fletcher et al., Still Black 199). This letter provoked a very heated response from mebers of the party, specifically Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver, both of whom were noted for their homophobic ideals (Global Wire). Seale and Cleaver were angry at the fact that they were being viewed by

the public as homoseuxals, and began to critize "possibly" homosexual members of the party, as well as members who truly identified as LGBTQ, both male and female. (Grady-Willlis 374). This letter, issued by COINTELPRO insited new inter-party debates regarding homophobia in the party and simultaneously stifiled the Party's inner-unity (Davis 53). Not only, however, did the leakge of the letter bring turmoil within the party, it also angered external supporters of the party including the Gay liberation movement, who previously stood in solidridy with the Black Panther Party's movement. Anlthough the Gay liberation movement during this time period was marginal, and not of much support to the Panthers, it was, more importantly, the message of the Party that had now been misconstrude. Prior to the release of the fictious statement by the FBI's COINTELPRO, Newton had called for all marginzalized groups, including homosexuals to "unite ith the Black Panther Party in revolutionary fashion" stating that even "homosexuals can be revolutionaries too" (Newton) (Grady-Willis 375) However due to the publication of this letter, the Black Panther Party now appeared to be saying and doing two different things in regards to equality of oppresed groups. This ultimately caused the party to appear hyportical in the eyes of the public, thus marginlizating the message of the party and diminshing much needed external support from the general public, and not only the Gay liberation movement. But despite COINTELPRO's efforts to destroy The Black Panther Party internally by way of negative propaganda, the Party members still continued to work towards their ultimate goal as outlined in their 10 Point Plan (Churchill 101). In response to this, the FBI's COINTELPRO unit set out to cripple the Party in another way; this time from the

inside-- through infiltration In many cases, the FBI hired former-criminals to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Panther Party, and ultimately work as informants for COINTELPRO in exchange for their criminal records being expunged. (Grady-Willis 352). William O'Neal for example, a man who had previously been arrested for car theft and impersonating an FBI agent, was recruited by the FBI to work as an agent provocateur and informant for the Bureau (Churchill 65). O'Neal accepted this proposition, and assisted COINTELPRO in compiling a surveillance file on Fred Hampton, the leader of the Illinois chapter of the Party who, during the time, had become under increasing security from federal authorities due to proactivity in his work with the Black Panther Party. O'Neal's work with other informants allowed COINTELPRO, over a two-year span, to "amass... a twelve-volume, four thousand-page surveillance file on Hampton" (U.S. Senate). In return for his services, O'Neal had all prior charges dropped against him, and he also received an additional "monthly stipend from 1969-72 that amounted to thirty-thousand dollars" (Grady-Willis 368). Ultimately, the information retrieved by O'Neal through his infiltration of the Black Panther Party was later used by by COINTELPRO to incriminate Hampton which ultimately crippled the management of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, thus ultimately ceasing the progress of the party as a whole. In addition to infiltration and propaganda, another tactic, and undoubtedly the most controversial of the three, that the FBI's COINTELPRO employed to neutralize the Black Panther Party would be their use of the legal system to harass and limit the Party's productivity. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called upon the police departments of various cities in which chapters of the Party had their bases (ie: Oakland, New York, Chicago,

etc.) to trigger a type of domestic warfare, in a sense, against the Panthers through police raids and repeated detention. A primary example of this domestic warfare would be police treatment of Black Panther Party chairman Bobby Seale. By orders from Hoover and COINTELPRO, the Oakland police department in California raided the home of Bobby Seale, "ostensibly arresting them for possession of a sawed-off shot gun" (GradyWillis 367). Seale's prints were never found on the gun, however, by this point the intended damage, that being the draining of Party resources, funding, and attention, had been done. In August of 1969, Seale was arrested again on "conspiracy to riot charges" following the turbulent Democratic National Convention in Chicago of that same year. Then, when the Party posted bail for Seale, the police immediately re-arrested him with "conspiracy to commit the murder of New Haven Panther Alex Rackley" (Fletcher et all. Still Black 225-32). The repeated detention of Bobby Seale, as well as other Black Panther Party members, not only took away from the message that the Panthers were trying to convey to the public, but also painted members in a negative light. African American youth during the Civil Rights movement were generally thought of as delinquents, and the excessive arrests of Party members made by various police departments due to the direction COINTELPRO, did not do much to invalidate that image (Churchill 52). Also, these arrests shifted the focus of the Black Panthers from achieving their goals to keeping their members out of prison. As a result, a vast majority of their time, effort, and funding was put into this cause, thus placing the main goals of the Party out of primary focus; an ultimate win for COINTELPRO in the fight to disestablish the Black Panther Party (Grady-Willis 370).

Despite COINTELPRO's successful efforts to margainlize the effectivity of the Black Panther Party, COINTELPRO stil intensified their efforts to imprison and eliminate Party members. In December of 1969, a raid was conducted against Fred Hampton (the man who had previously been under increasing FBI surveillance) as well as other party members. "At approximately 4:00 A.M., a contingent of Chicago police stormed in the Panther apartment... to raid illegal weapons.... The police fired a total of ninety shots, killing Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in cold blood and leaving several Party members wounded" (Grady-Willis 373). Despite charges pressed by the Panthers against both the FBI and the Chicago police department, none of the officers or agents involved in the shooting ever faced jail time, and both Hampton and Clark's deaths went unpunished (Churchill 76-77). In the midst of the aftermath of Hampton's death, the Illinois chapter of The Black Panther Party suffered greatly, and their ability to function ultimately came to a stand-still as a result of COINTELPRO's illegal use of the legal system to disable the Panther's productivity. The remaining chapters of the Black Panther Party followed suit in the likeness of the Illinois chapter subsequent to the death of Fred Hampton, and began to deteriorate due to constant conflict with the police and the FBI's COINTELPRO (Grady-Willis 369). This ultimately caused a divide between the Party itself. On one hand, half of the organization held steadfast to the main goals of the Party, meanwhile, the other half of the Party was constantly dealing with some form of involvement from a higher authority. This separation between criminal activity and political action left many of the Party supporters, and even some of the Party members confused by the contradictoriness of the Panther's message (Churchill 111). Ultimately, the Party fell apart due internal debates

which sparked over the above division, as well as increasing legal costs inflicted upon the party by interactions with the FBI's COINTELPRO. Then, in 1975, subsequent the destruction of the Black Panther Party, the various methods used by COINTELPRO to achieve said destruction, were later brought to the attention of the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, (also known as the Church Committee.) This Committee, which was at the time chaired by Senator Frank Church, began an investigation of the illegality of the tactics that the FBI's COINTELPRO used upon the Black Panther Party. Through much research and deliberation the Church Committee found that "the threats COINTELPRO purported to meet were not imminent, the techniques used were... illegal, and the purposes went far beyond the prevention of death or destruction" ultimately leading to its permanent termination (Kelley). The Black Panther Party, despite being thought of by the FBI as a threat to national security, is viewed today by many of historians as a progressive organization that never received the opportunity to be progressive. That is, with the exception of Kenneth O'Reilly who argues that the FBI's instating of COINTELPRO was absolutely necessary in order to protect the fundamental freedoms of the United States of America (O'Reilly). However, regardless of whether or not the Black Panther Party was or was not an actual threat to national security, the downfall of the group is still entirely due to the formation of the FBI's counter-intelligence program known as COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO used various tactics such as: personal and public propaganda (to alter public perception of the Panthers and create disputes between the Panthers and other leftist groups,) infiltration (to dismantle the unity of the Party members and further

compile research about Party members,) and harassment through the legal system (in order to incriminate Party members as to distract the entire organization from their main goal.) These counter-intelligence tactics had done their damage towards the destruction of the Black Panther Party long before they were found to be illegal by the Church Committeeand although it is unknown how much progress the Black Panther Party would've made towards equal rights and self-defense for the African American community had they not been targeted by COINTELPRO, the legacy of the movement has not gone unnoticed. Additionally, the demise Black Panther Party will forever live in history as a constant reminder of what the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation is truly capable of.