The FBI’s War on Black People

The FBI’s War on Black People

Directed by Deb Ellis and Dennis Mueller (1990)

Film Review

This 1990 documentary is based on interviews with Black Panther Party (BPP) activists who directly experienced Cointelpro. The latter was a secret FBI counterinsurgency program created and run by late FBI director J Edgar Hoover. Allegedly shut down in the mid-seventies, there is strong evidence it continues to operate under a different name.

The film begins by quoting directly from secret FBI memos (released under the Freedom of Information Act) detailing the official purpose of Cointelpro – namely to “neutralize: charismatic Black leaders capable of organizing effective resistance to the white supremacist power structure.

The film then explores the suspected Cointlpro role in the assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King* and the proven Cointelpro role in the murder of Chicago BPP leader Fred Hampton. The latter was shot in his sleep by Chicago police with the help of an undercover FBI infiltrator who provided a layout of Hampton’s apartment.

The documentary also covers the less publicized FBI role in the Klan murder of southern civil rights leaders. During the sixties, again according to FOI documents, 25% of Klansmen were FBI informants or agents. Although the FBI nearly always had foreknowledge of these murders, not only did they fail to prevent them – but in many cases FBI plants pulled the trigger.

Surviving Panther members also speak bitterly about the role of FBI infiltrators in fomenting rumor campaigns and factional fighting within BPP groups and between the BPP and other activist organizations. Hoover was also directly responsible for the media’s negative portrayal of the Panthers as dangerous people who hated whites and wanted to hurt them.

In my view, the most powerful weapon Hoover deployed against the BPP was to deliberately frame and imprison their leaders on false charges.

The film contains rare footage of late political Geronimo Pratt describing attempts to frame him for one of Charles Manson’s murders before they framed him for the “Tennis Court” murder.

Pratt served 27 years until the phony charge was vacated in 1997. He died in Tanzania in 2011.**


*In 1999 the jury in a civil case brought by the King family, found the US government responsible for King’s 1968 murder. See The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King

**See Geronimo Pratt

The Long US Government War Against Americans

The Cointelpro Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States

by Ward Churchill* and Jim Vander Wall

South End Press (1990)

Free PDF: Cointelpro Papers

Book Review

As the authors describe, the FBI Cointelpro program first came to light in letters and memos seized when antiwar activists broke into an FBI field office in 1971 looking for draft cards. Using these and other documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the authors make it clear that the FBI has infiltrated and sabotaged every major citizens group since 1945.

The Cointelpro papers should be required reading for high school graduation. It’s essential to realize that government wire tapping, stalking, covert break-ins and infiltration of community groups didn’t start in 2002 when these activities first became “legal” under the Patriot Act. In fact, it’s extremely well documented (by University of Wisconsin professor Alfred McCoy – see Spying on Americans: the Ugly History) that it first began during the US occupation of the Philippines in 1898-1901.

This book had great personal importance in my life. There are a number of parallels between Jean Seberg’s case (see below) and the FBI harassment I began experiencing in 1987 related to my work with two former Black Panthers.** Along with four other African American activists, they had occupied an abandoned Seattle school in 1985 to transform it into a community-controlled African American Heritage Building and Cultural Center.

The section of Cointelpro Papers I found most illuminating describes the death squad activity that occurred on the Pine Ridge Sioux reservations during the 1970s – fifty-plus murders were never even investigated, much less prosecuted. Most Americans assume forced disappearances and extrajudicial assassinations only occur in Third World countries (thanks to the excellent CIA training their military officers receive at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning Georgia). Learning of scores of documented instances on US soil is extremely troubling.

The book also reproduces chilling FBI memos related to the coordinated FBI/police attack and murder of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the attempted murder of Los Angeles Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt (who was subsequently imprisoned for 27 years on fictitious charges). The book goes on to recount to the brave refusal of Seattle mayor Wes Uhlman to consent to a similar FBI/police raid on the Black Panthers in Seattle (see The Mayor Who Said No to the Feds).

The saddest chapter describes the sadistic campaign of personal harassment Hoover undertook against actress Jean Seberg, a white actress who provided the Black Panthers with financial support. As a result of rumor campaigns and vicious gossip columns planted by the FBI, Seberg and her partner ultimately committed suicide.


*Ward Churchill is a well-known American Indian Movement (AIM) activist and former professor of ethnic studies at University of Colorado.

**Which I describe in my memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee

The Hidden History of the US Constitution

towards an american revolution

Toward an American Revolution: Exposing the Constitution and other Illusions

by Jerry Fresia

South End Press (1988)

Book Review

This book is a great follow-up for people wanting to know more about the secret machinations behind the US Constitution after watching the film Plutocracy.

I knew virtually nothing about the framing of the Constitution when I first read Toward an American Revolution in the mid-nineties. Fresia reveals how the first Constitutional Convention was actually a secret meeting of rich property owners and merchants whose business interests (expanded trade and personal wealth) were threatened by farmers who had seized control of legislatures in twelve out of thirteen states.

The clear intent of Washington, Hamilton, Madison and the other businessmen and plantation ownders who wrote the Constitution was to transfer power from relatively autonomous state assemblies to a centralized federal government. Most agreed from the outset that they wanted a system of government more like Britain’s, ie one in which the business elite could use government authority to enhance their economic interests.

According to Fresia, the true purpose of constitutional “checks and balances” (ie the three branches of government) was to insure that moneyed interests enjoyed a greater voice than ordinary people. The Senate, a distinctly unrepresentative body, plays a major role in minimizing popular input. The Senate, in which a tiny state like Rhode Island has the same number of votes as an a big state like California, is given sole authority to approve treaties and presidential appointees. Their longer terms (six years) mean senators are less accountable to voters than congress people (who have two years terms). Until 1913, senators were still chosen by the electoral college (as opposed by direct vote) as the president is.

In 2015, more than 200 years after the Constitution was first written, Americans are still denied the right to vote directly for President.

Toward an American Revolution also describes the dirty tricks the founding father used to get 9 legislatures to ratify the Constitution, despite overwhelming opposition from the majority of enfranchised American voters.

The second half of the book fast forwards to the twentieth century to demonstrate how the US has continued to be ruled by a secret political elite. The latter have a specific agenda of suppressing democracy when it interferes with their business interests.

The examples given include America’s “secret police” force under the FBI’s Cointelpo operation, the role played by President Herbert Hoover and US industrialists (represented by Wall Street lawyer Allen Dulles) in financing the rise of Hitler, the subsequent appointment of Dulles to head the most powerful secret police apparatus in history (the CIA), his incorporation of Nazi war criminals into US intelligence networks, the role of “secret government” in the assassination of JFK, the corruption of our democratically elected representatives by corporate lobbyists and Reagan’s illegal war in Nicaragua.

Fresia has kindly made excerpts of this book available at http://cyberjournal.org/authors/fresia/

When Government Goes to War Against Us

Cointelpro 101: The Sabotage of Legitimate Dissent

By Andres Alegria, Prentis Hemphill, Anita Johnson and Claude Marks (2010)

Film Review

Cointelpro is the name given to the illegal counterinsurgency program FBI director J Edgar Hoover launched in the fifties and sixties against the civil rights movement, the American Indian Movement, the Puerto Rican independence movement, the Chicano/Mexicano rights movement, unions and different social justice movements. Its various tactics included illegal surveillance, wiretaps and break-ins, extrajudicial assassinations and plots to frame activists for crimes they didn’t commit.

The program had to be kept secret because it was illegal. The American public only learned about Cointelpro after antiwar activists broke into a Philadelphia office the FBI shared with the Selective Service in 1971. Intending to destroy draft registration documents, they accidentally stumbled across Cointelpro-related letters and memos and leaked them to the press.

Hoover’s War Against Black Empowerment

Cointelpro’s most high profile target was the civil rights and black liberation movement. Hoover openly wrote of his goal of “liquidating” the entire Black Panther leadership. Some Black Panther leaders were killed in cold blood. Chicago leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were shot in their sleep in 1969. The same year the FBI assassinated two Los Angeles Black Panther leaders at UCLA and two San Diego leaders while they were selling newspapers.

When Vietnam veteran Geronimo Pratt assumed leadership of the LA branch, the police (in cooperation with the FBI) tried to kill him via the armed assault and bombing of the LA Black Panther office. When this failed, they framed him on a murder charge, despite FBI surveillance records that placed him in Oakland at the time of the murder. Pratt spent twenty-seven years in prison before these records surfaced and exonerated him.

The Church Committee, a senate committed convened in the mid-seventies, identified more than two hundred criminal FBI attacks against Black Panther leaders, including murder, driving people insane and framing them on phony charges. No FBI operatives were ever prosecuted for these crimes, and more than a dozen black liberation activists (including Mumia Abu Jamal and Mike, Debbie and Janet Africa) remain in prison on trumped up charges.

The Reign of Terror at Pine Ridge

Following the rise of the American Indian Movement (AIM) to demand enforcement of treaty rights, Hoover launched a reign of terror (1973-76) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. During this period, death squads killed or disappeared scores of residents who dared to challenge the corrupt tribal leadership. When reservation elders sought the protection of the AIM leadership, one them, Leonard Peltier, was wrongfully convicted of the double murder of two FBI agents. As in Pratt’s case, the FBI deliberately concealed evidence exonerating him. After nearly forty years, he, too, remains in prison.

Cointelpro Never Ended

Contrary to government claims, Cointelpro didn’t end in 1971 when it was exposed. In 1983, documents came to light revealing that the FBI had illegally infiltrated, spied and disrupted the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. The latter, a group I belonged to between 1982 and 1985, was a grassroots organization that campaigned against Reagan’s military support of El Salvador’s right wing dictatorship.

This documentary finishes by pointing out that many previously illegal Cointelpro activities – warrantless surveillance and wiretapping, clandestine break-ins and pre-emptive arrest for dissident political views – are now perfectly legal under the Patriot Act.

Why the FBI Shut Down the US June 4th Movement

june 4Bodies from Tienanmen Square

There has been massive corporate media coverage in the last few days of the 25th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre in Tienanmen Square. The US has always had a very schizophrenic reaction to Chinese human rights violations. Much has been written about the underground June 4th movement that arose in China following the massacre. However you never read anything about the parallel June 4th movement that emerged in the US in the months after Tienanmen Square. It was led by Chinese university and graduate students on campuses all over the US – with the support of American pro-civil liberties advocates across the political spectrum.

For two to three months, it got extensive mainstream media coverage. I recall seeing an article in the Seattle Times about an upcoming meeting at the University of Washington. I planned to attend but came down with the flu.

By September 1989, the US June 4th movement had vanished without a trace. I found this extremely odd until six months later, we learned from a retired FBI investigator exactly how the federal agency had shut it down.

It was quite simple really. The FBI went to all the Chinese students attending the June 4th meetings and told them their student visas would be revoked unless they agreed to inform on the other activists. This is a very old strategy – still in use today (see  FBI allegedly using no-fly list to recruit Muslim snitches). Unsurprisingly the students chose to keep their visas and disband the movement.

Why Bush Senior Shut Down June 4th

So why did Bush senior want the US June 4th movement shut down? In 1989 the President was engaged in major trade negotiations with China. Their big fear was that an American movement would translate into major political and financial support for China’s underground democracy movement. To consummate the trade agreements, Bush senior had to guarantee this wouldn’t happen.

The FBI has a long history of spying on peace and social justice activists. The operation that shut down down the June 4th movement in the US is but one of many examples I discuss in my 2010 memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of An American Refugee

photo credit: undersound via photopin cc

10/14/02: The Day I Became an Expatriate

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(The 1st of 8 posts describing my 2002 decision to emigrate from the US to New Zealand)

When I finally left the US in October 2002, I had been thinking of emigrating for many years. In June 1973, I shipped all my belongings to England, intending to start a new life there. Many Americans of my generation left the US in the early seventies, for Canada, Europe and more remote parts of the world. Most were draft-age men afraid of being sent to Vietnam. A few were women involved in clandestine abortion clinics that sprang up before the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Many were artists and intellectuals like me, disillusioned by lies about Vietnam in the Pentagon Papers,  Watergate, CIA domestic spying and Nixon’s use of US intelligence for his own political purposes.

In 1973, I myself was totally apolitical. My own decision to leave the US had very little to do with Vietnam or Watergate. My disillusionment stemmed more from watching rampant consumerism overtake the humanist values I had grown up with – the strong family ties, deep friendships and involvement in neighborhood and community life that were so important to my parents’ and grandparents’ generation.

During my eighteen month stay in England, it was deeply gratifying to meet people in London and Birmingham who had little interest in owning “stuff” they saw advertised on TV. People who still placed much higher value on extended family, close friendships and the sense of belonging they derived from their local pub, their church or union, or neighborhood sports clubs, hobby groups, and community halls. All these civic and community institutions had disappeared in the US. I missed them.

A downturn in the British economy in late 1974 forced me to return to the US to complete my psychiatric training.  I never abandoned my dream of returning overseas and religiously scanned the back pages of medical journals for foreign psychiatric vacancies. Meanwhile I  joined grassroots community organizations seeking to improve political and social conditions in the US. While and

For many years I believed Nixon was an aberration. This made me naively optimistic about the ability of community organizing to thwart the corrupting influence of powerful corporations over federal, state and local government. It never occurred to me the institutions of power themselves were deeply corrupt and had been for many years.

The Murder that Turned My Life Upside Down

As I write in The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee, the 1989 intelligence-linked murder of a patient was a rude awakening. It demonstrated, in the most horrific way possible that ultimate power lay outside America’s democratic institutions. It forced me to accept that political control lay in the hands of a wealthy elite who employed an invisible intelligence-security network to terrorize – and sometimes kill – whistleblowers and activists who threatened their interests. This painful discovery lent new urgency to my political work. It simultaneously caused an increasing sense of alienation and isolation from who hadn’t shared these experiences.

There was also the slight problem that I was experiencing the same phone harassment, stalking, break-ins and hit-and-run attempts as my patient.

Most of my liberal and progressive friends were far more knowledgeable than I was about the power multinationals corporations held over elections, lawmakers and the mainstream media. Yet they reacted very differently than I did to this knowledge. My response was to devote every leisure moment to building a grassroots movement to end corporate rule. Their response, in contrast, was to become cynical and withdraw from political activity to focus on their personal lives.

The Patriot Act: Repealing the Bill of Rights

In September 2001, I expected that the Patriot Act, which legalized domestic spying on American citizens, as well as revoking habeas corpus and other important constitutional liberties, would be the turning point that would send progressives into the streets, as the 1999 anti-WTO protests had, to halt rampant corporate fascism.

It never happened. In Seattle, a small 9-11 coalition formed in October 2001 to protest Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan. Over the following year, as Bush prepared to invade Iraq, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter and others spoke to sell-out crowds about the lie the Bush administration was hawking about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Then in February 2002, evidence began to emerge that officials close to the Bush administration had played some role in engineering the 9-11 attacks. By October 2002, like most American intellectuals with access to the international and/or alternative press, were well aware that neither Afghanistan nor Iraq had played any role whatsoever in the 9-11 attacks. There was no longer any question that Bush a war criminal under international law for launching two unprovoked wars of aggression.

So long as I, as a US taxpayer, continued to work and pay taxes in the US, I shared some responsibility for these crimes. It was this knowledge that ultimately forced my hand. I had a psychiatrist friend who had spent a year working in New Zealand. He told me who to contact in the Ministry of Health about psychiatric vacancies. By September 1, 2002, I had signed a job contract to work for the New Zealand National Health Service in Christchurch. I had six weeks to close my Seattle practice, sell my house and ship everything I owned to New Zealand.

To be continued.

***

bramhallmemoircover-682x1024.jpg
Winner 2011 Allbooks Review Editor’s Choice Award
Fifteen years of intense government harassment leads a psychiatrist, single mother and political activist to close her 25-year Seattle practice to begin a new life in New Zealand. What starts as phone harassment, stalking and illegal break-ins quickly progresses to six attempts on her life and an affair with an undercover agent who railroads her into a psychiatric hospital.
  • Available as ebook (all formats) for $0.99 from: Smashwords
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Spying on Americans: the Ugly History

hoover

The Origins of the US Police State

While the majority of Americans were stunned and outraged at Edward Snowden’s revelations that the government was secretly monitoring their phone calls and emails, the US government has been systematically spying on law abiding citizens for nearly 100 years. In July 2013, University of Wisconsin professor Alfred McCoy, one of America’s foremost experts on CIA narcotics trafficking, laid out an elegant history of government domestic spying in Tomgram: Obama’s Expanding Surveillance Universe. It should be required reading for every high school graduate. Below are some highlights:

1898 -1901 US Occupation of the Philippines

The US Army first developed the capacity to spy and keep records on civilians when they occupied the Philippines (following the Spanish American War) in 1898. n when they occupied the Philippines following the Spanish American War. The local population already had a large, well-organized resistance movement which had been battling Spain for independence. In 1901, as director of the army’s first field intelligence unit, Captain Ralph Van Deman, compiled detailed personal and financial records on thousands of Filipino leaders.

1917 – 1921 World War I and the Palmer Raids

After the US entered World War I in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson engaged Van Deman to create the US Army’s Military Intelligence Division to spy on US civilians. Van Deman, in turn, enlisted a patriotic vigilante group called the American Protective League to assist in collecting a million pages of surveillance reports on Americans of German ancestry (like my grandfather and great grandfather, who was forced to flee to South America).

After the war ended in 1918 they joined with the Bureau of Investigation (renamed the FBI in 1935) to engage in strike breaking in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest and round up and deport European labor activists.

In 1921, incoming president Warren Harding condemned Wilson’s oppressive secret police apparatus and forced the Army and FBI to cut their ties with vigilante groups. Although Van Deman was forced into retirement, he and his wife continued to compile files on 250,000 so-called subversives.

1940 – 1945 World War II

In 1940, Hoover made use of Van Deman’s files and a network of 300,000 informants to carry out illegal FBI wiretaps, break-ins, and mail intercepts against political dissidents – based on allegations, which were never substantiated, that they posed a threat against wartime defense plants were never substantiated.

1960-74 Vietnam War and COINTELPRO

From 1960-74, Hoover expanded this operation, which he renamed COINTELPRO. As well as spying on activists, this operation also subjected them to extensive personal harassment. According to the senateChurch Committee investigating  COINTELPRO, Hoover’s vicious tactics included “anonymous attempts to break up marriages, disrupt meetings, ostracize persons from their professions, and provoke target groups into rivalries that might results in deaths.” As most activists over fifty can tell you, COINTELPRO never ended. I write about my personal encounter with the 1980s version of COINTELPRO in my 2010 memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee.

In 1974, New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh revealed that the CIA, which is forbidden under federal law to operate on US territory, was also engaged in illegal surveillance of antiwar activists under a program known as Operation Chaos. Following his election in 1978, President Jimmy Carter pushed for enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This made government wiretaps illegal unless they were approved by a special FISA court.

2003 – 2008 US Occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq (under Bush)

By the time the US attacked Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003-2003, the intelligence security state had a vast array of new spying technologies (including electronic surveillance, biometric identification, and spy drones) at their disposal. In an attempt to bring the Iraqi resistance under control, General McChrystal ordered the collection of 3 million Iraqi fingerprints and iris scans.

Meanwhile Bush attempted to resurrect Hoover’s old vigilante networks via Operation Tips, which was blocked by major opposition from Congress, civil libertarians, and the media. A parallel initiative called Total Information Awareness, which would have compiled electronic files on millions of Americans, was also banned by Congress.

Despite these setbacks, Bush’s defiance of FISA by ordering the NSA to commence collecting email and phone records of American civilians (exposed by the New York Times in 2005) was retroactively ratified by Congress in 2007.

2009 – present US Occupation of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, and Somalia

Obama substantially expanded NSA spying by collaborating with British intelligence to tap into trans-Atlantic cables carrying phone and email traffic and authorizing NSA spying on residents in NATO ally countries Germany, France, and Italy.

Between 2006-10 the US launched the planet’s first cyberwar. In 2010 Obama ordered cyberattacks (Stuxnet) against Iran’s nuclear facility.

Obama’s Vision for Future Surveillance

According to McCoy, since 2012 Obama has been cutting conventional armaments and investing billions in global information control and space warfare technology. New programs include a National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency with 6,000 employees coordinating surveillance data from predator drones, Reapers, U-2 spy planes, Global Hawks, X-37B space drones, Google Earth, Space Surveillance Telescopes, and orbiting satellite. Alongside their surveillance capabilities, new generation spy satellites will have the capability of enveloping the Earth in an electronic grid capable of pulverizing suspected terrorists or entire armies.

Hear Jeff Blankfort interview McCoy about his Tomdispatch article at Radio 4

photo credit: KAZVorpal via photopin cc

Reposted from Veterans Today