The FBI’s War on Black People
Directed by Deb Ellis and Dennis Mueller (1990)
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