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

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