ColorLines blogger Jamilah King evaluates a damning report from the Center for Investigative Reporting, alleging that the late former Black Panther Richard Aoki worked as an FBI informant. The charges were met with shock and skepticism from those familiar with Aoki’s work, she observes, but they also remind us of the very real challenge of state intervention in movements for social justice — past and present.
The news was considered a bombshell revelation in light of Aoki’s reputation as one of the most prominent and well-respected Asian American activists of the 20th century. In an accompanyingvideo, reporter Seth Rosenfeld lays out evidence that suggests that Aoki may have been on the FBI’s payroll shortly after graduating high school in West Oakland, Calif. and before becoming active in Bay Area social movements and, later, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Rosenfeld unearthed a Nov. 16, 1967, intelligence report that lists Aoki as an “informant.”
Rosenfeld’s book on the FBI’s relationship with radical student activists in the 1960’s and ’70s was published today.
An interactive timeline published alongside the report alleges that Aoki, who was a celebrated marksman in the Army before his work in progressive social movements, gave the Black Panther Party its first weapons and weapons training, while also reporting to FBI personnel bent on destroying the group’s work through the agency’s infamous counter intellegence program, known as COINTELPRO.
“He was my informant. I helped develop him,” former FBI agent Burney Threadgill, Jr., who investigated Bay Area cases for J. Edgar Hoover, told the Center for Investigative Reporting. “He was one of the best sources we had.” Threadgill died in 2005. Aoki committed suicide in 2009, reportedly after a long battle with diabetes.
Aoki denied the allegations in an interview with Rosenfeld in 2007, saying somewhat cryptically: “People change. It is complex. Layer upon layer.”
Read Jamilah King‘s entire piece at ColorLines.
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