THE FBI’S COVERT ACTION PROGRAM TO DESTROY THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY
In August 1967, the FBI initiated a covert action program — COINTELPRO — to disrupt and “neutralize” organizations which the Bureau characterized as “Black Nationalist Hate Groups.” 1 The FBI memorandum expanding the program described its goals as:
1. Prevent a coalition of militant black nationalist groups….
2. Prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the militant nationalist movement … Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammad all aspire to this position….
3. Prevent violence on the part of black nationalist groups….
4. Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability by discrediting them….
5. . . . prevent the long-range growth of militant black nationalist organizations, especially among youth. 2
The targets of this nationwide program to disrupt “militant black nationalist organizations” included groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), and the Nation of Islam (NOI). It was expressly directed against such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokley Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Maxwell Stanford, and Elijah Muhammad.
The Black Panther Party (BPP) was not among the original “Black Nationalist” targets. In September 1968, however, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described the Panthers as:
“the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.
“Schooled in the Marxist-Leninist ideology and the teaching of Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung, its members have perpetrated numerous assaults on police officers and have engaged in violent confrontations with police throughout the country. Leaders and representatives of the Black Panther Party travel extensively all over the, United States preaching their gospel of hate and violence not only to ghetto residents, but to students in colleges, universities and high schools is well.” 3
By July 1969, the Black Panthers had become the primary focus of the program, and was ultimately the target of 233 of the total authorized “Black Nationalist” COINTELPRO actions. 4
Although the claimed purpose of the Bureau’s COINTELPRO tactics was to prevent violence, some of the FBI’s tactics against the BPP were clearly intended to foster violence, and many others could reasonably have been expected to cause violence. For example, the FBI’s efforts to “intensify the degree of animosity” between the BPP and the Blackstone Rangers, a Chicago street gang, included sending an anonymous letter to the gang’s leader falsely informing him that the the Chicago Panthers had “a hit out” on him. 5 The stated intent of the letter was to induce the Ranger leader to “take reprisals against” the Panther leadership. 6