“The Breakfast for Children Program (BCP) has been instituted by the BPP in several cities to provide a stable breakfast for ghetto children… . The program has met with some success and has resulted in considerable favorable publicity for the BPP… . The resulting publicity tends to portray the BPP in a favorable light and clouds the violent nature of the group and its ultimate aim of insurrection. The BCP promotes at least tacit support for the BPP among naive individuals .. . and, what is more distressing, provides the BPP with a ready audience composed of highly impressionable youths.… Consequently, the BCP represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities … to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for. ”
– J. Edgar Hoover, May 15, 1969 (FBI airtel to SACs in twenty-seven field offices)
“It must be a horrifying experience to discover that your partner is not the person they say they are; that they may have been relaying information provided in confidence ‘on the pillow’, to the state; and that the fundamentals of the relationship were lies. Many have described the sense of violation they feel.” – Tamsin Allen
The exploitation of human sexuality is a well-known pressure point in the repression of social movements. Typically such measures are thought to be reserved for military conflicts involving complex, multi-tiered, counter-insurgency campaigns, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Throughout the first and second Palestinian uprisings, Israeli intelligence forces regularly recruited Palestinians for collaboration after first documenting them in precarious sexual situations. Classically, Israeli handlers would observe and record a Palestinian engaging in extra-marital, homosexual, or otherwise ‘deviant’ sexual behaviors and then leverage the publicity of these filmed vices in exchange for actionable intelligence leading to the capture of wanted Palestinian fighters and activists.
Though such methods may be more familiar to students of ‘traditional’ warfare, the collection of intelligence through the exploitation of trusted social network is a common domestic policing strategy as well. A 2014 study demonstrated that 81% of “law enforcement professionals” use social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) in their investigations, and that 80% agree that the creation and management of fake social media profiles is an “ethical” practice in law enforcement. In 2011, the British press was made aware of several undercover police agents who were infiltrating protest movements throughout a 40-year period. Of the seven undercover officers initially exposed, five were found to have had sexual relationships with women. Often times these were women the officers were tasked with monitoring. These sexual liaisons between cop and activist were the product of misrepresentation. Subsequent investigation into the actions of these officers exposed 10 individuals, nine of which who had sexual relationships with activists.
The following will provide brief biographical profiles of these individuals. In doing so it is my hope that movements can learn from these examples and improve our resistance to infiltration and disruption. The purpose of these methods is to reverberate distrust, fear, uncertainty, suspicion and divisions amongst our friendship circles, our communities and our wider social networks.
Bob Lambert, posing as Bob Robinson, infiltrated leftist and animal liberation networks, using a job at Greenpeace London as an activist cover, and targeting activists affiliated with the ALF. Between May 1987-November 1988, Lambert was engaged in a sexual relationship with a 24-year-old female, not affiliated with political activism, whom he met at a party. Lambert reportedly maintained the relationship for 18 months to create the background of a personal life for his projected activist persona. To this end, Lambert even arranged to have his own home raided by police to show that he was a ‘known activist.’ In total, Lambert spent 26 years in the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch (including the Special Demonstration Squad), and recently issued an apology for the relationship stating:
I also apologise unreservedly for forming false friendships with law abiding citizens and in particular forming a longterm relationship with [the woman] who had every reason to think I was a committed animal rights activist and a genuine London Greenpeace campaigner.
Not only was Lambert involved with the unnamed 24-year-old, but a year or so prior, he also had a sexual relationship with a second female whom he fathered a child with before disappearing. Lambert met the female activist whom he was meant to spy on in the “mid-1980s” and had a son with her in 1985 before breaking up in 1987. When the child was two years old, the female activist married a second man and Lambert surrendered his paternal rights. The woman came forward in early 2013 after seeing Lambert’s 1980s picture in a newspaper and recognizing it as that of her long lost ex-boyfriend and the father of their son. The woman reports that she met Lambert in 1984, and became involved in animal rights and involving herself in direct action networks. In 2013 Lambert admitted to having relationships with four women while undercover. Throughout this infiltration, Lambert was also legally married. Lambert is one of at least two UK police infiltrators that fathered a child with a female activist who was targeted for surveillance.
In addition to his service as a police agent and sexual infiltrator, Lambert also served as an agent provocateur carrying our acts of property destruction, including the use of arson, and attributing such actions to the ALF. According to Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas, in testimony given to Parliament, Lambert was responsible for placing and detonating an incendiary device in the Harrow, northwest London branch of the Debenhams department store in 1987 in protest of its selling of fur.
Lambert is also said to have admitted his involvement in the arson to a female activist. The arson was part of a three site simultaneous attacks with only two perpetrators arrested. According to testimony from one of the convicted arsonists Caroline Lucas as well as other evidence, Lambert was the third participant. Lambert, as expected, has denied these accusations but proudly asserts his role in providing intelligence that led to the arrest of the other two arsonists. The fires caused £7-8 million in damages and according to some, were instrumental in motivating the chain to cease the selling of animal fur. The purpose of the attack was for Lambert to garner credibility amongst his ALF community and convince them he was a committed activist.
Lambert played other key roles in the animal rights community penning an ALF leaflet explaining the group’s philosophy and even co-writing the infamous McLibel leaflet in 1986 which defamed McDonalds and led to the longest civil trial in UK history. During his dating and sexual exploits, Lambert also used his role as the boyfriend of an activist to encourage more militant action. According to “Charlotte,” one of Lambert’s sexual partners, “He would tease me for not being committed enough…he got me to become more involved in ‘direct action.’”
Mark John Kennedy
Police Constable Mark Kennedy, posing as Mark “Flash” Stone, infiltrated environmental and leftist networks for approximately eight years (~2001-2009) in the area of Nottingham (sometimes working alongside a female spyplaying the role of an “eco-activist”), hosting meetings with activists in up to 23 countries including the United States, and participating as an activist in illegal actions including blockades, site occupations and sabotage, sometimes playing key logistical roles such as transport. In numerous accounts from activists, Kennedy is portrayed as a provocateur, encouraging activists to commit acts of violence including attacking police. For his work, stone was paid £50,000 annually, plus an additional £200,000 annually given for “bribes, drinks, accommodation, a vehicle and travel abroad to meet other anarchists.” During this time, Kennedy presented himself as an “avid rock climber and former drug smuggler,” maintained a four year relationship with a 26-year-old, female activist named Anna who reports having sexual intercourse with Kennedy more than 20 times. After Kennedy’s true identity was revealed, Anna spoke to the news media stating, “‘If somebody was being paid to have sex with me, that gives me a sense of having been violated.”
In addition to this relationship, Kennedy reports sleeping with a second female Welsh activist, though testimony from “those who knew him best” suggests that more female activists were likely victimized. It was this second female that exposed Kennedy after discovering his legitimate passport while on vacation with the spy in July 2010. Anna, Kennedy’s first activist girlfriend, stated to The Guardian that there were “several other women within the protest movement who Kennedy slept with,” but that while she knew he was sleeping with these additional women, “there was never any type of romance involved.” After his police handlers became aware of his “erratic sexual conduct” he became the subject of surveillance, wherein police officials videotaped him having sexual contactwith female activists. While Kennedy joked about his use of “horizontal interrogation techniques” with activists, he maintained a second life with his wife Edel, and their two children. Kennedy defended his actions, stating that sexual promiscuity was common within the protest movement. “It was a very promiscuous scene. Some people had five or six lovers…Girls on protest sites would sleep with guys in order to entice them to stay in these horrible places: Cold, wet, with bad food and nonexistent bathroom facilities.”
Since the exposure of Kennedy as a police spy, international activists have compiled an open-source, online, database attempting to document the host of protests, meetings and convergences in which he attended. Using the Powerbase platform, activists have linked Kennedy to at least 68 incidents, some covering multiple years. According to Kennedy, he was one of 15 police spies who had infiltrated environmental movements; at least four of these spies remain embedded in UK protest movements. After Kennedy’s infiltration became public knowledge, and he left law enforcement, he used his wealth of insider knowledge for personal financial gain, establishing a series of companies (e.g. Tokra Limited, Black Star High Access) thought to be private consulting firms. In a report by The Guardian, Kennedy used the privileged access he gained in police infiltration campaigns to act as a “corporate spy” while still maintaining his Mark Stone alter ego. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that Kennedy was working for a second spy firm in the US, Densus Group, targeting “anti-capitalist demonstrators.”Kennedy claims that during his sexual exploits, his police handlers “sanctioned” his actions, stating that some echelons of British policing was aware of his sexual relationships. Acpo president, Sir Hugh Orde told Members of Parliamentthat “he had no knowledge of the [Kennedy] case until the Guardian disclosed the prosecution of six activists…collapsed because of Kennedy’s role in it.” According to Kennedy, he was one of 15 police spies who had infiltrated environmental movements; at least four of these spies remain embedded in UK protest movements. While the UK’s infiltration efforts targeting social movements date back to at least to anti-war campaigners in 1968, the pervasiveness of establishing sexual partnerships appears to be a newly intentional strategy.
Andrew James Boyling (aka Jim Boyling)
Detective Constable Jim Boyling, 28-years-old, posing as Pete James Sutton or Jim Sutton 34-years-old, infiltrated pro-bicycle movement Reclaim the Streets for five years (1995-2000) as a lead organizer, as well as having contact with additional environmental and hunt saboteur campaigns. During this time events were organized within the activist community designed solely to collect information on attendees. During his time within activist movements, Boyling married Angharad Bevan, the 28-year-old activist he was tasked to monitor, and fathered two children with her before divorcing. Boyling only made his superiors aware of his relationship in 2005 by informing a single senior officer close to the time he married Beven. His relationship with Beven was one of two sexual relationships Boyling had with females in activist networks while undercover. Both relationships were described as “serious.” At times Boyling worked directly under Bob Lambert, with Lambert acting as his handler.
Following Boyling’s exposure, Chief Constable Jon Murphy of Merseyside (NW England) told newspapers that sexual conduct between police agents and activists was “never acceptable…under any circumstances,” further stating in relation to the police infiltrators that “something has gone badly wrong here” and calling the undercover agent’s actions “grossly unprofessional…a diversion from what they are here to do…[and] morally wrong.”. Despite such grandstanding, Boyling’s ex-wife stated in an interview with The Guardian that superiors were knowledgeable of these incidents, stating:
Jim [Boyling] complained one day that his superiors said there was to be no more sexual relations with activists anymore – the implicit suggestion was that they were fully aware of this before and that it hadn’t been restricted in the past…[Jim Boyling] was scoffing at it saying that it was impossible not to expect people to have sexual relations. He said people going in had ‘needs’ and I felt really insulted. He also claimed it was a necessary tool in maintaining cover.
Boyling also reportedly perjured himself in court in 1997, giving evidence under oath (as Pete James Sutton) while concealing his true identity as a police spy during his prosecution alongside protestors arrested after occupying a government office.
Boyling was also present during legally protected conversations held between defendants and their lawyers, as the police spy was represented by the same legal firm. This action has led to a legal challenge where protestors have argued that Boyling’s presence during such conversations violated the defendants’ right to protected communications with council, and that Boyling thus obtained information through protected, private correspondences. Investigations by The Guardian revealed that “police chiefs [had] authorized undercover officers to hide their identities from courts when they were prosecuted for offences arising out of their deployment.”
Mark Jacobs, 44-years-old, posing as 29-year-old Marco, infiltrated anarchist, anti-globalization, animal rights, and other social justice networks for five years (2004-2009) in the Cardiff area. Jacobs was known for taking on logistics and financial roles in his circles, and used the reputation he built within the Cardiff Anarchist Network (CAN) to infiltrate the Dissent! anti-G8 planning committees. During 2008, Jacobs maintained a sexual relationship with a female movement activist, and reportedly was responsible for encouraging CAN to engage behaviors to increase division and inebriation. On organizer with CAN reported to press:
He changed the culture of the organisation, encouraging a lot of drinking, gossip and back stabbing, and trivialised and ran down any attempt made by anyone in the group to achieve objectives. He clearly aimed to separate and isolate certain people from the group and from each other, and subtly exaggerated political and personal differences, telling lies to both ‘sides’ to create distrust and ill-feeling. In the four years he was in Cardiff a strong, cohesive and active group had all-but disintegrated. Marco left after anarchist meetings in the city stopped being held.
Following Jacobs’ exposure as a police spy, his activist girlfriend stated, “I was doing nothing wrong, I was not breaking the law at all. So for him to come along and lie to us and get that deep into our lives was a colossal, colossal betrayal.” According to additional testimony, a second female also maintained a dating relationship with Jacobs but littler more information is available.
Sergeant John Dines, posing as “John Barker” infiltrated London Greenpeace as well as unnamed anti-capitalist groups from around 1987-1992. He worked with the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad and began infiltrating Greenpeace following the departure of Bob Lambert. In 1990, Dines began a relationship with Helen Steel, and abandoned her in 1992 feigning a mental breakdown. When Steel sought to track down the whereabouts of her boyfriend, she discovered that John Barker was really Sgt. John Dines who had stolen the name of Phillip John Baker, a child who had died of leukemia years prior. Steel also discovered that Dines has been married since 1977.
The Dines/Barker case is said to be one of at least 80 similar occurrences organized by Scotland Yard over a 30 year period wherein police adopted the names of dead children in order to produce false identities and documents with verifiable back stories. Other police spies utilizing sexual infiltration, including Bob Lambert, also used the identities of dead children to create false names and documents. According to Lambert he adopted his identity from that of a seven-year-old child who died of a heart problem, and stated to media sources that the UK Home Office was aware of this practice, and that it was widespread.
Mark Jenner, presenting himself as “Mark Cassidy,” infiltrated UK protest groups from 1994-2000 as an officer in the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad under the direction of Bob Lambert. During his tenure, Jenner was married yet maintained a five year relationship (1995-2000) with a 29-year-old female activist, living with her in a London apartment and rarely returning to his family. After their lengthy cohabitation, the woman explained that she thought of themselves as “man and wife” having “completely integrated [Jenner] into my life.” Jenner met the woman’s family and even appeared in her mother’s wedding photographs and videos from other family events. The woman explained that Jenner used her as an “excellent cover story.”
Jenner used the woman’s credibility and trusted social network to insure his own cover story, as she explains, “People trusted me, people knew that I was who I said I was, and people believed, therefore, that he must be who he said he was because he was welcomed into my family.” Given this history, the woman was motivated to investigate his identity after Jenner disappeared in 2000 from their shared apartment stating that he was depressed. In testimony given to a Parliamentary inquiry, the woman, speaking via the pseudonym “Alison,” spoke of the deception stating, “It has impacted seriously on my ability to trust, and that has impacted on my current relationships and other subsequent relationships. It has also distorted my perceptions of love and my perceptions of sex.”
According to activists, at least two additional undercover informants were also present and had sexual relationships with activists. They have been named as Rod Richardson and Simon Wellings. According to Evans and Lewis, Richardson was not sexually involved with activists. While it is unknown if Wellings had relations with activist women, his behavior mirrors that of other informants, collecting and reporting on the personal details of activists such as their friendship circles as well as sexual preferences and partners. It is reported by the BBC that Wellings infiltrated anti-capitalist group Globalize Resistance from 2001-2005.
“If you are deaf, dumb, and blind to what is happening in the world, you’re under no obligation to do anything. But if you know what’s happening and you don’t do anything but sit on your ass, then you’re nothing but a punk.” — Assata, page 207
Thirty-four years ago this November 2, in 1980, Black revolutionary Assata Shakur escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey, with the help of comrades wielding .45 caliber pistols. Successfully avoiding a national “manhunt,” Shakur ultimately fled to Cuba, resurfacing there in 1984. Condemned by US authorities and mainstream media as a “cop killer” for her alleged role in a 1973 shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike,1 Assata was granted political asylum by the socialist Castro government, in light of extensive evidence that the former Black Panther Party member (like many activists in the age of COINTELPRO) faced unjust and racist persecution in the United States, and was being targeted for her revolutionary politics. Assata remains in Cuba to this day, where she has long maintained her innocence of any crime but that of seeking to overthrow the racist, imperialist, patriarchal capitalist system. For that “crime,” Shakur proudly pleads guilty.2
In May 2013, the FBI, without charging any additional wrong-doing, added “Joanne Chesimard”3 to their top ten “Most Wanted” list of “Terrorists,” placing her alongside the likes of accused World Trade Center and Pan Am flight 103 bombers and Al Queda leaders.4 She is the first woman to make the list — and the only “domestic terrorist” currently listed in the “Top Ten.” Accordingly, the bounty on her head was raised from $1 to $2 million.
Shakur has not set foot in the United States for decades — and has issued only a handful of public statements from Cuba — yet her presence continues to be felt today, in part through the narrative she wrote in exile. Assata: An Autobiography (1987) offers us a vivid, accessible, personal, and yet theoretically astute narrative of one woman’s oppression, exploitation, alienation, and resistance, as well as a relatable account of explicitly revolutionary (anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist) consciousness in the making, and a damning exposure of police terror, courtroom corruption, and state repression. Nearly three decades later, Assata still poses a stark challenge to hegemonic institutions that sustain oppression in the US and across the world. Moreover, Assata does all this in ways that are accessible and emotionally compelling to readers, including those not previously familiar with or inclined toward such perspectives. I believe that contemporary radical educators and organizers have much to learn from this remarkable text, in terms of both its content and its method of presentation.
I had the chance to teach Assata: An Autobiography in 2013, in a course on “Memoir and Autobiography,” at a university serving a diverse and largely working-class student population from the Greater Boston area.5 I found the book to be one of the most thought-provoking works that I have ever taught. Most importantly, it engaged students as effectively as any avowedly left-wing work that I have used, winning students to sympathy and opening them to frank and nuanced discussions of advanced social and political issues. Assata is on some level a strikingly didactic, and ‘in your face’ work—as the opening epigraph to this essay suggests — engaging very abstract ideas as well as more immediate and ‘concrete’ situations, even directly exhorting the reader at various points. Yet despite (and perhaps in part because of) this motley mix — Assata: An Autobiography was, hands-down, the class’s favorite work of the semester.6 What was it about Assata that enabled its radical resonance?
For starters, students were just blown away by the history here — that there had ever been such a (bold, revolutionary, popular) organization as the Black Panther Party in the US, that “violent” participants in that movement could be as eloquent and reflective as Shakur, that the US government had rained down such vicious repression on them, right here ‘at home.’ Being confronted with such a spectacular, shared, historical blind-spot helped students begin a sustained discussion of the political and social role that official schooling and dominant history has played in US society, and in their own lives, a topic that Shakur herselfdirectly engages through her narrative.
Students generally were struck by how Assata (and the Black Panther Party as depicted in the text) wasn’t advocating violence or “hate” against white people, as they had been taught to expect, but rather targeted their antagonism much more narrowly — and politically — against the structures and agents of oppression and exploitation. One white working-class student from South Boston expressed pleasure and surprise that he could identify with much of the struggle that Assata relates, as well as with her broader criticism of US social institutions, history, and ideology. Indeed, many students reported that they could relate personally to Assata’s criticisms of workplace, neighborhood, and school struggles, despite their varied historical, cultural vantage points. Her critique of financial exclusions, petty corruptions, and bureaucratic alienation resonated powerfully. One student volunteered that he felt inspired by Assata to return to radical politics, something he had been exposed to and interested in, but not involved in lately.
Students unanimously reported having a much more favorable response to Assata, this work by a “Top Ten Terrorist,” than to the acclaimed memoir of current US President, Barack Obama, whose Dreams from My Father (Three Rivers Press 1995, 2004) most students found to flop by comparison, both politically and stylistically.7 (We read this text immediately after Assata.) It’s an interesting moment when a class comes to the collective realization that they find the life story and the expressed views of an unreconstructed revolutionary socialist — an “anti-Amerikan” activist and accused “terrorist” fugitive — to be more compelling, relatable, truthful, and admirable than those of the current Commander-in-Chief.
But of course, as fascinating and shocking as the content of the book was and is, the text’s form played a crucial role in shaping student responses to that ‘content.’ It was not just the radical ideas to which they responded so positively, but the particular presentation of those ideas in and through Shakur’s text. Several students emphasized how the very structure of Assata functioned as rhetorical strategy, drawing readers into a serious and sympathetic consideration of radical and revolutionary ideas that they might not otherwise have taken to heart.
The structure of the text
In a sense, Assata’s structure juxtaposes a narrative of Incarceration, focusing on the years 1973-1987, with a narrative of Education, focusing on the years 1947-1977 — what we might call a “struggle for freedom” set against a “struggle for consciousness,” though of course the two struggles are deeply interrelated. Opening with the immediate aftermath of her shooting, capture, and brutal hospital interrogation by New Jersey State Police in 1973, the Incarceration narrative follows Shakur’s legal struggles, as well as her confrontation with jail and prison conditions, police terror, and a series of biased “kourt” cases and judges.8 The intervening chapters follow her life, from birth9 through early childhood, elementary and high school, through various jobs and through (sometimes humorous, sometimes death-defying) explorations of the street life of New York City, with a consistent focus on her education, understood in the broadest terms.
The two narratives effectively merge near book’s end, as Shakur’s account of her education turns to an account of increasingly revolutionary activism in and around the Black Panther Party. This then turns to an account of her life underground, after police violence against the Party escalates, bringing us up to the present of her capture, imprisonment, trial(s), and eventual conviction.10 While necessarily leaving undisclosed the details of her escape, the book ends with a moving account of Assata’s daughter (whom Shakur conceived and gave birth to while incarcerated) and her own mother joining her in Cuba, after years of forced separation. In a Postscript, Shakur reflects on her experience in socialist Cuba, and on the current prospects for world revolution from the sober standpoint of the mid-1980s.
Students found that the stark violence and injustice to which Shakur is subjected in the Incarceration sections inclined them towards a more sympathetic and attentive engagement with her life story, including her turn to radical politics, in the Education sections. At the same time, the coming-of-age story, by relating the struggles and development of an inquisitive and strong-willed child coming up against a racist, sexist, and class-stratified America, inclined them to be (even) more sympathetic to the grown rebel woman, as she is subjected to egregious abuse in courtrooms and prison cells. At the same time, we explored how the different sections do not merely contrast but connect on deeper levels; Assata’s struggle against the state echoes her struggles in the streets—just as her education continues behind bars, through conversations with fellow prisoners.11
Conversely, the text reveals how Incarceration in “Amerika” extends well beyond the prison walls; indeed the schools she attends operate in a highly racist and punitive manner, foreshadowing penitentiaries. As Assata’s fellow prisoner, Eva (honored by Shakur in a poem as “the rhinoceros woman”), puts it, for black people in the US, to be on the street is still not to be “free.” Eva tells Shakur: “You’ll be in jail wherever you go” (59), prompting Assata to reflect that she “has a point”:
The only difference between here [the Middlesex county workhouse] and the streets is that one is maximum security and the other is minimum security. The police patrol our communities just like the guards control here. I don’t have the faintest idea what it feels like to be free.… We aren’t free politically, economically, or socially. We have very little power over what happens in our lives. (60)
The split form of the narrative then, while introducing a jarring dramatic effect between the present fixity of incarceration and persecution and the past freedom of education and development, ultimately works to complicate this opposition, towards an enriched, and collective, sense of the meaning of both Imprisonment and Freedom. That is to say, the more the younger Joanne/Assata learns about the world through her (comparatively) free explorations of it, and the more she grows connected to others through her investigations, the more she sees the constraints on both her own freedom and that of so many others, the more she learns about the historical and structural barriers to achieving freedom for these others…and for herself, insofar as she now feels connected to them. Insofar as her sense of self comes to include the situation of others, she realizes that she cannot get free alone, but only through participation in a collective (self) liberation. As she puts it on the cusp of her radical commitment, “I want to help free the ghetto, not run away from it, leaving my people behind” (154).
Poetry and revolution
Students were further moved by the way Assata uses poetry throughout the book, framing or interrupting the movement of her narrative. Significantly, these interruptive texts present Shakur to us as not only a “militant” activist, and not only a victim of state violence, but as a writer, and not just as a critic or polemicist, but as a lyricist: a creature of human emotion, imagination, and love, as well as intellect and organizational commitment. From within a situation where there is often painfully little that she can control, writing gives Shakur a means of imposing her ideas and will on the madness around her, while keeping that madness from wrecking her own mind.12
“Affirmation,” the poem which opens Assata, provides a powerful example of how imaginative writing usefully frames Shakur’s narrative for readers, establishing empathy while foregrounding key themes. I quote the poem here in full:
I believe in living. I believe in the spectrum Of Beta days and Gamma people. I believe in sunshine. In windmills and waterfalls, Tricycles and rocking chairs. And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts. And sprouts grow into trees. I believe in the magic of the hands. And in the wisdom of the eyes. I believe in rain and tears. And in the blood of infinity. I believe in life. And i have seen the death parade March through the torso of the earth, Sculpting mud bodies in its path. I have seen the destruction of the daylight, And seen bloodthirsty maggots Prayed to and saluted.
I have seen the kind become the blind And the blind become the bind In one easy lesson. I have walked on cut glass. I have eaten crow and blunder bread And breathed the stench of indifference.
I have been locked by the lawless. Handcuffed by the haters. Gagged by the greedy. And, if I know any thing at all, It’s that a wall is just a wall And nothing more at all. It can be broken down.
I believe in living. I believe in birth. I believe in the sweat of love And in the fire of truth.
And I believe that a lost ship, Steered by tired, seasick sailors, Can still be guided home To port.
This moving poem gives us a useful map of some of Assata’s major themes. Indeed, the very fact that Shakur opens with a poem – celebrating a belief in and a love of life – is significant; my students said they felt immediately pulled in by the emotional quality of the poem; it wasn’t what most expected from a “militant black revolutionary” let alone an accused murderer or “terrorist.” “Affirmation” immediately prompted them to read Assata’s radical political trajectory as a product of emotional experience, as well as intellectual argument, an expression of love, hope, and affirmative belief, not only of hate or criticism (though her book, justifiably, contains plenty of both).
“Affirmation” also charts what we could call a dialectics of Oppression and Liberation — a key nexus that lays the basis for Assata’s remarkable revolutionary optimism. As she writes, “I have seen the kind become the blind, and the blind become the bind,” lines which are soon followed by the supplementary statement: “if I know anything at all, // it’s that a wall is just a wall // and nothing more at all. // It can be broken down.” Here, Assata calls attention to the (dialectical) fact that the ultimate basis of what appears to be solid and perhaps immovable “objective reality” (“just the way it is”) is in fact nothing more (and nothing less) than the product of human consciousness and feeling, as embodied in the practices this consciousness and feeling sustains (or disrupts). She asks us to reflect on the way that people give up their own human vision and sympathy, making themselves into—or allowing themselves to be made into—objects, stripped of meaningful will or subjectivity. Not only does she speak of the “bind[s]” that hold people and systems of oppression in place as ultimately constituted by the “blind” — that is, those who are unable to (or who refuse to) “see” — but she marks how many of the “blind” were themselves previously “kind.” Oppressors are not oppressors by fate, by nature, nor by “race,” but by training, through the “lessons” they learn (and fail to unlearn). The flip side of this dialectical insight, of course, is that, given the correct transformation of consciousness and human feeling—a return to kindness from blindness, so to speak—the “binds” and with them the “walls” can be broken down, dissolved, and the people trapped by them, set free. (Shakur’s own life trajectory as a prison escapee speaks powerfully to the concrete possibilities of such freedom.)
Assata’s depiction of the state, including the “kourt” system and the police as well as other ideological state apparatuses, is radically critical and even shockingly blunt — she refers to cops as “pigs” routinely and unapologetically, likening state police to fascists, even outright Nazis in some cases. And yet she also calls attention throughout her narrative to various cracks and openings in the would-be totalitarian “pig” system, highlighting moments where an element of humanity manages to slip through, where the kindness, solidarity, or just plain decency of a person, even one who may technically be working for the “other side,” plays a crucial role in sustaining Assata’s spirit, even saving her life.13 Unredeemable systems of oppression exist, but so do small acts of human kindness, and these small acts matter.
For example, in the first narrative chapter, while Assata lies handcuffed to a hospital bed, shot through the chest and the shoulder by police, without access to a lawyer, yet subject to interrogation and outright torture, a man whom she initially identifies as a “black pig” turns out to be “not a cop but a hospital security guard…not at all hostile. His face breaks into a kind of reserved smile and, very discreetly, he clenches his fist and gives me the power sign.” Assata adds, “That man will never know how much better he made me feel at that moment” (6). Later in that same opening scene, at a moment of deep desperation, Shakur is able to persuade a nurse—again a state employee—to disobey her superiors and get word out to Shakur’s lawyer and family, an act that may have saved her life. Assata is peppered with such small and often surprising acts of human solidarity.14
To underline the point: Insofar as the “walls” and “binds” are constituted by human beings (who are often facing some sort of oppression and exploitation of their own), Assata reminds us, there remains the potential for “kindness” and thus for solidarity to burst the binds, to bring down the walls.15 Thus, though Assata ultimately affirms the necessity for serious revolutionaries to take a sharp and unsentimental view of the enemy, cultivating the social, political, and, yes, the military basis foran (anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist) Liberation Army, and thus points clearly to her belief that the repressive apparatus in the United States cannot ultimately be defeated by peaceful means alone, her sharp antagonism towards the systems of oppression, and towards those “pigs” who actively operate positions of power within those systems, does not rule out the continued possibility (and perhaps even necessity) for the “un-binding” of those who constitute that system, through the clearing of vision and the rekindling of kindness. Assata’s assertion of the need for violent revolution does not bar but rather necessitates her openness to the potential of human transformation.
In this spirit, the wall-breaking, bar-bursting “violent” actions of a guerrilla insurgency, such as the Black Liberation Army aspired to ignite, may be seen as not primarily military, aiming at impairing the enemy apparatus and liberating particular forces or territories (though that is one important aspect), but as deeply symbolic, signaling and reminding those looking on that, in fact, “a wall is just a wall, nothing more at all. It can be broken down.” The goal of “violent” action would ultimately be to anchor, amplify, and sustain symbolic resonance among the people, which then may provoke and inspire proliferating thought and action, of various kinds. The function of revolutionary violence here—as opposed to what we might call ‘terrorist violence’—is thus not to render the world more polarized and fixed, but more porous, partisan, and change-able, precisely by shaking the ideological “walls” that act as a barrier to human thought and solidarity. Such “violence” ought not to aim to simply divide the world into “us” (the People and the Revolutionaries) and “them” (the “Pigs” and Reactionaries), but to divide the “them,” opening up new fronts within the repressive apparatus, as the previously inert “binds” are summoned back to conscious life (to sight and to kindness). In this sense, at least in theory, revolutionary violence can, when sharply focused against enemy institutions as embodiments of oppressive ideologies, open rather than close down space for human subjectivity, for thought and freedom, on both sides of the walls.
Revolutionary hopefulness…and humility
Alongside this striking revolutionary optimism — some might call it voluntarism16 — Assata’s opening “Affirmation” frames for readers another key theme that impressed my students: Shakur’s humility, her willingness to engage in self-criticism and to dramatize her own moments of ignorance, insensitivity, embarrassment, and shame as she struggles toward a revolutionary road. “I have eaten crow and blunder bread, and breathed the stench of indifference,” she writes, lines which admit that she has not only been the victim or the virtuous antagonist of systems of oppression, but has been subject to their influence as well. “Breathing the stench of indifference” goes in both directions here. It is not that Shakur has been able—through luck, enlightened leadership, the proper reading, or a superior nature—to avoid social contradiction, human failing, or toxic ideology (from internalized racism, to worker false consciousness, from historical ignorance and naïve patriotism, to consumerism, knee-jerk anti-communism, and, later, what she will call “revolutionary romanticism”). Rather, what distinguishes Assata’s revolutionary trajectory, and part of what made her so approachable for students, I think, is her willingness to admit mistakes, to recognize her own human ignorance and “blundering,” admittedly often only after others force it into her consciousness, and then to work to overcome these socially imbibed, inherited weaknesses, in theory and in practice. The starting point for revolutionary practice here is not a matter of achieving a standpoint of purity or perfection, a blueprint of what is to be done, or some Archimedean point above the fray, but a willingness to admit and to work through contradictions, with others, in light of a growing, if uneven awareness of a common history, a common goal, and a common enemy. It is an expression of critical love that begins with a deep belief that one is not fundamentally better or different (or separate) from the people one sets out to organize and to liberate.
Several students were moved by this depiction of Shakur’s own learning process, how her account is as much about the process of learning and self-transformation as it is about the particular content of lessons that result from it. Assata depicts revolutionary consciousness not just as a set of properly radical verdicts, but as an endlessly critical and self-critical advance in awareness, a matter of experimentation and experience, and of reflection on that experience, a matter of listening to others and learning lessons, negative and positive, from failure as well as success.
In a final paper, one student discussed eloquently how Assata models for readers this often- difficult process of working through the shame and “cognitive dissonance” that radical critique can provoke in those who ‘ought’ to be open to it. When confronted with a radically new and paradigm-shifting idea about the world—even an idea that seems intellectually convincing and ethically compelling—many people will suppress rather than respond positively to that idea, paralyzed by a sense of shame that they remain at some level attached to the very practices, institutions, and notions that they would now have to denounce.17 Without an avenue to work through this shame and dissonance — feeling in a sense judged rather than liberated by the new notion — the subject may lapse into paralysis and cynical resignation, failing to pursue the opening into new theory and practice.
Students attested that they found Assata’s approach to resonate with what they themselves have experienced when they have been confronted with radical criticism of dominant ideologies and institutions — ideologies and institutions which they have spent much of their lives being taught to identify with. They found that Assata, rather than preaching at them, was working through these ideologies and attitudes with them. The difference was crucial.
Arguably, the paralyzing effect of such shame-inducing cognitive dissonance may reach its pinnacle in a country like today’s USA, where capitalist penetration of public and private life — politics, culture, consciousness, intimate relations — has reached unprecedented levels, only dreamed of in the 1960s. Mental prisons have proliferated alongside the literal ones. Who among us today can claim to be beyond the psychological reach of myriad fantasies constructed by capital, though we aspire to the mantle of ‘anti-capitalism’? To what extent have most young people (or for that matter, their would-be teachers) incorporated capitalist commodity culture into their very identities and life-goals? How could people not? Assata confronts and yet transcends the often-paralyzing discourse of ‘complicity’ with the dominant culture by at once acknowledging — and dramatizing — Shakur’s own embeddedness in various backward ideologies and destructive practices, but also foregrounding her self-transformative efforts to overcome them, as part of a larger working through of a contradictory historical inheritance. Shakur’s emphasis on her own self-activity—both her mistakes and her breakthroughs — played an important role in getting students to see this revolutionary neither as a “victim,” nor as some “hero-saint” to be put on a pedestal, but as a complex human being, not fundamentally different from themselves. This point further helped discussion of the text to move beyond an identity-politics frame, allowing students to connect personally with the types of “Amerikan” problems that Shakur parses across her own life, while acknowledging important differences in historical experience as well.
This article was first published at Red Wedge Magazine, this is the first part of a longer essay that will appear in full in the November issue of the journal Socialism and Democracy, an issue devoted to the topic of Mass Incarceration.
The gunfight left Assata’s comrade, Zayd Shakur, as well as State Trooper Werner Foerster dead. Assata herself was seriously wounded during the attack, having been shot in the back. [↩]
Assata has made several public statements from exile in Cuba, including a 1997 Letter to Pope John Paul II, issued following reports that the FBI had pressured the church leader to petition Fidel Castro to expedite Shakur to the US. This letter can be found online, including at Democracy Now, where it was first broadcast. [↩]
This is Shakur’s legal name—she refers to it as her “slave name.” [↩]
The class met once per week, for three hours in the evenings 6-9pm—many of the students having put in full days at work before attending. [↩]
I base this assessment on the quality and enthusiasm of class discussions (lecture-guided and spontaneous peer-to-peer responses), on the quality and content of the students’ writing on the text (both weekly response papers and final, formal essays), and on an end-of-semester poll. Of the ten students in the class, half picked Assata as their “favorite” of the semester, while the other half all placed Assata in the top two or three works (of ten) that we read together. Fully half of the students elected to do their final critical essay on Assata. [↩]
Unlike my students, mainstream critics have lavished praise on Obama’s Dreams from My Father. For a serious radical critique of Dreams, see Barbara Foley’s essay “Rhetoric and Silence in Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father” in Cultural Logic: an electronic journal of theory and practice. The 2014 convention of the Modern Language Association featured an entire panel focused on the literary legacies of Obama’s book. [↩]
Shakur spells the word always with a “k,” as in “kangaroo kourt.” [↩]
As Shakur writes at the start of her second chapter: “The FBI cannot find any evidence that I was born…. Anyway, I was born” (Assata, 18). [↩]
It’s worth underscoring here that all the charges that ostensibly justified Shakur being pursued by New Jersey police on the Turnpike either ended in acquittal or were dropped. The sole charge for which she was ever convicted—a conviction that remains dubious—concerned actions which allegedly transpired following, and were prompted by, this aggressive police pursuit. Shakur maintains her innocence and there was no physical evidence to establish that she fired a shot. [↩]
Similarly, Shakur’s only child is conceived inside a courthouse cell, where she and her lover/co-defendant Kamau are locked alone for verbally protesting abuses in the courtroom to the point that the judge orders them excluded from the scene of their own trial. She gives birth in prison as well, after a protracted struggle to get access to decent medical care. [↩]
Indeed, reading Assata drove home to me how important it could be today, in this age of mass incarceration, to use writing as a means to help imprisoned brothers and sisters keep their minds and hearts alive, through letter writing and inmate book programs… pending a more radical abolition of this “New Jim Crow” system. [↩]
Lest we lapse into romantic fantasy, it’s important to note that such acts, in Assata, are not carried out by any actual police officer, but by personnel such as hospital security guards, nurses, doctors, and others who, though they may be employed and instructed by the systems’ rulers, are not themselves sheer agents of repression. [↩]
These acts of course are in addition to the countless acts of conscious solidarity that constitute the sustained legal and political campaign to free Assata, the efforts of which are discussed at length in the “Incarceration” chapters. The present essay, with my focus on radical pedagogy, will tend to focus on the “Education” chapters. [↩]
Again, the word here is potential, not inevitability. The openness of revolutionary potentiality is not an occasion for confidence, passivity, or spectatorship, but for renewed activism, outreach, and an all-sided seizing of contingent opportunities. [↩]
For a compelling philosophical reconsideration — and defense — of the much derided term voluntarism, see the work Peter Hallward, e.g. his essay. “The Will of the People: Notes Towards a Dialectical Voluntarism,” Radical Philosophy 155, May/June 2009. [↩]
To refer back to Shakur’s opening poem: it can be not only radicalizing, but traumatizing and embarrassing to recognize that what you have been “saluting” for most of your life, are little but “maggots.” [↩]
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received this letter, nearly 50 years ago, he quietly informed friends that someone wanted him to kill himself — and he thought he knew who that someone was. Despite its half-baked prose, self-conscious amateurism and other attempts at misdirection, King was certain the letter had come from the F.B.I. Its infamous director, J. Edgar Hoover, made no secret of his desire to see King discredited. A little more than a decade later, the Senate’s Church Committee on intelligence overreach confirmed King’s suspicion (PDF/8MB).
Since then, the so-called “suicide letter” has occupied a unique place in the history of American intelligence — the most notorious and embarrassing example of Hoover’s F.B.I. run amok. For several decades, however, only significantly redacted copies of the letter were available for public scrutiny.
When news broke of Silk Road 2.0’s seizure by law enforcement a lot of people probably wrote it off as an isolated incident. Silk Road 2.0 was the successor to the original Silk Road web site and like its predecessor it was an underground bazaar for narcotics, fueled by more than $8 million in Bitcoin transactions and operated as a hidden service on the Tor anonymity network.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Blake Benthall, the alleged 26-year-old operator of Silk Road 2.0, law enforcement officers caught their suspect using old fashioned police work. Specifically they sent in a mole, or what the text of the complaint refers to as an HSI-UC (a Homeland Security Investigations agent operating in an Undercover Capacity). Anyway, the undercover spy was wildly effective, gaining access to the Silk Road 2.0 discussion forum while the scheme was still in its formative stages and eventually acquiring administrative access to the web site after it launched.
But it turns out that the Silk Road 2.0 take-down was just the appetizer of a much larger main course called Operation Onymous. Onymous, as in anything but anonymous. Within a matter of hours it was announced that a joint operation involving dozens of officers from the FBI, the DHS, and Europol had taken down a grand total of 414 hidden services on the Tor network. This wasn’t just a single bust, no sir. This was a global dragnet that resulted in the arrest of 17 suspects.
The success of this international operation raises a question: how did they locate the hidden servers and identify the people who managed them?
In this instance Tor hidden services failed to live up to their namesake. Was the sudden collapse of several hundred Tor “.onion” domains the result of traditional police tradecraft ─developing informants, patiently waiting for opportunities, doggedly following leads─ or were security services quietly wielding advanced technical methods?
All told the cops are pretty tight-lipped. Wired Magazineasked Troels Oerting, head of the European Cybercrime Center, this very question and he replied:
This is something we want to keep for ourselves… The way we do this, we can’t share with the whole world, because we want to do it again and again and again.
Even with the discretion of insiders like Oerting there have been recent developments that hint at what’s going on behind closed doors. For instance, the FBI has just proposed that the U.S. Advisory Committee on Rules and Criminal Procedure alter federal search and seizure rules so that law enforcement agents can hack into machines that have been “concealed through technological means.” This is no doubt a thinly veiled reference to Tor.
The FBI’s request infers that public gripes against ostensibly strong encryption by officials like FBI Director James Comey, GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan, and former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker are mere theater. The feds already have tools at their disposal to defeat encryption-based tools like Tor. In fact, an internal NSA document admits that “[A] critical mass of targets use Tor. Scaring them away from Tor might be counterproductive.”
Really? I wonder why?
This past summer I questioned the wisdom of netizens putting all their eggs in the Tor basket, as did other writers like Pando’s Yasha Levine. Granted there were protests voiced by advocates, some of which I responded to. Still, the public record demonstrates that Tor isn’t a guarantee against the intrigues of a knowledgeable adversary. And now we clearly see the purported security of the Tor anonymity network unraveled on a grand scale. Not just for one or two illicit websites but hundreds. As to whether it’s possible for an app to safeguard essential civil liberties… the techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley can eat crow.
The reality is that the Deep State’s minions aim to eradicate genuine anonymity for everyone but themselves. The steady erosion of privacy is a part of a long-term campaign to consolidate control as economic inequality accelerates and perpetual war expands. The looming Malthusian disaster born of our leaders’ unenlightened self-interest will be a brutal spectacle and the members of the ruling class want to make sure that they’ll have a good view.
[…] recent history is chock full of instances where the FBI employed malware like Magic Lantern and CIPAV to foil encryption and identify people using encryption-based anonymity software like Tor. If it’s expedient, the FBI will go so far as to impersonate a media outlet to fool suspects into infecting their own machines. It would seem that crooks aren’t the only attackers who wield social engineering techniques.
In fact, the FBI has gotten so adept at hacking computers, utilizing what are referred to internally as Network Investigative Techniques, that the FBI wants to change the law to reflect this. The Guardianreports on how the FBI is asking the U.S. Advisory Committee on Rules and Criminal Procedure to move the legal goal posts, so to speak:
The amendment [proposed by the FBI] inserts a clause that would allow a judge to issue warrants to gain ‘remote access’ to computers ‘located within or outside that district’ (emphasis added) in cases in which the ‘district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means’. The expanded powers to stray across district boundaries would apply to any criminal investigation, not just to terrorist cases as at present.
In other words the FBI wants to be able to hack into a computer when its exact location is shrouded by anonymity software. Once they compromise the targeted machine it’s pretty straightforward to install a software implant (i.e. malware) and exfiltrate whatever user data they want, including encryption passwords.
If encryption is really the impediment that director Comey makes it out to be, then why is the FBI so keen to amend the rules in a manner which implies that they can sidestep it? In the parlance of poker this is a “tell.”
As a developer who has built malicious software designed to undermine security tools I can attest that there is a whole burgeoning industry which prays on naïve illusions of security. Companies like Hacking Team have found a lucrative niche offering products to the highest bidder that compromise security and… a drumroll please… defeat encryption.
There’s a moral to this story. Cryptome’s John Young prudently observes:
Protections of promises of encryption, proxy use, Tor-like anonymity and ‘military-grade’ comsec technology are magic acts — ELINT, SIGINT and COMINT always prevail over comsec. The most widely trusted and promoted systems are the most likely to be penetrated, exploited, spied upon, successfully attacked, covertly compromised with faults hidden by promoters, operators, competitors, compromisers and attackers all of whom warn against the others while mutually benefiting from continuous alarms about security and privacy.
When someone promises you turnkey anonymity and failsafe protection from spies, make like that guy on The Walking Dead and reach for your crossbow. Mass surveillance is a vivid expression of raw power and control. Hence what ails society is fundamentally a political problem, with economic and technical facets, such that safeguarding civil liberties on the Internet will take a lot more than just the right app.
‘[…] former Black Panther Party leader Marshall “Eddie” Conway joins us less than 24 hours after his release from nearly 44 years in prison. Supporters describe Conway as one of the country’s longest-held political prisoners. He was convicted of killing a Baltimore police officer in 1970, for which he has always maintained his innocence. The shooting occurred at a time when federal and local authorities were infiltrating and disrupting the Black Panthers and other activist groups. At the time of the shooting, the FBI was also monitoring Conway’s actions as part of its counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO. Numerous groups have campaigne, blackd for years calling for his release, saying he never received a fair trial and was convicted largely on the basis of testimony from a jailhouse informant. Politically active in prison, Conway founded Friend of a Friend, a group that helps young men, often gang members, resolve conflicts, and published a memoir, “Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther.” In his first interview since being released, Marshall details his time behind bars and the government surveillance he faced as a prominent Black Panther. […]’
On this day in history, December 4, 1969, Chicago police raided Fred Hampton’s apartment and shot and killed him in his bed. He was just twenty-one years old. Black Panther leader Mark Clark was also killed in the raid. While authorities claimed the Panthers had opened fire on the police who were there to serve a search warrant for weapons, evidence later emerged that told a very different story: that the FBI, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the Chicago police conspired to assassinate Fred Hampton.
Via Huffington Post:
‘On December 4th it will be 44 years since a select unit of 14 Chicago Police officers, on special assignment to Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, executed a pre-dawn raid on a west side apartment that left Illinois Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark dead, several other young Panthers wounded, and the seven raid survivors arrested on bogus attempted murder charges. The physical evidence soon exposed the claims of a “shootout” that were made by Hanrahan and his men to be blatant lies, and that the murderous reality was that the police fired nearly 100 shots while the Panthers fired but one.
But those lies were only the first layer of a massive cover-up that was dismantled and exposed over the next eight years — a cover-up designed to suppress the central role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its COINTELPRO program in the assassination.
In the wake of the raid, the Minister of Defense for the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Rush, stood on the steps of the bullet riddled BPP apartment and declared that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI were responsible for the raid, but at that time there was no hard proof and it was dismissed by the media as mere rhetoric.
The first documentation that supported Rush’s insightful allegation surfaced in March of 1971 when the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into a small FBI office in Media Pennsylvania and expropriated over 1000 FBI documents. These documents exposed the FBI’s super-secret and profoundly illegal COINTELPRO program and its focus in the 1960s on the black liberation movement and its leaders. Citing the assassinated Malcolm X as an example, Hoover directed all of the Bureau’s Offices to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and otherwise neutralize” African American organizations and leaders including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Nation of Islam, Martin Luther King, Stokley Carmichael, and H. Rap Brown.
In Chicago, the first major breakthrough came in 1973 when U.S. Attorney James Thompson revealed that Chicago Black Panther Party Chief of Security William O’Neal was a paid informant for the FBI. At that time I was a young lawyer working with my colleagues at the People’s Law Office on a civil rights lawsuit that we had filed on behalf of the Hampton and Clark families and the survivors of the December 4th raid. We quickly subpoenaed the Chicago FBI’s Black Panther Party files and a grand total of 33 documents were produced. However, an honest Assistant U.S. Attorney included in those documents an FBI memorandum that incorporated a detailed floor plan of the interior of the BPP apartment which specifically identified the bed on which Hampton slept. The face of the memo also revealed that the floor plan, together with other important information designed to be utilized in a police raid, was based on information communicated by O’Neal to his FBI control agent who later supplied it to State’s Attorney Hanrahan before the raid.
We then focused on unearthing more details about the FBI’s involvement in the conspiracy, identified the FBI conspirators, joined them as defendants in the lawsuit and sought the Chicago office’s COINTELPRO file in order to establish a direct link between the FBI’s illegal program and the raid. When the Government refused to produce the file and the Judge refused to compel them to do so, we turned to Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations. The Committee, which was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, was investigating rampant abuses by all U.S. Intelligence Agencies, including the FBI. In late 1975 a Church Committee staffer informed us that there were several Chicago documents which definitively established the link. Armed with the content of the still secret documents, we were able to embarrass the Judge, who had privately reviewed the documents and previously declared them irrelevant, into ordering the FBI to produce the file. Among the documents provided were several that revealed the FBI’s efforts to foment violence against Fred Hampton and the Chicago Panthers, and one dated December 3, 1969 that claimed the impending raid as part of the COINTELPRO program.
In January of 1976 we embarked on what would turn out to be the longest civil trial in federal court history. Two months into the trial, O’Neal’s FBI control agent blundered on the witness stand and inadvertently established that the FBI had not produced all of the Chicago Black Panther files, and the Judge, not knowing what was about to happen, ordered that they do so. The next day a shaken Justice Department supervisor wheeled into court shopping carts on which were stacked 200 volumes of FBI BPP files that had been suppressed by the Chicago office since we had first requested them three years before. The Judge commenced a hearing on the FBI’s misconduct and the Government produced several sanitized volumes of documents each day for a month. The produced files contained directives to destroy the Panther’s Breakfast for Children Program and disrupt the distribution of the BPP newspaper, evidence that the charismatic Hampton was a targeted BPP leader, and massive wiretap overhears, including conversations between BPP members and their attorneys.
At the very end of its month long document production, the Government produced O’Neal’s control file. In it was yet another smoking gun — memos to and from FBI headquarters and the Chicago office that requested and approved payment of a $300 bonus to reward O’Neal for the floor plan. According to the memos, O’Neal’s information was of “tremendous value” and, in the words of O’Neal’s COINTELPRO supervisor, made the raid a “success.”
That same month, on April 23, 1976, the Church Committee released its Final Staff Report on the FBI and CIA’s rampant domestic illegalities which included a chapter entitled “The FBI’s Covert Action Plan to Destroy the Black Panther Party.” The chapter concluded by highlighting the Hampton raid as a COINTELPRO operation and quoting from the bonus documents that we had obtained only weeks before.
The Judge, an ardent supporter of the FBI, exonerated the FBI and its Justice Department lawyers of any wrongdoing in suppressing the documents and later dismissed O’Neal and the other FBI defendants from the case. In April of 1979 the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in a landmark decision, overturned the trial judge, finding that the FBI defendants and their government lawyers “obstructed justice” by suppressing the BPP files. Most significantly, the Court of Appeals also concluded that there was “serious evidence” to support the conclusion that the FBI, Hanrahan, and his men, in planning and executing the raid, had participated in a “conspiracy designed to subvert and eliminate the Black Panther Party and its members,” thereby suppressing a “vital radical Black political organization.” The Court further found there to be substantial evidence that these defendants also participated in a post-raid conspiracy to “cover up evidence” regarding the raid, to “conceal the true character of their pre-raid and raid activities,” to “harass the survivors of the raid,” and to “frustrate any legal redress the survivors might seek.” This decision withstood a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court, and stands today as judicial recognition of outrageous Federal and local conspiratorial criminality and cover-up.[…] ‘