Beloved Japanese-American Black Panther Party member Richard Aoki was recently accused of being a FBI informant by investigative journalist Seth Rosenfeld in his new book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. Aoki passed away in 2009 and is therefore unable to defend himself against these accusations. However, a number of activists and scholars, including Professor Diane Fujino, Aoki’s biographer, question whether Rosenfeld presents conclusive or even sufficient evidence to support his claims.
However, it is well-documented that the Federal Bureau of Investigation created the Counter Intelligence Program, commonly known as COINTELPRO, to undermine the legal work of social movement organizations throughout the United States–including the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. Focusing on the continued widespread impact of the unethical acts of the FBI, one of the world’s most powerful law enforcement agencies, rather than the alleged actions of any individual activist, is perhaps more helpful to activism in communities of color today.
The documentary film COINTELPRO: The FBI’s War on Black Americareveals the impact of COINTELPRO on community organizing in the Black community. The film contains rare archival footage of Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Adam Clayton Powell, David Dennis and H Rap Brown, as well as interviews with Stokley Carmichael, Geronimo Pratt, Kathleen Cleaver, Flint Taylor and Jeff Haas. The filmmakers show how the FBI’s often illegal actions used public resources to diminish the political participation and life chances of people of color in the United States.
This classroom and community education tool facilitates conversations about how powerful institutions respond to grassroots organizations and how these organization can strategize to constructively cope with these responses. It also provides candid conversations about the history of the civil rights and Black power movements and the possibilities for social justice in the US.