Why Isn't "COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story" Better Known?
"COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story"
By Paul Wolf with contributions from Robert Boyle, Bob Brown, Tom Burghardt, Noam Chomsky, Ward Churchill, Kathleen Cleaver, Bruce Ellison, Cynthia McKinney, Nkechi Taifa, Laura Whitehorn, Nicholas Wilson, and Howard Zinn.
Presented to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa by the members of the Congressional Black Caucus attending the conference: Donna Christianson, John Conyers, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Barbara Lee, Sheila Jackson Lee, Cynthia McKinney, and Diane Watson,
September 1, 2001.
SOME DOCUMENT HIGHLIGHTS FOR MY EYE
"During the 1960's, the FBI's role was not to protect civil rights workers, but rather, through the use of informants, the Bureau actively assisted the Ku Klux Klan in their campaign of racist murder and terror.
Church Committee hearings and internal FBI documents revealed that more than one quarter of all active Klan members during the period were FBI agents or informants. 44 However, Bureau intelligence "assets" were neither neutral observers nor objective investigators, but active participants in beatings, bombings and murders that claimed the lives of some 50 civil rights activists by 1964. 44
Bureau spies were elected to top leadership posts in at least half of all Klan units. 45 Needless to say, the informants gained positions of organizational trust on the basis of promoting the Klan's fascist agenda. Incitement to violence and participation in terrorist acts would only confirm the infiltrator's loyalty and commitment.
Unlike slick Hollywood popularizations of the period, such as Alan Parker's film, "Mississippi Burning," the FBI was instrumental in building the Ku Klux Klan in the South,
"...setting up dozens of Klaverns, sometimes being leaders and public spokespersons. Gary Rowe, an FBI informant, was involved in the Klan killing of Viola Liuzzo, a civil rights worker. He claimed that he had to fire shots at her rather than 'blow his cover.' One FBI agent, speaking at a rally organized by the Klavern he led, proclaimed to his followers, 'We will restore white rights if we have to kill every negro to do it.'" 46
Throughout its history, the Klan has had a contradictory relationship with the national government: as a defender of white privilege and the patriarchal status quo, and as an implicit threat, however provisional, to federal power. Depending on political conditions in society as a whole, vigilante terror can be supplemental to official violence, or kept on the proverbial shortleash. 47 As a surrogate army in the field of terror against official enemies, the Klan enjoys wide latitude. But when it moves into an oppositional mode and attacks key institutions of national power, Klan paramilitarism - but not its overt white supremacist ideology - is treated as an imminent threat to the social order, suppressed, but never destroyed, unlike other COINTELPRO target groups.
These roles are not mutually exclusive. As anti-racist researcher Michael Novick warns: "The KKK and its successor and fraternal organizations are deeply rooted in the actual white supremacist power relations of US society. They exist as a supplement to the armed power of the state, available to be used when the rulers and the state find it necessary." 48
The Klan's "supplemental" role, particularly as a private armed force sporadically deployed to arrest the development of movements for Black freedom, is best considered by comparison to other Bureau operations. Unlike other COINTELPROs, the "Klan - White Hate Groups" program was of a different order entirely. Senior FBI management and a majority of agents in the field endorsed the Klan's values, if not the vigilante character of their tactics; from militaristic anti-communism to extreme racial hatred; from ultra-nationalism to misogynist puritanism. 49
This was evident during the civil rights struggles of the sixties, when Freedom Riders and local community activists directly confronted hostile police forces - many of whom were openly allied with the Klan. Despite clear jurisdictional authority to enforce federal law, the FBI consistently refused to protect civil rights workers under attack across the South. More than once, the Bureau refused to warn those under imminent threat of violence.
FBI inaction in the area of civil rights enforcement wasn't simply a matter of what the Pike Committee of the House of Representatives dubbed "FBI racism." Rather, FBI bureaucratic lethargy, when it came to protecting Black lives, underscored its mission against subversion for constituents whose privileges and power were threatened by a militant movement for Black rights. 50"
( *44, 45: Frank Donner, Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1990, p. , P. 207 )
"In retrospect, the COINTEPRO's of the 1960s were thoroughly successful in achieving their stated goals, "to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" the enemies of the State." (on both sides)
"Despite tens of thousands of pages of documentary evidence, the idea that the Bureau would utilize private right-wing operatives and terrorists is a chilling, alien concept to most Americans. Nevertheless, the FBI has financed, organized, and supplied arms to right-wing groups that carried out fire-bombings, burglaries, and shootings. 34
This was the case during the FBI's COINTELPRO in South Dakota in the 1970's against the Oglala Sioux Nation and the American Indian Movement. Right-wing vigilantes were used to disrupt the American Indian Movement (AIM) and selectively terrorize and murder the Oglala Sioux people 35, in what could only be described as a counter-insurgency campaign. During the 36 months roughly beginning with the 1973 seige of Wounded Knee and continuing through the first of May 1976, more than sixty AIM members and supporters died violently on or in locations immediately adjacent to the Pine Ridge Reservation. A minimum of 342 others suffered violent physical assaults. As Roberto Maestas and Bruce Johansen have observed:
Using only these documented political deaths, the yearly murder rate on Pine Ridge Reservation between March 1, 1973, and March 1, 1976, was 170 per 100,000. By comparison, Detroit, the reputed "murder capital of the United States," had a rate of 20.2 in 1974. ... The political murder rate at Pine Ridge between March 1, 1973, and March 1, 1976, was almost equivalent to that in Chile during the three years after the military coup supported by the United States deposed and killed President Salvador Allende. 36"
"Many details are now available concerning these extensive campaigns of terror and disruption, in part through right-wing paramilitary groups organized and financed by the national government, but primarily through the much more effective means of infiltration and provocation of existing groups. In particular, much of the violence that occurred on college campuses can be attributed to government provocateurs.
The Alabama branch of the ACLU argued in court that in May 1970 an FBI agent "committed arson and other violence that police used as a reason for declaring that university students were unlawfully assembled" -- 150 students were arrested. The court ruled that the agent's role was irrelevant unless the defense could establish that he was instructed to commit the violent acts, but this was impossible, according to defense counsel, since the FBI and police thwarted his efforts to locate the agent who had admitted the acts to him. 40"
"One FBI provocateur resigned when he was asked to arrange the bombing of a bridge in such a way that the person who placed the booby-trapped bomb would be killed. This was in Seattle, where it was revealed that FBI infiltrators had been engaged in a campaign of arson, terrorism, and bombings of university and civic buildings, and where the FBI arranged a robbery, entrapping a young black man who was paid $75 for the job and killed in a police ambush. 42"
Though the Bureau claimed that its "Klan - White Hate Groups" COINTELPRO was launched in order to stifle white supremacist activities, the historical record proves otherwise. The more well known, but by no means only examples of Klan terror during the period - the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four black children; the 1964 murders of civil rights workers Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner in Mississippi: and the 1965 assassination of Viola Liuzzo and her companion near Selma, Alabama, point to knowledge of the crimes, and complicity in subsequent cover-ups by FBI officials.
"The police/FBI informant had received a copy of the parade route the day before the CWP-initiated march (Communist Workers Party); a map had been supplied by Detective Cooper. Dawson had driven over the parade route three hours earlier with a contingent of out- of-town Klansmen. Dawson also alerted Cooper that the Klansmen and neo- Nazis possessed three handguns and nine long-barrelled rifles, including automatic weapons supplied by BATF agent Bernard Butkovich. 65
Prior to the beginning of the CWP's march and demonstration, Cooper and other police officials drove by the house where the Klansmen and neo-Nazis were assembling. They jotted down license plate numbers and then declared a lunch break -- at approximately 10 a.m. 66 Less than an hour later, Cooper, trailing behind the Klan caravan reported, "shots fired" and then "heavy gunfire." The tactical squad assigned to monitor the march were still out to lunch. 67
Two other officers, responding to a domestic disturbance call, noted the absence of patrol cars usually assigned to the area. They arrived at the Morningside projects, the site of the CWP march. Officer Wise later reported having received a most unusual call from the police communications center. The officers were asked how long they anticipated being at their call; they were subsequently advised to "clear the area as soon as possible." 68
Moments later, five demonstrators lay dead, murdered in broad daylight by members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. 69 According to Michael Novick, the Greensboro massacre "set the tone for neo-Nazi organizing by the KKK and other white supremacists in the ensuing decade." 70
A subsequent civil suit brought against the neo-Nazis, the Klan and the Greensboro police resulted in a partial award to the surviving family members. FBI and BATF agents walked away scott-free."
"The Church committee found that COINTELPRO, presumably set up to protect national security and prevent violence, actually engaged in other actions "which had no conceivable rational relationship to either national security or violent activity. The unexpressed major premise of much of COINTELPRO is that the Bureau has a role in maintaining the existing social order, and that its efforts should be aimed toward combating those who threaten that order."
This meant that the Bureau would take actions against individuals and organizations simply because they were critical of government policy. The Church committee report gives examples of such actions, violations of the right of free speech and association, where the FBI targeted people because they opposed U.S. foreign policy, or criticized the Chicago police actions at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The documents assembled by the Church committee "compel the conclusion that Federal law enforcement officers looked upon themselves as guardians of the status quo" and cite the surveillance and harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. as an example of this.
With regard to COINTELPRO, the Church committee's report was based, it says, on a staff study of more than 20,000 pages of Bureau documents, and included depositions of many of the Bureau agents involved in the programs. The FBI eventually acknowledged having conducted 2,218 separate COINTELPRO actions from mid-1956 through mid- 1974. These, the bureau conceded, were undertaken in conjunction with other significant illegalities: 2,305 warrantless telephone taps, 697 buggings, and the opening of 57,846 pieces of mail. 130 This itemization, although an indicator of the magnitude and extent of FBI criminality, was far from complete. The counterintelligence campaign against the Puerto Rican independence movement was not mentioned at all, while whole categories of operational techniques - assassinations, for example, and obtaining false convictions against key activists - were not divulged with respect to the rest. There is solid evidence that other sorts of illegality were downplayed as well."