Some Thoughts on the Richard Aoki-As-Informant Controversy

The book that started the shit storm

Firstly, apologies to readers for the lack of posts recently. I have started a new job and am also gearing up for surgery, so I haven’t had the free time I would like in order to post.

Anyway, onto the business at hand. I am making this quick post today in order to jot down some initial thoughts of mine on the controversy surrounding the recent allegations that famed Asian-American Black Panther Party member Richard Aoki was in fact a government informant the entire time. I posted the article which first hit the web with the news with the caveat to take it with a grain of salt. Since then have stayed silent because I feel it is far to early to judge the allegations as the article (and the book it was promoting) only came out this week. It is most certainly the case that no-one has taken the time to do the kind of in-depth research necessary in order to refute OR support them.

However, many folks around the North American leftist internet community have obviously felt that it is not necessary to do said investigation in order to stand up and say with total confidence that Aoki was NOT an agent. While I still would consider myself not particularly swayed in either direction, I find myself not endorsing or posting any of these defences of Aoki because I have some particular concerns about the whole case that I feel have either not be dealt with well, honestly or at all by others commentators.

Finally, before I get into my actual comments, I feel it is necessary to note that I, like others, have not done the kind of indepth research I have said is necessary. So these are just initial thoughts and nothing more.

My Thoughts

So where to begin? First off maybe it’s because I have never been directly part of the US leftist mileu (having always had my permanent home in Bermuda or Canada), but I have found it quite odd that so many people feel the rush and need to defend Aoki against the claims that he was an agent. Frankly, the damn book in which the claims are put forward has just came out only a couple of days ago, and the story that got passed around the net only came out a day or two before the book. So as I said already, at the most basic level I think it is incredibly premature to make judgements. Again, it is certainly the case that no one has done the indepth research needed to refute the claims, again because the book has just come out. In fact, if anything the rush to defend Aoki and his legacy strikes me much more as being driven by strong emotions of shock and fear, as well as people saying “well I knew the guy and there is no way he was an agent!”

However, what we do know is this: Black Panther Party was so chock-a-block full of agents. We all know this to be true. It is simple history. An illustrative example of this comes from conversations I have had with a veteran AIMista who is close to Bob Brown (ex-BPP, now All-African People’s Revolutionary Party), who recounted once that at least one time at a rally for the Panthers where 80 people showed up, 50 of them were agents! The BPP was almost certainly infiltrated from almost its inception, and it was the Panthers’ style of organization and leadership which created many of the conditions that allowed this incredibly widespread, deep and longterm infiltration to happen.

There is also a history of this of course outside of the BPP (that is, people in leadership positions being accused of agent-status), and so I do not believe at all that the claims are as unfounded as I think much of the emotional and rushed defences of Aoki have made it out to be. I don’t think I need to remind many folks about Ward Churchill, who despite his noteworthy work on the history of colonization and Native anti-colonial struggles, has long attempted to dodge accusations that he is an agent (as well as also a non-Indian), both from his AIM factions’ rivals in the other AIM faction, but also from many Native radicals outside of the AIM organizations.

Outside of anti-colonial struggles in North America one can also look to the Republican Movement in Ireland – and this point also speaks to the claim made by some commentators that it is opportunist to think that the state wants to foster violent radicalism from revolutionaries in order to repress them. For many years there have been rumours and accusations that people in leadership positions of the physical-force Republican movement (as Aoki was with the BPP) were agents and informants. In fact, many believe that Martin McGuinness, a former leader with the Provo IRA and now a Provo Sinn Féin politician and the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, was probably an MI6 informant. Further, many Republican and Republican Socialist veterans believe that much of the genuinely-terrorist actions by the Provos (i.e. where innocent civilians were deliberately targeted) were done under the orders of informant-commanders.

So with this history of the BPP and other movements, I find myself asking “why do so many people act as though it is NOT possible for Aoki to have been an agent?” Again, I think it speaks to the emotionalism that is absolutely brimming inside the responses.

Finally, I have serious issues with the idea put forward by some forces that the accusations are a form of snitch/bad jacketing (some are even calling it New COINTELPRO or COINTELPRO 2.0) (1). And these issues are:

1) Richard Aoki is dead, and has been for several years now. Not that this is direct evidence against snitch jacketing, but I find myself asking what the point would be of snitch jacketing a dead man? If you believe certain White “left” formations it is because the US state wishes to “discredit” so-called “militant” tactics within the #Occupy Movement (see Notes at the end). This “connection” is spurious and has more to do with pushing the soft, White-power-apologism-that-passes-as-leftism politics of these forces.

2) It is 40 years after the fact (Aoki’s BPP involvement that is). If the US state was seeking to discredit these so-called “militant” tactics within the #Occupy Movement, why not attempt to discredit someone or some group with much more relevance to said movement? Again, not direct evidence against it, but this also makes me question the possible motive behind a snitch jacketing campaign.

3) Related to point 1) and 2), Richard Aoki is not a household name, even among anti-capitalists and anti-imperialists. I know many anti-capitalists who are not leftist trainspotters whose first response to the controversy was “Who is Richard Aoki?” While Aoki is not to be dismissed historically, I believe that there is a strong tendency among the “defences” of him to overstate his historical importance and how wide spread knowledge of him is. Again I find myself asking a question along the lines of “If the US state wanted to discredit the Panthers to discredit #Occupy (setting aside that spurious connection) why not do it with a much widely known figure?”

4) As I understand it (and I have not read the book, so unlike others I am not attempting to speak authoratively) the files which reveal Aoki to be an agent were secret and only obtained by the author of the book (again – as far as I understand) via a FOIA request.

Yet again, not direct evidence against him being snitch jacketed, but as with the other points it means we have to ask questions. For example, if they existed to discredit him why not do it when he was a alive, or better yet, when he was actually involved in the BPP? Not that I trust the White imperialist state, but it would seem to me that secret files that can only be obtained via a FOIA request are not conducive to spreading rumours in order to bring about mistrust between radicals.

Again, I not out to make final judgement yet, but I think we really have to consider many of the questions I have raised above before we able to move to that step, and at this point in time I do not believe that that has been done.


(1) The idea that this is somehow a “New COINTELPRO” has been raised by some sectors of the North American White “left”, in particular the arch-White “leftist” Kasama Project. This is articulated by Mike Ely (unofficial head of the KP) in article titled Straight talk about the New Cointelpro. If we take these Ely’s word for it, then apparently it was only after 9/11 that “massive resources were unleashed by the U.S. government to infiltrate and observe all kinds of political and cultural groups. The recruitment and deployment of informants has (over and over) given rise to cases of agent provocateurs — where naive or susceptible targets were drawn into entrapment by agents in their midst.” Additionally, they tell us that “After the high tide of Occupy, police and FBI forces have clearly decided to target, isolate and break those they perceive as a hard-left edge of the Occupy movement.”

This of course is totally ridiculous. The idea of a so-called “New COINTELPRO” is patently absurd to anyone inside the movements for liberation of oppressed nationalities. For our movements while the program bearing the name COINTELPRO was officially ended in April 1971, counter-insurgency (which is what COINTELPRO was a program of) was long the strategy of the colonial US-state for dealing with the internal colonies both before and after the program known as COINTELPRO. This is what the US government’s generation of the crack cocaine epidemic in the barrios and ghettos was! This is what the Battle of St. Petersburg in 1994 was, where the US State directly attacked and tried to kill the leadership of the Uhuru Movement! This is what the framing up for Mumia Abu Jamal was!

This list of counter-insurgency events and tactics since the official end of COINTELPRO could go one for much longer, but I think this illustrates my point.

It is only a so-called “New COINTELPRO” because such serious state repression only periodically hits the White left, where as it is the name of the game 24/7/365 for anti-colonial movement (because they present the most potent threat to the colonial state, not the movements of students, the petty bourgeoisie or labour aristorcratic workers like #Occupy which organizations these organizations have made an art out of tailing). Because such counter-insurgency only periodically comes to the notice of the White left (as they are generally not the victims, and when they are they do not suffer the worst of it) it would have the appearance of being “new” while the past was “old,” whereas for us it the same-old thing.


Posted on August 24, 2012, in Radical History, State Repression, White Leftism & Neocolonialism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Some Thoughts on the Richard Aoki-As-Informant Controversy.

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