Hollywood is finally asking questions about the FBI. Maybe now we’ll get some answers about Malcolm X, MLK and others
The real possibility that federal officers were involved in the assassinations of a host of civil rights leaders is finally being explored by filmmakers might, at long last, make Americans notice the excesses of our government.
This week, members of famed civil rights activist Malcolm’s X’s family made public a letter they described as being written by a former police officer that admits that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and FBI were responsible for his assassination in 1965.
The letter, confirmed as written by former undercover officer Raymond Wood, makes damning allegations that the NYPD and FBI conspired to have Malcolm killed.
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“Under the direction of my handlers, I was told to encourage leaders and members of the civil rights groups to commit felonious acts,” Wood’s letter stated, alleging that two member of Malcolm’s security detail were entrapped by authorities and arrested.
This left them unable to manage door security for him at New York’s Audubon Ballroom on the night of his death, which would later result in the arrest and conviction of three members of the Nation of Islam, an African-American Muslim group that Malcolm was once a promiment member of but later broke with.
In terms of whether the idea that Malcolm was really killed by the NYPD in collusion with federal authorities is plausible, there is little doubt that it could have happened. As is the subject of a newly released Netflix film titled Judas and the Black Messiah, the FBI was deeply involved in subverting – and even assassinating – prominent civil rights leaders during its COINTELPRO operations.
For example, the subject of that film, Fred Hampton, a charismatic 21-year-old Black Panther party leader in the Chicago area, was assassinated by the FBI in 1969 along with fellow Panther Mark Clark. Identified as a threat by intelligence in 1967 for his organizing work and breakthrough with white labor activists, the FBI began subverting his operations through disinformation before his eventual assassination.
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In 1982, survivors and relatives of Hampton and Clark won a $1.85 million civil lawsuit paid by the City of Chicago, Cook County and the federal government, which is about as close to an admission of guilt as anyone could expect to get from the feds.
Even Martin Luther King Jr., who was seen as a more moderate Black activist compared to Malcolm X or members of the Black Panther Party, was targeted by COINTELPRO. In 1964, he received a letter that he correctly suspected (and was later confirmed) to have been sent by the FBI urging him to commit suicide or else proof of alleged sexual indiscreditions would be made public.
There have been a number of dubious convictions of Black leaders as a result of the program including Assata Shakur, who is now a fugitive living in Cuba; Marshall “Eddie” Conway; Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, later found innocent in 1997 after serving 27 years in prison; and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Though the FBI publicly claims that COINTELPRO ended when the program was exposed in 1971 after activists with the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI ransacked an FBI field office in Pennsylvania and found dossiers, there is clear evidence that it continued.
One notable case in the 1990s had to do with leading environmentalist and labor leader Judi Bari, who I wrote about in an RT column in January. (Her website details exactly how her involvement with the FBI mirrors the tactics of COINTELPRO).
Though there is no definitive evidence connecting these cases to COINTELPRO, we also have the suspicious death of Gary Webb, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who ran a series claiming that the CIA was selling cocaine to gangs in the U.S. in order to fund paramilities in Latin America in the 1980s. In 2004, after long being cast as a liar by the mainstream media in conjunction with U.S. intelligence, he was found dead with two gunshot wounds to the head in what was ruled a suicide.
Then there’s the death of Buzzfeed journalist Michael Hastings in 2014. Before the time of his death, he was apparently “onto a big story” on the CIA and believed he was being investigated by the FBI. In what was described by Former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard A. Clarke as being “consistent with a car cyber attack,” a witness saw Hastings’s car going maximum speed and shooting sparks before crashing into a palm tree in Los Angeles. His body was burned beyond recognition.
The entire subject of this program, though it was huge news in the 1960s and 1970s and is a matter of public record, is so unbelievable and heinous that average Americans find it hard to believe, even conspiratorial in nature. It’s great that Hollywood has now given the opportunity to publicly revisit this subject because not only did COINTELPRO clearly continue past its official end, a program like this could happen again – if it isn’t still ongoing.
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Fred Hampton is widely known and celebrated on the political left. He was a charismatic figure that understood the intersections of oppression in American society and used this to organize across racial lines. Finally Hollywood is telling his story and giving him some of the messianic status the FBI wanted to steal from him.
On the other hand, Malcolm X, though he is indeed a polarizing figure, is a more visible figure in public consciousness. If indeed it is the case that he was killed by police, which is highly likely and is already being investigated by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, then the country really needs to have a serious conversation about these kinds of activities by U.S. intelligence.
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