Aoki, a Japanese-American, was a prominent leader of the Black Panther Party and in the Third World Liberation Front strike in Berkeley, Calif., in the 1960s. Before joining those groups he had been a member of the Young Socialist Alliance and Socialist Workers Party. Aoki later became an educator and counselor in Bay Area colleges, and remained politically active.
Rosenfeld’s charges come from discussions with a now-dead FBI agent, Burney Threadgill, who told Rosenfeld that he developed Aoki as an informant; the testimony of Wesley Swearingen, a retired FBI agent who says Aoki sounds like someone the FBI would use as an informant; and a heavily-redacted document on Aoki that Rosenfeld got from the FBI.
This FBI-generated snitch jacket follows a long-standing practice of government police agencies to disrupt and tear apart political organizations by fueling internal witch hunts, which have led to agent-baiting, infighting, expulsions and physical violence.
In addition to charging that Aoki was an FBI informant, Rosenfeld hints that Aoki may have been responsible for actions that set up cop killings of Panther members.
Aoki, who died in 2009, denied the charge when Rosenfeld confronted him with it during a 2007 interview. Rosenfeld’s Aug. 20 article has been widely disseminated and discussed, especially in the Bay Area. A number of people have come forward to reject his use of FBI sources to smear Aoki.
Diane Fujino, who wrote a biography of Aoki, Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life, debated Rosenfeld Aug. 23 on National Public Radio’s Democracy Now. Former Black Panther members, including Bobby Seale, Emory Douglas, Elbert “Big Man” Howard, and one of the few other Asian members of the party, Lee Lew Lee, have spoken out.
“We must remember that people were ‘bad jacketed’ all the time back in the day,” Lee wrote, adding, “people must remember to check the SOURCE.”
Ben Wang and Mike Cheng, makers of the documentary film “Aoki,” also countered Rosenfeld’s FBI-based charges.
But Rosenfeld’s FBI sources were apparently enough for some liberal and radical groups to jump on the snitch-jacket bandwagon.
Mother Jones ran a story Aug. 21 by senior editor Dave Gilson entitled “The ‘Japanese Radical Cat’ Who Spied on the Panthers for the FBI.”
On Aug. 29, SocialistWorker.org., the online publication of the International Socialist Organization, ran a story by author Bill Mullen saying it “examines explosive claims in a new book by Seth Rosenfeld that former Black Panther Richard Aoki may have been an FBI informant.” The article declared that the allegations “demand to be taken seriously by activists and revolutionaries” and conjecture about the many damaging things Aoki could be responsible for “if true.”
Two weeks later, on Sept. 8, the Chronicle published a second article by Rosenfeld in which he says the FBI had just turned 221 additional pages of files on Aoki over to him. The content of the files are almost completely blocked out, Rosenfeld says, but the fact they have Aoki’s name on them and statements by FBI agents that they contain informant reports means they “confirm” he was a snitch.
Over 200 people attended “Richard Aoki, Black Panther and Asian American Activist: Cointelpro Attacks and Reclaiming the Legacy” the following day at the EastSide Cultural Center in Oakland. The featured speakers included Diane Fujino and former Black Panthers Emory Douglas, Tarika Lewis and Bobby Seale.
The meeting was organized to counter Rosenfeld’s charges, the Oakland Local reported Sept. 11, pointing out that his justification amounted to “the testimony of a dead government agent and a stack of declassified documents.”
“Anytime a sentence starts with ‘FBI says,’ you should question it,” Greg Morozumi from the East Side Arts Alliance said.
Diane Fujino discussed Rosenfeld’s recently-published book Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Reagan’s Rise to Power, in which his snitch-jacket charges against Aoki were first raised. Throughout the book, she said, whether he is taking up the Free Speech Movement or the Third World Student Strike at the University of California at Berkeley, or promoting the charges against Aoki, he always turns first to FBI sources for his facts, not to newspaper accounts or interviews with those who participated in the events.
“The Socialist Workers Party stands with those who place no credence in charges and ‘evidence’ coming from the FBI,” a statement from the party distributed to participants at the meeting said. “We join with those who oppose the campaign Rosenfeld is leading.”
Willie Cotton contributed to this article.
Oppose FBI snitch-jacket operations!
Suit against FBI spying dismissed on ‘security’ pretext
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