5 Ways the FBI Destroys Leftist Organizations


To say that the 20th century was a tumultuous
time for the United States is an understatement at best. First modern attack on US soil, two World
Wars, near-nuclear Armageddon, yeah it was a lot. And to top it all off, there were thousands
of revolutionary organizations that advocated for the immediate violent overthrow of the
country. In response, the FBI launched its Counter-Intelligence
Program, which covertly allowed the agency to subvert domestic revolutionary groups,
both through legal and illegal means. Here are five ways they did just that. #1 Anyone can be an informant. Looking for a potential informant is a bit
of an art. You can pay someone to join an organization
and work their way up, but you need to find someone with the right background, the right
look, and the right knowledge. Otherwise you’re stuck with poaching members. And poaching is hard. Most people don’t join a revolutionary organization
looking to tear to it down. But maybe if they’re part of a minority
sect in the group, and the infighting is getting worse and worse, and they’re having personal
or financial problems, maybe they’ll be open to “just talking.” Take the case of Morris Child’s, who joined
the Communist Party USA when he was 19. He was taken under the wing of Earl Browder
during the 1920’s. Both quickly rose up the ranks of the party,
Child’s was sent to Moscow in 1929 for political training, and eventually earned a spot in
the Party’s Central Committee, while Browder became CPUSA’s General Secretary in 1930. Comrade Browder found success as party leader
with his slogan “Communism is 20th Century Americanism”, running for US President in
the 1936 election and developing a strong cult of personality. But he went a step too far towards reconciliation,
writing about how capitalism and communism could coexist peacefully, and held organizational
principles Moscow deeply disagreed with. He was expelled right after World War II,
setting off a sharp leftward turn for the party. In the campaign against Browderist elements
within the party, Child’s was eventually ousted from his position. After suffering two heart attacks and divorcing
his wife, he was left with no political, emotional or financial support. Tired and with overwhelming hospital bills,
he fell right into the hands of the FBI. The government then began legally cracking
down on the party in the late 40’s, numerous high-level members went underground. Desperate for talented organizers, leadership
looked back to reinstate purged members. Seemingly reformed, Childs was allowed back
into the party, and with his help, the FBI was able to collect hundreds of party secrets. Stories like these aren’t unique, historian
Maurice Isserman notes that purges like these pushed “hundreds out of the party and some
into the arms of the FBI.” Sometimes, people are only one bad day
away from being willing to talk. #2 Get in early. Meet Richard Aoki, the ideal revolutionary. His family was held in US Japanese concentration
camps during the 40’s, leaving a major impact on him as young boy. During high school, he had numerous communist
friends, and while he wasn’t a communist himself, he was influenced by their ideas. He later enlisted in the Army out of necessity,
but, seeing how awfully violent the Vietnam War was first hand, he was convinced that
the government needed to be toppled. He joined the Young Socialist Alliance, and
moved up the ranks quickly. During this time, he befriended a relatively
unknown man at the time: Huey P. Newton. Newton liked Aoki and showed him the ten-point
platform his group had crafted for an organization they wanted to create, the Black Panthers
Party. Aoki approved of what he saw and became both
a founding member of the party, and the first Asian American secret member of the organization. Aoki continued his career as a revolutionary
through the 60s and 70s. Eventually, he became more and more focused
on academia. But even as a professor, Richard Aoki maintained
his involvement, being a major figure in the strike for Ethnic Studies at Berkeley. This man was a personal idol
for many young Asian Americans in 90s and 2000s. He had a loud, boastful personality. A living counter-example of the racist stereotypes
that painted Asian men as quiet and submissive. Richard Aoki wasn’t afraid of anybody, and
his life as a revolutionary was proof of it. He even had a documentary made of him in 2009,
which is where most of the footage you’re watching is from. He passed away later that same year. How could anyone doubt this man with such
a rich history in radicalism and a compelling life narrative to boot? Unfortunately for everyone Richard Aoki worked
with, it was all mostly a farce. Being held in Topak, Utah against his will
as a child didn’t radicalize him and convince him of the dangers of authority, but instead
engrained a deep desire to advance into the highest ranks of the government ladder. Aoki didn’t personally witness the horrors
of Vietnam. Instead, during his time in the army, the
FBI noticed he had associated with communists in high school, and after a short application
process, he began his job as an informant the moment he left the army. In 2012, writer Seth Rosenfeld released a
book, The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and revealed the damning truth that Aoki had
actually been an FBI informant throughout his entire career. This was met with heavy criticism from old
friends and comrade, and Rosenfield was accused of lying to sell books. His evidence wasn’t exactly definitive,
since even to this day, plenty of documents on FBI operations are sealed. And the urge to defend an old comrade is hard
to resist. But, when the FBI later released their full
file on Aoki, the truth was undeniable: Aoki had been an informant from day one. In the words of Aaron J Leonard, the author
of A Threat of First Magnitude, “Huey Newton gets arrested for a shootout with cops, sending
Huey Newton to jail and the Free Huey movement explodes. Richard Aoki tells the FBI within a day or
two that the car Newton was driving was Newton’s girlfriend’s car. This is Richard Aoki. This is his real legacy.”
The FBI had men and women everywhere and made it their imperative to get in during a group’s
formative years. Timing was everything. Like Aoki, Morris Child’s filled a similar
role for the bureau. He was bought at a crucial point in time for
the Communist Party USA, the same time Aoki was fully adopting his radical persona, and
a major turning point for all radical organizing abroad. The Sino-Soviet Split of 1960. #3 Agitate, agitate, agitate.
The Sino-Soviet Split was an incredibly difficult issue for organizations to navigate. The two most legitimate socialist entities,
the Soviet Union and Communist China came at odds over a complicated difference in tactics. The question for socialist organizations abroad
became Comrade Mao, or Comrade Stalin? And it wasn’t just a difference in rhetoric,
your position determined how much financial and material support you would receive from
your side. The Students for a Democratic Society arose
right as the split was taking shape in 1959. While not nominally a revolutionary or radical
organization, the SDS had its hand in actions in the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war
movement. Throughout the decade, the SDS was tugged
at from all sides. Being a big tent organization, Trotskyists,
anarchists, communists and others, all vied for control. The traditional narrative of the demise of
the SDS holds that the group was pulled apart by restless student radicals who wanted the
revolution to start immediately. After the intense 1969 national conference,
the SDS split into multiple factions, the most notable of which was the “Weathermen
Underground”, who consisted of the more militant leadership within the party. The two other biggest sects following the
split were Progressive Labor, a more established wing of the organization, and the Revolutionary
Union, a young group of pro-Maoist revolutionaries that grew to be the largest national Maoist
organization in the US. The FBI played an important role in this split,
pushing its informants to vote in favor of the leadership who would become the Weatherman
Underground. The NYTimes noted in 1969 that the FBI, “has
undercover agents and informers inside almost every [SDS] chapter.” Their reasoning for directing their infiltrators
to vote in favor of the militant extremists was simple, if the students get violent now,
we can arrest them now. But if they get absorbed into a group with
higher standards of discipline like the Revolutionary Union, then they become a legitimate threat
to the United States. It’s a feeling foreign to us today, but many
student revolutionaries could feel the revolution in the air. We’re talking about the late 1960’s, the
days of Mao’s Cultural Revolution where cadres of students were revolutionizing everyday
life in China, the most populous country on the planet, to create their ideal society. For students here in the States, it was only
a matter of a few months, years at most, for people to similarly take up arms. And so the FBI wasted no time in convincing
young radicals of this reality. The bureau prepared numerous anonymous letters
sent to every sectarian group in the fight misrepresenting people’s views and even
suggesting some were FBI informants. This was a common FBI tactic and enough to
push the coalition to the edge. With SDS in ruins, the Weathermen would unleash
a series of violent attacks across the country, most notably an attack on the US capitol in
1969, pushing them to the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted List. They were forced to go underground, and being
relatively small, eventually dissipated. The members who weren’t caught live on as
regular citizens today. The Progressive Labor coalition was seriously
hurt, and would never reach the heights it once had in members. The Revolutionary Union, being relatively
new, was set to bear the torch of radical organizing for the rest of the 70’s. But it was undeniable that without the Students
for a Democratic Society, Leftists everywhere had lost a big player in the fight. #4 By any means necessary. The letters sent in the SDS debacle were small-time
compared to other FBI operations. One of the more famous examples of fake letters
were the set Martin Luther King Jr. received trying to convince him to commit suicide. While scandalous, it’s not the worst example. In a 1964 memo, “the FBI celebrated that
its campaign of anonymous letters against the Puerto Rican independence movement had
contributed to the heart attack of one of its leaders.” Similarly, the
bureau sent numerous conflicting letters to street gangs in areas of Black Panther control,
trying to incite a gang war. Merely being affiliated with an organization
like the Black Panthers could set off the wrath of the FBI. Actress Jean Seberg, who’s affiliation with
the Panthers involved donating to the org, was the victim of a widespread rumor that
her unborn baby was the culmination of a secret affair with a member of the Panthers. The rumor, entirely falsified, yet circulated
widely by the LA Times and Newsweek, came directly from the FBI. She committed suicide shortly after. But this paled in comparison to the treatment
of 21 year old Fred Hampton. After joining the ranks of the Black Panthers,
he had quickly moved up the party ladder and was voted in as chairman. Hampton’s positions were focused on establishing
solidarity that transcended all boundaries, most notable in his campaign to unite the
Panthers with a southside street gang which would have doubled the number of members in the group. After a particularly busy day on December
4, 1969, Hampton and his girlfriend, Deborah Johnson, who was eight and a half months pregnant
at the time, retreated to their apartment. The couple were awoken by a flurry of gunshots
from the police who had broken in. Shooting through the walls, Deborah used her
body to shield Fred. After making their way inside the room, the
officers ripped the couple apart, and ordered everyone in the house into the kitchen. From the kitchen, Deborah heard the officers. “He’s barely alive. He’ll barely make it.” [TWO GUN SHOTS] “He’s good and dead now.” The news told the story of how the Black Panthers
had shot first in the shoot out. But it took several years for the truth to
be revealed. The cops had shot first, 90 rounds into the apartment
with sub-machine guns with only one shot returned, killing two Panthers and injured several others. Fred Hampton died not from the initial storm
of bullets, but from the two shots the officers delivered point-blank to his head. This wasn’t a shoot-out, it was an assassination. And the FBI had its hands all over it. Informants within the party had handed over
information relaying the exact layout of the apartment. William O’Neal, Fred Hampton’s bodyguard,
worked for the bureau, and on the night of shooting, abandoned his post. Further investigation revealed that this was
part of a larger operation within the government to prevent the rise of any “messianic figures”
who could unite the black community under a common banner. The Black Panthers would struggle to recover
from the loss, and peaking only a few months after, they entered a long period of decline. But while these stories are especially damning,
they were a small part of COINTELPRO operations. The clear majority of disruption occurred
through the small every-day acts of informants and their ability to rock all aspects of an
organization. #5: Wreck all solidarity. Tugging at ideological threads like the Sino-Soviet
Split was a lucrative endeavor for the bureau. But one question that was even more effective
at wrecking solidarity was the question on racial nationalism. Should revolutionary Marxists support nationalist
organizations like the Black Panthers? This question delivered a heavy blow to Progressive
Labor, which had taken a stand against all forms of nationalism. Like the Weathermen who misread the imminence
of revolution, many Marxist orgs miscalculated the atmosphere at the time. From the 70’s onward, revolutionary Marxism
was on the decline. Identity-based organizing surrounding issues
like feminism, racial liberation, and LGBT rights came to replace it. Left-nationalist groups especially had grown
in prominence by the 70’s, Puerto Rican, Chicano and black liberation fronts were amassing
influence and the Revolutionary Union seemed poised to succeed where Progressive Labor
had not. The RU was in talks with different racial
nationalist groups to establish a big tent organization, one to replace the CP and SDS. Yet, Don Wright, a black man who had joined
the Revolutionary Union upon the recommendation other radical organizations, would ensure
that wouldn’t come to pass. No one really knew what Wright’s background
was. But he came recommended by an underground
radical organization, the Ad-Hoc Committee, and claimed to be well-established in the
Panthers. Wright had climbed his way up to the top of
the RU, the four-person organizing committee, and became a point-person for the unification
process of the racial nationalists and the revolutionary Marxists. Except, instead of arguing for solidarity
and the creation of a multi-national party, he spent his time advocating for racial disunity,
that “black people need to lead black people, Puerto Rican people need to lead Puerto Rican
people.” Unsurprisingly, the project for unification
ended unsuccessfully. Don Wright pulled the Revolutionary Union
apart in more ways than one. Personal relationships are incredibly important
when organizing. Organizers are people too. And more than picking at ideological differences,
the quickest way to destroy solidarity is by being an asshole. And Don Wright was an asshole. Personal writings from various members reveal
that by just being a jerk Wright accomplished his goal of wrecking the organization. The Revolutionary Union wouldn’t last long after the failed unification process. Once the largest national Maoist organization,
the RU was reduced to a small dogmatic group. By the late 70’s and 80’s, the era of
radical Marxist organizing in the United States had passed. —
Reading about the prevalence of spies within Leftist organization can be depressing. I mean, damn, they were everywhere. And it’s easy to see how successful the
FBI was at sowing havoc and think they were at the root of every misstep, but it wasn’t
entirely on them. While infiltrators blew ideological gashes
wide open, the organization at large still supported them. Despite being secret, after close examination,
many infiltrators left clues at their government connections. Richard Aoki had numerous inconsistencies
in his life story. Don Wright claimed to be a high member within
the Black Panther Party, but if anyone in the Revolutionary Union had bothered to check
in with the Panthers, they would’ve known that this was a complete fabrication. And the underground Maoist group that recommended
him, the Ad-Hoc Committee? That didn’t actually exist, it was just
an FBI front, but no one bothered to dig deeper. When regular members would bring up certain
suspicions to their superiors they were met with common responses, “Well, he’s black,
he’s a worker, they’re a women, we don’t have that many of those. We need them.” Predominantly white student groups would do
anything to keep brown and black members, or people from the working class. Even if they felt they were class wreckers. Aaron J Leonard shares a good anecdote on
how it would go down. “With the [informants], people were saying,
“These people are a little off.” But a party leader effectively said, “You
shouldn’t attack them because they’re proletarians.” Well, they’re screwed-up proletarians.” And if you want to protect your organization,
you don’t want screwed-up proletarians.




Comments
  1. Roman Vatslavovich Malinovsky is probably the most famous leftist infiltrator. He served in the highest offices of the Bolshevik party, while being an informant for the Okhrana. Lenin originally refused to believe it, saying "If he is a provocateur, the police gained less from it than our Party did," echoing the response of people who refused to believe Richard Aoki's involvement in the FBI.

    Is there any substance behind the notion that an infiltrator can actually help you more than hurt you, or is that just a cop-out?

  2. BUT WHAT IS THE MUSIC AT around 18:00 sorry for shouting but I must know; also, AMAZING video, thank you man <3

  3. One mistake comrade, the Sino-Soviet split happend after Stalin’s death in 1953. The question wasn’t about Mao or Stalin but Mao or Khrushchev. Khrushchev was known for introducing market reforms to the socialist economy of the USSR, which was the main splitting point.

  4. One detail I read somewhere about the Fred Hampton murder. The fink who served as Hampton's bodyguard, and gave the assassins the whole floor plan of the building including Hampton's bedroom – I read that Judas got his position by framing the loyal comrade who previously had the job as a cop/informer/agent.

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