Radical Black is Back

Author: David X

My dad constantly says that the only way that the Black Lives Matter protest will produce results is if the protestors begin to kill police officers. Let us rewind a few decades: before “Post-Race” America, before the racial violence that pockmarked the 90’s, before the American crack epidemic of the 80’s, to the rise of black radicalism in the late 1960’s and 70’s.

Prevailing thoughts regarding Black Nationalism, Black Separatism, Revolutionary Socialism, and a myriad of other movements involving achieving autonomy for blacks are usually grouped into the umbrella of the Black Power Movement. After the death of Martin Luther King, and the relative fall of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference thereafter, widespread rioting and violent revolt replaced nonviolent civil disobedience as the vehicle in which black people sought freedom.[1]

Black militant thought emerged in the wake of King’s, and to a lesser extent Robert F. Kennedys’, death in the late 60’s. Urged on by leaders like Stokely Carmichael, the death of John and Robert Kennedy, rampant police brutality, and disillusioned with the failure of the Civil Rights and Freedom Now movements to give black people real political and economic power this thought took hold in ghettos across the country.

The Black Power Movement largely hinged its beliefs on the Black Nationalist and self-defense traditions advocated by Malcolm X. From these traditions came the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, taking Black militant thought and combining it with Robert F. Williams ideas about guerilla warfare, and Marxist-Leninist left-wing thought.

The Black Panthers stood for everything the power structure in America feared since the Revolutionary War[2] all rolled into one: Communism, armed black revolt, defiant attitudes, revolutionary ideas, violent stances against police officers, and widespread black empowerment. Of course they became “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” as J. Edgar Hoover, then Director of the FBI described them.

As a result, the Panthers became the target of the government’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) as well as the lesser known Project MINARET. COINTELPRO “officially” took place between 1956 and 1971 though its practices continued long after that date. The FBI’s purpose was to “protect national security, prevent violence, and maintain the existing social and political order” and its methods were to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, neutralize or otherwise eliminate domestic political organizations.

The FBI targeted the NAACP, communist and socialist organizations, the SCLC, Black Nationalist groups, Vietnam War protestors, the KKK and white supremacist groups[3] to name a few.

Martin Luther King famously had his phone tapped, was sent “anonymous” packages encouraging him to commit suicide, and the mystery surrounding his assassination gave way to theories about the FBI assisting or carrying out his murder.

The Bureau monitored Malcolm X, and helped to perpetuate the violent disagreement between the Nation of Islam and Malcolm that led to his assassination. Again, the full extent of the FBI’s involvement in Malcolm’s death cannot be accurately known because his killers were never caught.

Senator Robert Kennedy[4] was the subject of COINTELPRO operations along with people like Albert Einstein and of course the Black Panther Party. In 1967, COINTELPRO-BLACK HATE began targeting groups it deemed as “nationalist hate groups” and by 1969 the BPP became the primary target of the Bureau’s operations. The FBI worked in unison with the CIA and local police officers to systematically dismantle the Black Panthers forcing them to eventually retreat from a national level organization back to Oakland. Great ideological differences such as whether the Black Panthers should be a catalyst for social change, be at constant war with the police, or criminal activity lead to hundreds of members quitting the organizations. This, coupled with the fact that many members of the Black Panther’s leadership had been killed, such as the case of Fred Hampton[5] and later Huey Newton, or was bogged down in the criminal justice system lead to the Panther’s downfall.

Back to “Post Race” America. With the bevy of race related shooting of black men and women[6] along with the dawn of the Black Lives Matter movement across the nation, our history is more important than ever.

Yes, the Black Lives Matter movement is not the Black Power Movement, nor is it the Civil Rights Movement. There are radically different means and ideologies that act to differentiate Black Live Matter from the Movements of the past. We live in a different time. We are no longer fighting blatant and open segregation and discrimination, but intuitional racism that acts to mask its agendas along with a “colorblind” population that believes racism ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

What we must acknowledge is that regardless of if we understand that the purpose of Black Lives Matter[7] and the methods of protest it uses will be looked at by others as one in the same with those movements. I have seen that fact proven to me at Butler University with our own Black Lives Matter protest[8].

Black people protesting regardless of the purpose is black people protesting. That equals a threat. History shows us how the United States deals with threats: either attempt to use its massive military might to destroy that threat or “covertly” eliminate that threat. COINTELPRO’s official stated purpose was to “maintain the existing social and political order”. The methods: “expose, disrupting, misdirecting, discrediting, neutralize or otherwise eliminate domestic political organizations”. Eliminate. That is America’s contingency plan whenever black people get tired of living in our appointed social castes. That is where our history and the present coincides. That is the biggest link between the Black Lives Matter, Black Power, and Civil Rights Movement.

Is COINTELPRO going to happen again? Well, the US Government can legally use many of the methods of COINTELPRO such as wiretapping, conducting surveillance on individuals, warrantless search and seizure of private property, infiltrate legal organizations, and harass and intimidate people to name a few under the very broad umbrella of Terrorism. But probably not.

What is likely to happen, in my opinion, is attempt to make us complacent again. Elimination through making us okay with the social conditions we are placed in. Elimination through perpetuating the idea of colorblindness and a “post-race” society. Elimination through preferential treatment in the justice system. Elimination through state violence. Elimination through poverty, gentrification, and disenfranchisement. Elimination through mass incarceration. Elimination through denying healthcare and equal education to name a few.

We do not have to be eliminated though. We can incessantly demand equal treatment in every faucet of society. We can learn from our history rather than becoming victims of it. The weapons of institutionalized racism are clear, and our weapons are too. The battleground is set. Question is…will you be a soldier or a bystander. Our weapons are clear too and still as true as when Malcolm X said it in 64’: “It’ll be the ballot or the bullet”. Either way, Radical Black is Back.

[1] Quick fact! MLK initially believed in self-defense and even owned guns to protect himself before Bayard Rustin and the teachings of Gandhi influenced him.

[2] During the Revolutionary war, Patriot leaders in the South debated whether or not to arm slaves to increase manpower. Of course this idea was shot down by Revolutionary leaders as fears of mass slave revolt would follow. Though many of the Founding Father’s abhorred the institution of Slavery and found it contradictory to their ideals, a myriad of factors including the South’s economic dependence on slave based agriculture and racial prejudice hindered emancipation.

[3] It’s important to note that only 15% of COINTELPRO’s resources were appropriated for operations against white supremacist groups….hmmmm I wonder why.


[5] At the time of his death Hampton was on the verge of creating a merger between the BPP and a Chicago street gang with thousands of member, which would have doubled the size of the party. The Chicago Police Department and the FBI raided his home on December 4th 1969. Hampton’s bodyguard had been a double-agent for the FBI and slipped him a sleeping agent in his dinner, Hampton fell asleep mid conversation while on the phone with his mother. The raid took place in the middle of the night, with Hampton in bed next to his pregnant wife CPD dragged him out of bed and shot him in the head twice…while still sleep. The Panthers fired one shot compared to CPD’s 90-95.

[6] Let us not forget that black women are the subject of police brutality too. Yes, discussing the fear of black male bodies is a must, but overlooking the brutalization of black women is part of the problem too. The white supremacist patriarchy in which we live thrives on the marginalization of black women. There must be just as much justice for Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, or John Crawford as Yvette Smith, Eleanor Bumpurs, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, or Tarika Wilson – See more at: http://www.damemagazine.com/2014/08/18/black-women-are-killed-police-too#sthash.eEjd8DMj.dpuf

[7] If you do not understand the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement, check their State of the Black Union and list of demands on their website at: http://blacklivesmatter.com/state-of-the-black-union/

[8] Read about my experience with Butler University’s racism in my article in Butler’s newspaper the Collegian: https://thebutlercollegian.com/?p=19188. Shameless plug I know. Deal with it.

2 thoughts on “Radical Black is Back

  1. Thank you for writing about COINTELPRO’s campaign against black activism. I’ve been knee deep in research about it right now, and I have copies of about 1000 pages of the memos that FBI Director Hoover exchanged with his field offices documenting their horrendous – and illegal – efforts. When learned about Fred Hampton, years ago, it changed my life and the direction of my work forever. Cheers to keeping his memory alive!


  2. Great article, David! Thanks for adding in the part about violence against black women. It’s crazy how that is quickly forgotten by the media. It just goes to show that patriarchy is truly a multi-fascited issue. And yes…radical black is back.

    Liked by 1 person

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