There’s now a paper trail that shows detailed evidence of former Black Panther Richard Aoki work as an FBI informant. In a report released Friday morning at the Center for Investigative Reporting, reporter Seth Rosenfeld outlines his findings of 221 pages of FBI files that show Aoki’s role as informant with the agency for 16 years, from 1961 to 1977.
Here’s what the records show: The FBI began targeting Aoki while he was still in high school, a striking point that speaks to just how aggressively the government worked to intervene in radical and people of color-led movements. Notably, the files do not detail exactly what information Aoki gave to the FBI, and in particular the redacted documents do not specify whether he informed on the Black Panthers, the political organization with which Aoki is most widely identified. However, the documents do show that Aoki was an informant during the critical years in which the Black Panthers had conflict with the police.
From Rosenfeld’s report:
The records chronicle Aoki’s 16-year career as an informant during the time he was a student at Merritt College in Oakland and at UC Berkeley, participating in a series of radical groups, including the Black Panthers, the Asian American Political Alliance and the Third World Liberation Front, a 1969 protest for more ethnic studies that involved the most violent strike to date at UC Berkeley and led then-Gov. Ronald Reagan to declare a state of emergency.
An early FBI report says Aoki was assigned the alias “Richard Ford” to use when signing reports, as well as a permanent informant number, which the FBI redacted. It notes his date of birth, his parents’ names and his address.
A Dec. 14, 1971, report notes that Aoki was an instructor in Asian studies at UC Berkeley and a student counselor at the Grove Street campus of the Peralta Junior College District.
“Coverage furnished by this informant is unique and not available from any other source,” it says. “Many activist individuals seek informant’s advice and counseling since informant is considered as a militant who has succeeded within the establishment without surrending (sic) to it.”
FBI officials even reminded Aoki to report his pay as an informant on his tax return, according to a handwritten notation on a Dec. 29, 1972, report. The records do not say how much he was paid, but according to a congressional study, security informants in the 1960s typically received about $100 per month, with more valuable informants receiving up to $400 per month, the equivalent of about $2,900 today.
To see the files visit the Center for Investigative Reporting.
News of Aoki’s involvement with the FBI first came to light last month. Almost immediately, Aoki’s supporters criticized the claims. “It is unacceptable for Rosenfeld to discredit Richard’s integrity based on the unsubstantiated word of a deceased FBI agent and a document with redacted and vague information,” wrote the co-directors of the film “Aoki.”
The claims reinforced the prevalence of government intervention in progressive movements throughout history.
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