Aoki Supporters, Including Kathleen Cleaver, Call FBI Claims ‘a Distortion’

Aoki's prominent supporters aren't letting go quite yet.

By Jamilah King Sep 10, 2012

In response to additional information last week about former Black Panther Richard Aoki’s role as an FBI informer, the activist’s long time allies are once again coming to his defense. In a piece for the San Francisco Bayview that appeared over the weekend, several prominent activists and academics called evidence of Aoki’s role as an FBI informant a "distort[ion] of the legacy of Richard Aoki."

The op-ed was authored by Ward Churchill, a native activist and former ethnic studies professor; Kathleen Cleaver, former member of the Black Panther Party and Yale law professor; and Natsu Taylor Saito, a George State University law professor. The piece suggests that Aoki still has many prominent supporters from his many years as a prominent activist, despite damning evidence that he also worked as an FBI informant.

First, the authors aren’t surprised by the allegations:

This is a classic example of how truth is mixed with falsehood to rewrite history and promote a more sweeping agenda. The goal is to discredit the movements of the 1960s and ’70s and key activists of that era who might serve as role models for coming generations. The failed prosecution of former Black Panthers in the well-known case of the "San Francisco 8" is just one of many recent examples.

The authors critique Seth Rosenfeld’s reporting, before putting his work within a long history of FBI-inspired ‘disinformation’:

A key weapon in their arsenal is the spreading of false and derogatory information – "disinformation," in the counterintelligence vernacular – to "disrupt, destabilize, discredit, and destroy" radical activists and organizations. The FBI has utilized numerous techniques to convey such disinformation, from planting rumors in targeted communities to mass dissemination of half-truths or outright lies through the press, electronic media and books claiming to provide "objective" analyses.

The government’s use of disinformation for repressive purposes traces back at least as far as its campaigns to "neutralize" the anarchist and Garvey movements during and shortly after World War I. Since the process was systematized in the 1930s, an ever-greater flow of material crafted by the FBI’s in-house spinmeisters and an unknown number of contract writers, collaborating scholars, and cooperating journalists, has been devoted to burnishing the bureau’s public image while degrading its adversaries.

In August, news that Aoki was listed as an FBI informant sent shockwaves throughout the progressive community. The news was felt especially hard in the Bay Area, which Aoki called home and had for decades made a name for himself first as a radical activist with the Black Panther Party and student movements of the 1960s, and then as a longtime educator in the East Bay. Last week, the Center for Investigative Reporting released over 200 pages of FBI files it had obtained on Aoki’s role with the FBI. The files, many of which are redacted, show that Aoki was listed as an FBI informant for 16 years.