By Chuck Hobbs, Columnist
If you ever needed proof that there is “nothing new under the sun,” look no further than the Trump Justice Department’s new push to target “Black Identity Extremists:” “Who are these extremists,” you ask? To let Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and other conservatives tell it, they include individual protesters and organizations like #BlackLivesMatter that challenge police brutality and systemic racism.
Cognizant that in 2017, 168 Black Americans have been killed by the police, and further knowing that despite their best efforts to pin #BlackLivesMatter attachment to Micah Johnson, the Dallas sniper who ambushed police last year, there is no tangible proof of any grand conspiracy by Blacks to overthrow the Federal government. None! The lack of proof will not stop the lie however as the Trump administration is taking a page from Democratic and Republican administrations past who subverted Black civil rights groups through covert efforts.
As early as 1961, President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, were spooked by then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s insistence that most of the major Black civil rights groups were heavily infiltrated by the Communist Party. While there certainly were a few of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s aides that had strong leftist leanings, chief among them organizer Bayard Rustin and lawyer Stanley Levinson, the idea that the entire movement was bent on destroying American Democracy was a slander that failed to account for the movement’s true aim, which was equal rights under the law.
In 1956, nearly two years after the United States Supreme Court declared segregation illegal following the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Director Hoover initiated the “Counter Intelligence Program” (COINTELPRO) to “increase factionalism, cause disruptions and win defections” inside civil rights and black-affiliated organizations like the Nation of Islam, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or “Snick”). While these organizations practiced non-violent tactics, Hoover’s aim was to paint each with the same broad brush as the very violent Ku Klux Klan and other racists they opposed by creating a belief in the popular media that their true aims were to overthrow the American government.
As was typical in FBI covert operations, Hoover’s minions recruited traitorous Blacks to infiltrate civil rights organizations to spy and cause internal strife and dissension. Among these included Ernest Withers, a celebrated photographer, who provided many of the images of Dr. King and his fellow leaders and the iconic photo of Emmett Till’s grotesque remains after he was lynched in Mississippi in 1955.
Another alleged FBI informant was John Ali, an aide to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, who met with Malcolm X’s convicted assassins the night before his death in February of 1965. That meeting has led many historians to conclude that Brother Malcolm’s death, too, was sanctioned—if not ordered—by the Federal Government.
Arguably, the most dangerous FBI infiltrator was Gary Rowe, a snitch who was directly involved in bloody attacks on Freedom Riders in 1962 and 1963. He was also involved in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little black girls in September of 1963.
Under COINTELPRO, the FBI routinely rounded up suspected civil rights leaders and members for interrogations and it assisted in charging many, including Dr. King, with fraudulent tax return or tax evasion charges to tie them up in litigation. The Bureau also conspired with local law enforcement to kill group members who “resisted arrest” or imprison others for trumped-up charges like Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, a Black Panther leader who was framed for murder and sat in a California prison for 27 years before the indefatigable efforts of his attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran, produced an FBI witness who corroborated that the Bureau knew that Pratt was not even in the area when the alleged murder took place.
The Bureau, on Hoover’s direct command, also used psychological warfare such as taping Dr. King allegedly having sex with a paramour and mailing the tape to King’s wife, Coretta. King also received an anonymous missive suggesting that he commit suicide or risk having the sex tapes exposed shortly after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The missive allegedly was dictated by Director Hoover himself.
While COINTELPRO was “officially” discontinued in 1971, its legacy is clear and present in our age each time the media or certain politicians seek to paint those involved with fighting for civil rights with the same brush as the right-wing groups who use violence and intimidation to stymie those very rights. Lest we forget.
Mr. Chuck Hobbs is a trial lawyer and award winning freelance writer who resides in Tallahassee, Florida. Hobbs is a member of Bethel AME Church, under the pastoral leadership of the Rev. Dr. Julius McAllister, Jr. He publishes regularly on the blog site, The Hobbservation Point. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RealChuckHobbs.