WAR AGAINST THE PANTHERS: A STUDY OF REPRESSION IN AMERICA
A Dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of:
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in HISTORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS
by Huey P. Newton
There has been an abundance of material to draw upon in researching and
writing this dissertation. Indeed, when a friend recently asked me how
long I had been working on it, I almost jokingly replied, "Thirteen
years—since the Party was founded." 1 Looking back over that period in
an effort to capture its meaning, to collapse time around certain
significant events and personalities requires an admitted arbitrariness
on my part. Many people have given or lost their lives, reputations, and
financial security because of their involvement with the Party. I
cannot possibly include all of them, so I have chosen a few in an effort
to present, in C. Wright Mills' description, "biography as history."2
This dissertation analyzes certain features of the Party and incidents
that are significant in its development. Some central events in the
growth of the Party, from adoption of an ideology and platform to
implementation of community programs, are first described. This is
followed by a presentation of the federal government's response to the
Party. Much of the information presented herein concentrates on
incidents in Oakland, California, and government efforts to discredit or
harm me. The assassination of Fred Hampton, an important leader in
Chicago, is also described in considerable detail, as are the killings
of Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and John Huggins in Los Angeles.
Supporting evidence for a great deal of this dissertation has come from
two federal civil rights lawsuits filed by the Party: one initiated in
1976 in Washington, D.C., and still pending against the FBI and other
federal agency officials,3 and another which ended after a nine-month
trial in Chicago, Illinois.4
It is logical that Oakland, California, should be the focus of hostile
government actions against the Party because it is the place where the
Party was founded, and it is the center of its organizational strength.
In discussing Party leaders, including myself, and events in which they
were involved, there has been a persistent temptation to write
personally and emotionally. Individuals, with all their strengths and
weaknesses, make significant differences in the outcome of political
struggles; however, their roles are too often romanticized, clouding an
understanding of the political forces propelling them into struggle. I
have tried to maintain an objectivity consistent with scholarly
standards by placing the roles of the involved personalities in proper
political perspective. To aid in this effort, I will be referred to
throughout this study in the third person. This dissertation is then, by
necessity, illustrative, not exhaustive; a history in brief, not a
biography of the Black Panther Party [BPP].
What is perhaps most significant about [this study] is that it suggests
how much we still do not know. How many people's lives were ruined in
countless ways by a government intent on destroying them as
representatives of an "enemy" political organization? What "tactics" or
"dirty tricks" were employed, with what results? Perhaps we shall never
know the answers to these questions, but this inquiry about the BPP and
the federal government will hopefully help us in our search for "the
truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
1 The Black Panther Party is referred to throughout this dissertation as
"The Party," "the Panthers," and "the BPP." All [these] terms are used
interchangeably and refer to the same organization.
2 C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (New York: Grove Press, 1961), p. 173.
3 On January 25, 1980 the court dismissed our lawsuit because we refused
to disclose the names and addresses of BPP members and provide
additional information concerning criminal charges ending against
certain members. We did provide the government with the names and
addresses of all Central Committee members, i.e., the governing body of
the Party, who are publicly known. Since the purpose of our lawsuit was
to seek redress against unlawful government actions a gains our members,
we had an obligation to protect their right of anonymity as an integral
part of [a] minority political association that seeks through
litigation to halt the government from illegally harassing its members.
This will now be resolved by an appellate court. The Black Panther Party
v. Levi, No. 76-2205, U.S. Dist. Ct. (D.C.). See also, San Francisco
Chronicle, 26 January 1980, p. 2, col. 2.
4 Iberia Hampton v. City of Chicago, No. 70-C-1384, U.S. Dist. Ct. (N.D.
I11., 1977). On June 2, 1980, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the
way to reopen this case.
From the point of its founding, democratic government in the United
States of America has faced the challenging need to overcome certain
obstacles inherent in both its organization and general structure before
many of its basic assumptions could be actualized.1 Learned and astute
observers of the founding and development of American democracy noted
the threatening nature of a number of these obstacles during the early
days of the new republic.2 The study proposed here finds its importance
and justification in the concept that several of the original problems
of American democracy have endured with increasing ominous consequences
for the full realization of democratic government in the United States.
In particular, two of the most crucial problems which have hindered the
development of truly democratic government in America are treated here:
1. class and racial cleavages, which have historically been the source
of division and bitter antagonism between sectors of American society,
2. the inherent and longstanding distrust held by the American ruling
class of any institutionalized democracy involving the mass population.3
The continuing existence of these two problems—compounded, of course, by
companion evils—has from one time to another enlarged and set in motion
a debilitating dialectic which has kept full democracy at bay, and the
very fabric of American society in rather constant peril. What is hoped
for here is an examination of specific responses and events related to
the aforementioned major problems that is capable of shedding an
enlightening beacon of light on the nature and progression of maladies
related to these problems and what is thereby portended for American
society in terms of present results and future possibilities. There is,
in other words, the intent to forge an analysis capable of informing and
instructing those who are devoted to and must continue to grapple with
these outstanding problems, problems in need of being resolved if ever
democratic government in America is to achieve any degree of substance
consistent with its theoretical suppositions and ideals.
The first problem in American democracy set forth here was offered the
summary justification by the Founding Fathers that it was a "limited"
representative or republican form of democracy that was best suited and
most desirable for the new country's governance.4 This intent, "limited"
though it is, was mocked by the peculiar contradiction that the
populace to be served by the new government included sizeable sectors
which were not to be regarded as beneficiaries of even the most
"limited" promise of democracy. African Americans, Native Americans,
and, to a lesser extent, women were never presumed to be within the pale
of either hopes or guarantees related to the practice of democracy.
This marked exclusion in the idealism of America's founders might well
be regarded as the original wellspring of dissent in America, for what
is all too apparent is the fact that democracy is a dynamic and
infectious idea. It is an idea which inspires the hope of universal
inclusion. Thus, it may subsequently have been predicted that the
arbitrary, capricious, and sinister exclusion of large sectors of the
American population from the hopes inspired by the rhetoric of a
fledgling democracy would give rise to the most determined forms of
human struggle imaginable, including those which resort to force of
arms, and resolve to face death before capitulation. The deliberately
designed and nurtured class and racial cleavages of American society,
present from its beginning, have fostered such extreme antagonisms
during every period in the development of American society.5
This study draws upon a course of events taking place during the latter
half of the twentieth century, which exemplifies the ultimate form of
struggle born of this contrived contradiction, a contradiction which is
as old as the life of the American republic itself. The contradiction
which provides much of the source material for this study would
doubtless have never existed nor reached such dastardly and volatile
proportions if it were not for the societalwide ingestion of a class—and
racially-biased social philosophy, which stemmed from the original
premise of American social organization, a deeply ingrained belief that
society [is] by nature divided into superior and inferior classes and
races of people. This vision of the "natural order" of society,
rationalized by those who have a vested interest in its maintenance, has
kept Americans of different classes and races either directly engaged
in social warfare, or forever poised in a position of battle. There has
been, in other words, from the very beginning of the American republic
as we know it, a systematically cultivated polarization, which has
predisposed the population to varying but continuous levels of warfare.
This sinister and carefully maintained die of social antagonism has been
recast with the changing mold of each different epoch of American
Always, the rulers of an order, consistent with their own interests and
solely of their own design, have employed what to them seemed to be the
most optimal and efficient means of maintaining unquestioned social and
economic advantage.6 Clear-cut superiority in things social and
economic—by whatever means—has been a scruples-free premise of American
ruling class authority from the society's inception to the present. The
initial socioeconomic advantage, begotten by chattel slavery, was
enforced by undaunted violence and the constant threat of more violence.
In other times, there has been political repression, peonage (debt
slavery), wage slavery, chicanery, and the like, but always accompanied
by the actual or threatened force of violence.
The import of the combined forces of industrialization and urbanization
[has] been [a] principal contributor in the twentieth century to the
need of the American ruling class to develop newer, less obvious, and
more effective means of retaining its control of and domination over the
mass of Americans. Direct and unconcealed brute force and
violence—although clearly persisting in many quarters of society—are
today less acceptable to an increasingly sophisticated public, a public
significantly remote from the methods of social and economic control
common to early America. This is not a statement, however, that there is
such increased civility that Americans can no longer tolerate social
control of the country's under classes by force of violence; rather, it
is an observation that Americans today appear to be more inclined to
issue endorsement to agents and agencies of control which carry out the
task, while permitting the benefactors of such control to retain a
semidignified, clean-hands image of themselves. This attitude is very
largely responsible for the rise of the phenomenon to which systematic
attention is given in the study undertaken here: the rise in the 1960s
of control tactics heavily reliant upon infiltration, deliberate
misinformation, selective harassment, and the use of the legal system to
quell broad based dissent and its leadership.7
Such tactics are, of course, closely identified with the presidency and
administration of Richard M. Nixon, although many of these tactics were
used prior to the Nixon years.8 However, it was under the leadership of
Nixon that Americans in their majority—when they were confronted by
widespread protest over both domestic and foreign policies—issued to the
government and its agencies what appeared to be blanket approval of the
squelching of dissent by means legal or illegal. This led inexorably to
a vast and pernicious campaign of no-holds-barred conspiracies and
extralegal acts designed by law enforcement agencies to "neutralize",
contain, and/or destroy organizations and individuals thought to be
"enemies" of the American government (or the status quo), merely because
they dared to disagree openly with the existing order and its policies.
Such campaigns were tragically successful in too many cases for too
many years before Americans began to realize the true extent of the
It is a fundamental assertion of this study that the majority society,
in its fear-provoked zeal to maintain and assure its inequitable
position in American society, flirted with and came dangerously close to
total abandonment of the particular freedom upon which all others are
ultimately dependent, the right to disagree. Moreover, it is an
ancillary claim of this study that the danger has not yet passed, for
few if any of society's major problems have been solved, and a large
number of Americans seem yet inclined to believe that special treatment
and different rules can be applied to Americans who dare to disagree
without consequence for those who are in agreement with the powers and
policies that be. This [belief] is to be specifically denied, and the
claim to be made is that repression of selected sectors of mass society
is extremely difficult to carry out, if not impossible, without a
resulting loss of cherished freedoms for the entire society.9 This
premise constitutes a seminal focal point and objective of the analysis
to be undertaken.
A. The Importance of the Problem
The Black Panther Party (BPP) was formed in this country in 1966 as an
organization of Black and poor persons embracing a common ideology,
identified by its proponents as "revolutionary intercommunalism.10 Since
its inception, the Party has been subject to a variety of actions by
agencies and officers of the federal government intended to destroy it
politically and financially. It is the major contention of this
dissertation that this official effort to destroy the BPP was undertaken
precisely because of the Party's political ideology, and potential for
organizing a sizeable group of the country's population that has been
historically denied equal opportunity in employment, education, housing,
and other recognized basic needs. A corollary to this theory is that
governmental efforts at destruction of the Party, successful in varying
degrees, were only thwarted or held in abeyance when they reached their
logical consequence: destruction of the right of dissent for all groups,
a right indispensable to the functioning of a democratic society.
The method employed to substantiate this theory is an examination of
numerous measures undertaken by the government to, in the words of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), "expose, disrupt, misdirect,
discredit or otherwise neutralize" the BPP.11 For the most part, records
and documents of relevant government agencies initiating and
participating in this campaign of destruction against the BPP provide
the evidentiary basis for the dissertation. These records and documents,
many revealed herein publicly for the first time, have been discovered
in litigation between the BPP and government agencies, as well as
through congressional investigations, scholarly studies, and media
reports. In addition, firsthand knowledge of the author as a witness or
participant to certain events, interviews with persons knowledgeable
about relevant matters, and secondary sources of information (e.g.,
other studies and news reports) are used and identified. Most of the
evidence of government efforts to destroy the Party focuses on the FBI
because it was the major known offender in terms of intensity and
severity of actions, but brief sections on the Internal Revenue Service
(IRS) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are also included.
The result of this study is an analysis of what happened, and still can
happen, to a dissident political organization that explicitly challenges
the policies and practices of a government intent on controlling the
pace and degree of integration for a sizeable group of persons seeking
equal socioeconomic participation. Moreover, this study shows the
lengths to which, so far at least, a government can go in a
constitutional democracy before it must choose between destroying a
dissident political organization, or in the process of doing so, the
very fabric of constitutional democracy.
It is the conclusion of this dissertation that the federal government
was forced to suspend temporarily its most egregious actions directed at
destroying the BPP, but that these measures pose an ever-present danger
of recurrence to dissident political organizations with perceptions of
the government similar to those of the BPP.
The basic methodological approach to the problem to be examined is one
requiring the identification of a number of particular response patterns
to particular forms of dissent. The basic materials used are over 8,000
250-page volumes of recently released reports and "intelligence"
information. This information was collected by various police and
government agencies and has been used against a number of activists and
dissenters who were believed to pose a threat to the existing order. An
effort is made to compare empirical evidence accrued from the writer's
own participation and observation to the statements and recorded
experiences of similarly situated participant-observers.
Objectivity is in every instance strived for, but it is in no instance
guaranteed due to the observer's proximity to much of what is found to
be characteristic of those patterns most fruitful to observe. A
substantial amount of material gathered in personal interviews and taken
from sworn depositions and trial statements made under oath is used in
the construction of analyses.
As stated above, this study is presented in a historical manner. This
style was chosen in order to develop an analysis of repression by the
use of chronological fact. In this way, repression cannot be viewed as a
new and unsophisticated set of tactics developed for only an isolated
group or individual.
It is germane to this study, however, that of the dissident groups which
were established in the last twenty years, the Black Panther Party was
singled out for concerted, consistent, and violent attack, harassment,
and media abuse. In early 1969, then U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell
stated that the Justice Department would "wipe out the Black Panther
Party by the end of 1969."12 Edward V. Hanrahan, Cook County's former
state attorney in Chicago, when asked about the murder of Fred Hampton,
which Hanrahan authorized, stated that it was "justified because of the
vicious activities of the Black Panther Party."13
These pages do not reflect the personal pain and anguish, the resulting
physical and emotional disabilities, as well as the continual financial
setbacks the writer has suffered. However, a sensitive person can infer
these things from the study. Such an overwhelming number of incidents
occurred that it is difficult to imagine that anyone living during this
period of history was not affected. The participant-observer has been
shot, ambushed, followed, and verbally and physically threatened and
abused. His wife and family are under constant surveillance and also
have been attacked and threatened. In every apartment or home in which
he has lived since 1966, the premises have been burglarized, searched,
and bugged (as was his bedroom in an apartment in Oakland, California,
in 1974). In addition, mail has been intercepted or received already
opened. Far more devastating are the brutal deaths of the writer's
personal friends: Bobby Hutton, murdered by the Oakland police in 1968;
Alprentice Carter, murdered in Los Angeles in 1969 by men working in
association with the FBI; and George Jackson, who was murdered at San
Quentin Prison in 1971. The participant-observer has spent a total of
three years (1967—1970) in prison, has been arrested numerous times, has
spent the last thirteen years in court (an average of two trials per
year), and from 1974 to 1977 was in involuntary exile as a protection
from physical abuse and death. All of these incidents of the writer's
knowledge of repression are intended to substantiate the chronology's
factual information from a personal view. The participant-observer, in
addition, is the leading and founding member of the organization, said
to be "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."14
Although it may seem that the writer is somewhat disadvantaged because
of his proximity to the events discussed in this study, it is this very
proximity that gives clarity to the specific conflict discussed.
Finally, this study attempts to explain why the beliefs of the Black
Panther Party and those of the American government and its intelligence
agencies have resulted in continuing conflict.
1 The most concisely stated and meaningful assumptions of American
democracy having a direct bearing on the well-being and future of the
American people were manifested in the first ten amendments to the
Constitution, upon which the new American government was founded.
Consistent with their importance, the new government, it is generally
agreed, may have faced ratification problems of indefinite duration
without the inclusion of the ten amendments to the Bill of Rights. As it
were, their inclusion eased and finally assured the ratification of the
2 Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. George Lawrence (New York: Harper & Row, 1966).
3 See the debate on this issue at the Constitutional Convention.
(Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who
Made It, New York: Knopf, 1948).
4 Ibid. See also "To the Revolutionary People's Constitutional
Convention: September 5, 1970," in Huey P. Newton, To Die for the People
(New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 156—162. [Publisher's note—New
York: Writers and Readers, 1995.]
5 Hugh Davis Graham and Ted Robert Garr, eds., The History of Violence
in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (New York: Praeger,
6 See e.g., Oliver C Cox, Caste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics (New York Monthly Review Press, 1959).
7 See Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein, The Final Days (New York:
Simon & Shuster, 1976) for both a detailed and general account of
the use of such tactics against American dissenters. See also U.S.
Congress. House. United States Presidents, 1969—1974 (Nixon). Submission
of Recorded Presidential Conversations to the Committee on the
Judiciary of the House of Representatives by President Richard M. Nixon:
April 30, 1974 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1974),
8 Both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson are known to have made use
of unlawful and unfair "tricks" designed to undermine and/or deceive
those in opposition to their policies.
9 William Kornhauser, The Politics of Mass Society (Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press, 1959).
10 For a fuller explanation of revolutionary intercommunalism, see p.
33—36. See also, Newton, To Die for the People, pp. 22—32, and Erik H.
Erikson and Huey P. Newton, In Search of Common Ground (New York: W.W.
Norton ,1973), pp. 23—36.
11 FBI Memorandum from Headquarters to All Special Agents in Charge,
August 25, 1967. Hereinafter "Hqtrs" and "SAC" will be used to refer to
Headquarters and Special Agents in Charge, respectively.
12 Newsweek February 1969.
13 Time, December 12, 1969, p. 20.
14 J. Edgar Hoover, quoted in U.S. Congress. Senate. Book III: Final
Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with
Respect to Intelligence Activities, 94th Cong., 2nd sess.,1976, p. 187.