Plenty of people know that story. And, just as many people know now that the coordinated attack that early morning in 1969 was a part of a carefully facilitated program directed nationally by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Probably just as many people are also aware that J. Edgar Hoover, the Director for the FBI who authored this program which is known today as COINTELPRO (counter intelligence program), cut his teeth as a 24 year new director for the newly formed Department of Justice in 1919. Hoover began his career by spearheading the government's efforts to frame, discredit, and disrupt the then newly emerging Universal Negro Improvement Association led by Marcus Mosiah Garvey. By the time the 1960s came around, Hoover had perfected his agencies abilities and resources to disrupt and terrorize African organizations working for justice. Over the years, many organizations and individuals were attacked, framed, terrorized, murdered, and imprisoned by illegal FBI tactics and in the period between 1967 and 1971, the Black Panther Party was the bureau's primary target. Many people know that today.
That's why its so shocking, so incredible, so head shaking, that so many activists, so, many allegedly well meaning people, so many folks, still routinely and nonchalantly continue today to doggedly perpetuate the very same practices and tactics which were, and still are, the FBI'S main tactics for destroying the capabilities of justice organizations to function effectively. I'm taking about the very popular practice of "calling out" people who have behaved badly in organizations on the internet. Doing it on social media, email, anywhere on the internet. This person stole money from the organization. That person did this to another person in the organization and/or in the community, etc. All of that being broadcast for anyone and everyone to see, including the forces who actively organize against us. And, I'm not talking about this happening every once in a while. I'm saying that this extremely ill advised practice is common place and can be seen taking place on a daily basis. I am even arguing that the FBI's recent announcement that it is going to target African "Identity politics" activists is largely a result of this practice by activists. Our negligence and shoddiness in our work has probably provided our enemies with plenty of juicy details from which to wage their inhuman attacks. Their announcement was simply the cloak to disguise what they are doing. And, some of us are so incredibly naive that we wonder out loud why they are targeting us while we provide them with the tools to do so.
Our organizations are micro elements of the communities and societies we live in. So that of course means all problems and dysfunctions that exist within society are going to exist within our organizations. Absolutely, we need to find ways to eradicate those behaviors so please don't pretend that the message here is to ignore and/or dismiss sexual assault, bullying, patriarchal behavior, theft of organizational resources, etc. I have been forced to spend far too much of my organizational life confronting these realities for me to have patience with people who want to lazily misinterpret what is being said here. Those problems must be confronted as they are strong doses of self-destruction when left unchecked. The question is the proper mechanisms from which to address those issues. Calling people out on the internet is not the proper mechanism and here are the reasons why.
During those early COINTELPRO years when the FBI employed actions such as "badjacketing" against individuals such as Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. etc., and framing actions against the Black Panther (to oppose) the US Organization, etc., the FBI had limited access to our organizations. They had to rely on the element of surprise to ensure their methodologies would be successful. When they tried something against us, they assessed the results to determine their next steps. Often, as in the case of efforts to discredit and label Kwame Ture an FBI/CIA informant, the bureau expressed (Freedom of Information FBI documents) surprise and delight that their letters and efforts worked as well as they did. When their forged letters between the Panthers and US started to ratchet up tensions between the two organizations, the FBI again expressed surprise. In fact, the FBI fell all over themselves celebrating after they were successful in framing Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt) of murder in 1972. In other words, they often had no way of knowing how well their sabotage would work until it worked. And, although this isn't nearly as discussed, there are plenty of examples where their sabotage didn't work as they planned. One example is their effort to frame and bring down an entire segment of the African and Indigenous/Indian liberation movement with their take down of a Palestinian owned travel agency in Washington D.C. in 1988. To make a long story short, their intention was to discredit several organizations. They issued indictments against Kwame Ture and Bob Brown (All African People's Revolutionary Party), Minister Louis Farrakhan (Nation of Islam), and Bill Means and Wabiinii (Vernon Bellecourt) - (American Indian Movement). All of this was around the joint efforts of these organizations to challenge the U.S. travel restrictions against the Libyan Jamihiriya as those organizations sought to protest the U.S.'s illegal bombings against Libya. Although Brown and Wabinii did prison time behind the FBI's efforts, their desire to bring much more devastation down on all these organizations failed miserably because of the discipline and commitment of all of the people involved, including those who served time.
Today, beyond a few isolated sectors, that level of discipline is nonexistent. People readily and willingly help the FBI and police sabotage the movement by removing any and all guesswork for them. People openly discuss antagonisms and contradictions online. They hand the FBI/police the source of contradictions on gold platters everyday. And, by doing so they give our enemies the opportunity to further exploit divisions, weaknesses, and shortcomings to the point where we are willing to immediately dismiss and destroy the potential for any good work while we never really understand where much of this antagonism to further disrupt our work is coming from (that element of COINTELPRO hasn't changed).
So, with so many historical examples, why is this still happening so consistently? Well, one possible reason is with the vast emergence of so many newer activists with the recent activism against police terrorism, the lack of experience and knowledge about police tactics creates lots of naivete around this subject today. The blame here goes to older activists because of our inability to bridge generational gaps. There is massive distrust of older activists and as a result, even when older activists provide direction around this issue, many of the newer activists are not willing to trust and accept it. That's our fault. We need to work harder to humble ourselves, open our minds, act right, behave with dignity, and go about the work of building those relationships and that trust. Doing so only strengthens our work which makes it much harder for the FBI/police to derail us.
Another reason is most organizations today, due again probably to naivete about the workings of COINTELPRO, focus so much on "security culture." This is a serious error because this approach relies on false security actions like prohibiting cell phones in meetings and only permitting people to attend meetings if someone knows them. The holes in these amateur approaches should be obvious. Everyone in capitalist societies learns how to put on a front. That's requirement one in these backward systems. So, all these superficial approaches have done what for us? Instead, the focus should be on forming a disciplined cadre of organizers through consistent and mass political education. If people are dedicated and committed to principles they will stay the course of the work and they will prevent people from derailing that work. When you have that level of commitment from your soldiers, you needn't worry about "who is the police" because the masses of people in your organization will be your protection against sabotage. They will not allow it. Political education is the key to making the work mass in character and it eliminates the isolation that is eminent with "security culture." The best thing you can do to help our enemies is isolate people. By doing so, you make conditions ripe for sabotage. And, by broadcasting who you wish to isolate you give our enemies the blueprint necessary for them to figure out how to make that isolation blow up in our faces. Give me a scenario where problems within organizations have grown and I bet I can show you where the police have been pulling their puppet strings against you. That's why the moment your organization is on the verge of a breakthrough in the work, that's when the bottom always falls out. And you thought it was a coincidence?
Finally, we are back to how do you address those problems people are posting about? Political education, which most of our organizations do not institutionalize, including - yes - the Black Panther Party, is a major component. Then, from there, build the structures needed to ensure you can build to supply nurturing processes that hold us all accountable to ourselves and each other. Che Guevara told us that revolution must be guided by love. If we are building structures that cause us to burn out on this work, something's definitely wrong with how we are doing it. Ideological strength from a social revolution in our work will do wonders in helping people grow so that our organizations are healing and helping places. Not places that drain us empty. Maybe our desire to call people out is our unconscious attempts at filling that emptiness? To seek validation? That could be. It certainly isn't being done to solve the problem and help us grow. So, if the organization and/or people in the organization are doing even some work that is productive and positive for our communities, we have to think about how we go about attacking the problems in that organization. Again, this isn't a call to go along to get along. This is a call for us to make a commitment to learn how to address contradictions in ways that don't throw the baby out to clean the bathwater. We can do it and we can learn from those before us. The 1988 incident described could have been an absolute disaster were it not for the discipline and political consciousness of those involved. Its no accident that all three of those organizations retain mutually respectful relationships today, 30 years later. And, I'm thankful to have grown up in this work under many of those people mentioned because it permitted me to understand in ways I wish to convey to those coming along now, how these beasts work against us. So, regardless of how you may feel about those older efforts, organizations, or individuals, the important thing is that we all commit to this principle. The police don't deserve the level of support and help we are providing them in sabotaging our efforts to bring about justice for all of humanity.