Let me state clearly that my initial personal experience with Karenga was not the best. My first exposure to him was as a student member of the Pan-African Student Union at Sacramento State University in 1983. We worked with African student organizations across the state of California to form an organization called the African/Black Statewide Student Alliance. From the beginning of the formation of that group, there was tension between those of us who considered ourselves Pan-African, and those who considered themselves Black nationalists. This tension culminated in a conference at USC in the fall of 83 where the Black Student Union of Cal State Long Beach, where Karenga taught at the time, had successfully pushed to have Karenga serve as the keynote speaker during the last session of the conference. I remember how about 50 members of my campus group, along with our allies from sister Pan African student groups at UC Berkeley, San Francisco State, and San Jose State, sat together in the back of the huge auditorium while the other hundreds of students sat down front in eager anticipation of Dr Karenga's arrival. His wife, Tiamoya Karenga, came in first with a huge and beautiful black afro and a wonderful long flowing African dress. She was accompanied by at least four Simba Wachucas - the military wing for the US Organization. She stopped at our group in back and admonished us for sitting so far back. Then, someone got on the microphone and started attacking us for "disrespecting Dr. Karenga." We reluctantly moved down front together, only to walk out collectively when Karenga attacked Pan-Africanism as a fantasy, stating that all Kwame Nkrumah did was "write a letter" discussing Pan-African ideas, but nothing concrete for the African in America. In the years since then, as an organizer for the All African People's Revolutionary Party, I've learned through my work in the party the concrete history of Pan-Africanism thus destroying any impact from Karenga's misinformation about our movement in his speech at USC. In the years since, I've even made at least two visits to his Afro American Cultural Center in South Los Angeles, but I'd be lying if I said I still didn't have concerns. The accusations against him for torturing African women in the US Organization and the fact he served prison time in the 70s for those crimes makes that impossible to ignore. And I think it adds fuel to the accusations that Karenga was a police agent/informant. Now today, in this dominant atmosphere of call out culture that seems to completely ignore the lessons we should have learned from COINTELPRO tactics of the 60s/70s, the accusations against Karenga are continuing in full spirit, along with other similar accusations against people like Elaine Brown (former Black Panther Party Chairperson after Huey P. Newton). Its this aspect of where we find ourselves today that I'd like to comment on.
First, its important that we acknowledge the seriousness of this conversation. People who are accused of being police agents have a history of being killed. There are several people who we know now were innocent and sincere fighters for liberation who were killed because of the manipulation of the state to turn people against honest soldiers for justice. If you don't know than research the history of George Sams of the Black Panther Panther Party, Anna Mae Pictoh Aquash of the American Indian Movement, and many others who were killed because of intentional misinformation about their being police agents. So, making accusations of any kind against anyone is not something that should be bandied about with such carelessness the way it was in the 60s/70s, and the way its being done today. Even the psychology of these accusations raises a lot of concerns. The thinking is apparently that if we call people out, that will create an environment where we are aware of who the snitches are which will somehow keep us safer. The reality is what ends up happening is the environment becomes dominated by paranoia and fear. Decisions are made based on faulty information at best and history is full of examples of how bad that makes things turn out. So, logic dictates that we reassess our entire process for addressing the situation of police informants in our organizations.
We have to start by defining exactly what we are talking about. When we say "police agents" what do we mean? You can see the terms "police agents" and police informants" used interchangeably as if they mean the same thing, but to me, a police agent is someone who is a trained agent working undercover for the FBI, and/or other police agencies. A police informant is someone who usually has been accused of a crime and offered a deal of performing intelligence work against the movement for money and/or immunity for the criminal accusations. I think the difference is important because calling someone a police agent infers they work for the police agency and are infiltrating the movement organization as a part of their job. This implies that the FBI and other police agencies are hiring and training a large number of people of color to infiltrate our organizations. This we know is not true. In fact, contrary to popular belief, the FBI has employed African agents from time to time over the last 100 years, but they have always been token hires. Not the mass scale of people who are accused of being police agents over the last 50 years. In other words, we know that even now, Africans in the FBI is still a limited phenomenon. So, when we are talking about police informants, we are really talking primarily about people who were in the movement organizations on their own when something happened that caused them to be recruited by the police agencies to work against the organizations. This is a critical point because if we are going to accuse people of being police informants, we must present the evidence e.g. what they did to become in entrapped by the police in the first place. There has to be a story to justify the accusation. As it relates to COINTELPRO, there are an enormous amount of hurt feelings and bad blood that has been generated from the lives and experiences that have been devastated as a result of betrayal and/or perceived betrayal, but we cannot confuse those difficult emotions with facts and evidence. A lot of people are pointing to Geronimo Ji Jaga's (Pratt) open letter accusing Elaine Brown of being a police informant as proof against her. I encourage everyone to read Geronimo's letter. It's readily available on line. I love Geronimo. That African spent 27 years in prison for us as a people. If you don't know the story you need to know it. He deserves our respect, and I cherish the 30 minutes I was honored to sit down and speak with him after his release from prison in 1997, but I have to take exception to using his open letter as gospel against Sister Brown. His accusations focus on her behavior as a young woman in the Black Panther Party in 1968. Her worship of certain male leaders in the Party. Her selfishness in pursuing what she wanted with disregard for the emotional impact it had on others, etc. Elaine Brown has admitted as much in her own book "A Taste of Power." In fact, her honest portrayal of herself during those years reflects an integrity that many in our movement lack in describing their less than proud moments in our history. Geronimo spent over three decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit. The people who could have possibly helped him - Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Emery Douglass, Elaine Brown, and others, were operating on misinformation about Geronimo (courtesy of the FBI) so they didn't speak out in Geronimo's defense and he was understandably upset by that, but Elaine's behavior during those years was much more descriptive of an immature and politically unsophisticated young woman than a police informant. Any of us in organizations today know plenty of people who play people against one another. Who make unwarranted accusations against people. Who sleep around with people in the movement and then cover that with political accusations against those people when the sexual bliss disappears. None of these behaviors by themselves represents proof of police compliance to me. What we would need is an analysis of why and how Elaine Brown became a police agent and a perspective of what her police objectives were. It cannot be disputed that once you take away the macho guns image of the Black Panther Party, much of its practical imprint e.g the breakfast and health programs, Ms. Brown had quite a lot to do with stabilizing on a national level. So, to suggest that her primary intention was to destroy the Black Panther Party based on her behavior in Los Angeles in 1968/69 doesn't stand up against the work she did to build the Party's school, which functioned until 1982. You can accuse her of being reformist and not revolutionary, but then you would have to make that same accusation against Bobby Seale, who is writing cookbooks now, Eldridge Cleaver who found a home in the Mormon Church and the Church of Unification while becoming an ardent supporter of Ronald Reagan during the 80s, and even Huey P. Newton who basically retired from the struggle to alternate between political icon and crack addict in his final years. In fact, you would have to make that accusation against practically the entire leadership of the Black Panther Party. If you did, it would be true, but it isn't proof of being a police informant.
The accusations against Karenga are more difficult because of his confirmed history of abuse against women. Still, we have to continue to be careful with what we use as evidence. Most of what's going around today is proof that Karenga, Elaine Brown, and others had meetings with state officials. These meetings are being offered as the primary proof of these people being informants. The other proof being offered are the words of former confirmed police informants Louis Tackwood and Earl Anthony. On that I'll just say it escapes me how anyone could believe anything those two have to say about anything in our movement. Tackwood is a confirmed liar who's version of truth around the San Quentin 6 occurrences are legendary. His story of what actually happened in those incidents has changed so many times that the courts have a hard time keeping track. And the same is true for Anthony. If you are basing your position on Karenga and Brown off of what those two have to say, I feel sorry for you. I don't believe Karenga to be a police informant. I do believe him to be driven by egotism and I think that and his documented paranoia, and subsequent addiction to pills, explains his erratic behavior against some of his members. I think his less than progressive position on women, coupled with the paranoia, explains his abusive behavior, but I see nothing there to suggest he was a police informant. This is especially true if you consider that his organization was clearly targeted by police agencies. When they instigated the shootouts between US and the Panthers, they weren't concerned for what happened to Karenga as a result of the antagonism between the organizations. Clearly, his life was as much in danger as anyone else's during that period. Nothing could have prevented the Panthers from focusing on assassinating him. So, it doesn't make sense to suggest he encouraged hits against Panthers because he was a police informant. We know that the FBI manipulated the fact the US Organization and the Panthers recruited from Los Angeles street organizations. The FBI used that to throw oil on the fire. Of course their focus was more on the Panthers than US because the Panthers were an organization talking about revolution while US was only interested in a type of Black consciousness that does not pose any type of threat to the capitalist system (it actually encourages capitalism in many ways), so since the FBI is tasked with protecting national security, it makes sense they would focus on the Panthers, who were growing a national organization with revolutionary leanings. That's sound logically and doesn't lend anything to the claim that Karenga was an informant. Confused, egotistical, politically immature? Yes. Police informant. No evidence. As for the meetings with state officials. All types of African militants had these meetings. I know that Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), a leading All African People's Revolutionary Party cadre until his death in 1998, was one of the most targeted and abused activists by the FBI during the 60s/70s due to his work within the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party. He played a crucial role in helping the Panthers expand into the national organization that was targeted by police agencies. As a result of his work and how he was targeted, Kwame was also accused of being a police informant. Huey P. Newton was sent a telegram while he was in prison asserting as much about Kwame and this led to Huey allegedly ordering hits out on Kwame's life. It was enough to force Kwame to seek refuge in Guinea-Conakry and thank God he did because that enabled him to embark on what we believe was the most important work of his life - building the revolutionary Pan-African movement under the guidance of Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Ture. My point is in 1970, the letter to Newton made the accusation against Kwame based on Kwame being called to testify in the House of Un-American Activities as a result of comments Kwame had made internationally against the U.S. that were documented by U.S. intelligence sources. Kwame's choice was to attend this meeting or go to jail. He attended, was polite, but non-cooperative, and the story was leaked that he was working with U.S. intelligence sources. We know now that nothing came out of those meetings, but its critical to acknowledge that all types of meetings took place during those days. The power structure was generally afraid of the potential of the Black Power movement to bring the U.S. to its knees. Frederick Douglass told us that power concedes nothing without a demand. Well, the demand was there in the late 60s and the power brokers felt they needed to try and work out a deal with voices of Black power. People like Karenga, hungry for what they perceived to be power and wanting to establish themselves at the top of the circle of African leadership, enthusiastically accepted these invitations to meet with these devils. So, its not hard to explain why these meetings happened. Its a lot harder to assert that the meetings represented cooperation to destroy the movement. Was Karenga motivated by self interest and ego? Possibly/probably, but that's much more likely than using those meetings to justify labeling him a police informant.
What all of this says is that we have quite a bit of maturing to do if we are going to seriously challenge the power structure and build something better for humanity. We have proven often that if we aren't working for the police, we ought to be because of the wreck-less behavior we exhibit on every level of our work. This is still quite evident today. Activists use social media on a regular basis to call out other activists and when you challenge them on it, they insist they know the history of COINTELPRO. Well, if you know it, stop repeating it! We have to accept that unless someone has a proven ability to read people's minds, we will never be able to accurately determine who is an honest activist and who is a police informant. Assessing people's erratic behavior in this age of rampant mental health issues and associated trauma due to our oppression makes it even harder to use crazy behavior as proof of anything besides oppression. So, this tactic of calling people out based on circumstantial evidence is at best completely non-productive and plays right into the hands of our enemies. No matter how much you think you are helping by calling people out, you are being naive. You are helping - the police. But, that doesn't make you a police informant. It just makes you the same as Elaine Brown and Maulana Karenga in the 60s. Misguided and confused. The only way to effectively combat police infiltration is to focus extensively on the ideological development of your membership. If we focus on making sure our people are ideologically steeled on our revolutionary principles, we don't have to worry about police informants because no matter what these people say and do, the members will not be distracted and misdirected away from our mission. That is how the police have been successful. Getting us to lose focus so the solution is strengthening our ability to keep our focus, not trying to call out those who are trying to sabotage us. If we have that ideological focus what ends up happening is the reactionaries end up being won over to the revolutionary cause instead of the other way around as has been the case up to this point. If we study successful revolutions that came before us, like the Cuban revolution, we can see countless examples of people turning against the capitalist system once they understand the justifiable objectives of our fight. So, if you really want to fight police infiltration, make sure your organization has a serious political education program and that you are taking the program seriously. Once we start to do that, we won't have to depend entirely on guesswork to protect ourselves. And, if you suspect someone of being an agent, instead of calling them out, strengthen your organization's political education so you can use that person to advance the revolution. One example. Everyone has heard of the tactic of the person who wants to prove that their partner is true to them. That person uses a sibling that the partner hasn't met to entice them. If the partner bites, they cannot be trusted. If they rebuke the sibling, they have proven the purity of their love. As an analogy to the movement, the sibling in this example is the distraction, but the faithfulness of the partner is based not in identifying the sibling, but in the work that was done to solidify the relationship before the partner and the sibling ever had their staged meeting. The point being if you focus correctly on the relationship e.g. the organization and the members, you don't need to worry about the sibling or the distraction. We should start trying that approach the next time you have the urge to call out somebody.