The unholy union: The FBI and its black informants

The following are the ideas of the author and not necessarily those of The Burning Spear. This piece has historical information that we believe are helpful to our movement for total liberation.

Allegations against “Black leader” Rev. Al Sharpton of being a possible informant for the FBI with intent to provide information forthe alleged attempted entrapment of exiled former Black Panther Assata Shakur,brings to light the complex relationship between the FBI and Black Informants.

It is this “Unholy Union” between the FBI and its Black Informantsshowing complicity in the FBI’s efforts to destroy progressive Black leaders and movements with the stated objective to maintainthe social order in the United States and prevent the rise of a messianic leader or group that can lead the Black masses.

Historically, this type collaborative activity has affected many Black leaders like Marcus Garvey, who ran the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) back in the early 1900s, whose aim was to instill Black pride and independence from white society and at its height in the 1930s reaching a membership high of one million.

As Garvey gained more prominence, he supported anti-colonialist and socialist movements worldwide which brought him much unwelcome attention from both U.S. and British Intelligence officials resulting in Black spies joining the UNIA.

Emerging FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover instituted CONTELPRO- Counter Intelligence Program which was designed to stop the rise of a Black Messiah or messianic type group like the Black Panther Party laterwith its aim to survey, infiltrate, discrediting and disrupting domestic political organizations or leaders.

Beloved late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had the key role in the landmark legal case of Brown vs. The Board of Education, reportedly maintained a secret relationship with the FBI during the 1950s when he was a civil rights lawyer by providing information on activities within the movement especially if there was a possible “communist influence”.

Not unlike many other civil rights leaders, Marshall publicly admonished the FBI and their tactics against Black American citizens who were being lynched along with other unconstitutional crimes committed against blacks.

Justice Marshall may have been trying to protect the NAACP from the kinds of attacks that the FBI directed against other groups by telling them that they (NAACP) were part of the fight against Communism or he may have been trying to create a relationship so they could count on more support from the FBI.

Certainly, Justice Marshall was no simple informant.

Closer scrutiny into Malcolm X’s life leading up to his assassination supports the theory that U.S. Intelligence orchestrated and coordinated his death.

An FBI memorandum on 3/4/68, among other documents shows how this government considered Malcolm X the “top” threat to the white power structure in America.

This document discussed “long range” goals to prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the militant Black Nationalist movement. Malcolm X unquestionably fit this description as previously described.

In the early 1960s, U.S. Intelligence wrote a report on Malcolm X due to his radical influence on young blacks, especially black men as the National Representative of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam.

Perhaps greater attention was paid to Malcolm as head of Temple #7 in New York because international figures and leaders got to know Malcolm at the United Nations functions he would attend and were open to working with him beyond the confines of the Nation of Islam. Third World revolutionaries and African leaders began to take special notice of Malcolm.

Once Malcolm X was forced out of the Nation of Islam and after his travels to Third World countries, where he was received as an Ambassador of Black America, the FBI would recruit Gene Roberts to join Malcolm’s Organization of Afro American Unity (OAAU) modeled after Africa’s Organization of African Unity (OAU).

Undercover police agent infiltrator Gene Roberts would join the OAAU during its inception and rose in the group to become head of security in the group’s organizational structure. Roberts worked for the New York Police Department’s Bureau of Special Services (BOSS).

The FBI directed BOSS actions as part of COINTELPRO against Malcolm X. As head of this hierarchy as mandated by the National Security Act of 1947, the CIA supervised the entire U.S. Intelligence apparatus.

Another FBI agent infiltrator who joined the Nation of Islam and rose rapidly through the ranks was John X Ali, who was reportedly involved in the firebombing of Malcolm’s home where his pregnant wife Betty Shabazz and daughterswhere force out about a week before Malcolm X’s assassination at the Audubon Ballroom in New York on February 21, 1965.

On the day of the assassination, the FBI and police action supports the conclusion that they were heavily involved with its coordination. FBI documents suggests that John X Ali met Talmadge Hayer (aka Thomas Hagan or Mujahid Abdul Halim), who was released in 2010 after 44 years in jail, the night before the assassination.

Immediately after Malcolm X was shot, Gene Roberts was the first to arrive by Malcolm’s side as seen in pictures as the one attempting to give mouth to mouth resuscitation,which is not recommended for gunshot victims hit in the chest.

But Roberts revealed more in interview decades later, which supports that his real role was to check the vital signs of Malcolm to make sure he was in fact dead and confirmed the success of the assassins. New York Herald Tribune also reported that a “high profile official” confirmed that several undercover BOSS agents were in the Ballroom audience at the assassination of Malcolm X.

The evidence points to a confluence of three groups involved in Malcolm X’s assassination, namely the institutional forces of NYPD, FBI and the CIA with critical informant collaboration.Gene Roberts was exposed as an undercover police agent status at a trail against the Black Panthers in 1971.

J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director, called the Black Panther Party, “The greatest threat to the internal security of the country” during the late 1960s and he supervised an extensive program called COINTELPRO of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, and many other tactics designed to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate party members and drain the organization of resources and manpower.

These tactics gave Hoover a hope to diminish the Black Panther Party’s threat, in his mind, to the general power structure of the U.S. The Black Panther Party became an icon of the late 1960s counterculture gaining national and international prominence.

The Party (originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) was a black revolutionary socialist organization that operated in the United States from 1966 until around 1982 but the group’s influence would be reflected in music, images and resurgent panther-like groups like theNew Panther Vanguard Movement (formerly NAAVM) out of Los Angeles with former BPP members in the cadre, the Dallas New Black Panther Partyevolved nationally to the current New Black Panther Party led by former Nation of Islam members whose progenitor was Khalid Muhammad and after Khalid’s untimely death it was led Attorney Malik Zulu Shabazzfor a while until his stepping aside to pave way for a more regional national leadership but still reflects a “Nation of Islam Panthers” perspective; the Black Panther Collective in New York ,who like The Vanguard, also with former BPP in its leadership and others in the 1990s.

One of the most infamous infiltration cases in the Black Panther Party was in Chicago, Illinois where William O’Neal would join the Chicago chapter of the Party under the dynamic leadership of Fred Hampton.

FBI Informant William O’Neal would provide information, floor plans, including where BBP Illinois Chairman Fred Hampton slept in the Party house, that lead up to the assassination of Fred Hampton and visiting Peoria Illinois member Mark Clark.

In the early morning hours of December 4, 1969, the Chicago Police Department raided the home and immediately killed Mark Clark at the front door and eventually after much gun fire, worked their way to where O’Neal indicated Chairman Fred would be and thusly shot him multiple times in the head to insure his death.

William O’Neal would be suspected of drugging Fred that evening with tainted cool aid.

In 1990, O’Neal committed suicide on the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago on Martin Luther King Day. One of the survivors of this raid was Deborah Johnson, now AkuaNjeri, who was pregnant with Fred Hampton’s baby and would later give birth to current activist Fred Hampton Jr.

In Los Angeles, Julio (Julius) Butler would be a key informant in the case of Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt who was convicted of a murder on a Santa Monica tennis court in Los Angeles he did not commit when surveillance records showed he was attending a meeting in Oakland.

In 1968, Carole Olson was murdered by two black men on the Santa Monica Tennis Court.

The Los Angeles Police Department had no leads until late 1970 when Black Panther Informant Julio Butler wrote to the Los Angeles Police Department that Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt (later known as Geronimo Ji-Jaga) had bragged to him about the tennis court killing.

Pratt said he was innocent because the FBI had him under surveillance in Oakland when the slaying occurred in Santa Monica.

Pratt was seen by the FBI as an even greater threat not only because of his charisma but he was a highly trained Vietnam War veteran who taught many in the party how to fortify offices and other necessary components for survival in an attack.

In 1972, the court convicted Pratt of first-degree murder while having a spy in his defense camp, which is a constitutional violation. Geronimo would serve 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit before being released to triumphant supporters at a court house in Santa Ana, California in 1997.

Geronimo Ji-Jaga died of a heart attack in Tanzania, Africa in 2011.

The Los Angeles chapter lost two of its most dynamic young leaders with the assassinations of Bunchy Carter and John Huggins at UCLA on January 17, 1969 at the hands of FBI Infiltrators Larry and George Steiner aka the Steiner Brothers that joined the U.S. Organization. Detective Sergeant R. Farwell recruited Donald Defreeze to work for the Public Disorder Intelligence Unit of the CCS (Criminal Conspiracy Section) whose purpose was to monitor black political activities in California and encourage a “gang” war specifically between the Black Panthers and the U.S. Organization.

U.S. member and FBI informant Melvin Cotton Smith helped set up arrests of Black Panthers and when the Steiner Brothers killed Carter and Huggins, the LAPD immediately rounded up Black Panthers all over the city but no U.S. members at the time of the killings.

Following the UCLA incident, the Steiner Brothers turned themselves over to police who had issued warrants for their arrest.

They were convicted for conspiracy to commit murder and two counts of second-degree murder.

The Steiner Brothers received life sentences but conveniently or with “authority” help, escaped from San Quentin Prison.

George Steiner was never recaptured and after 20 years as a fugitive, Larry Steiner, who lived in Suriname, surrendered in 1994.   

Panther Informant Earl Anthony wrote a detailed account of his experiences of being a FBI informant in the Black Panther Party in his book, “Spitting in the Wind”, which was very informative albeit disappointing in the realm of what an Agent Provocateur will do to help bring down the Black Panther Party. 

Much can be said about our own people working against black progress, organizations and individual leaders or how they may have acted based upon some charge they were facing, jealousy, envy, the communist issue, money, fame, influence or in fact they may have been the greatest traitor our race has ever seen.

Not many cultures will actually turn on its self like the African-Americans in the realm of collective progress as a people unless there is the historical reality of self-hatred.

Certainly in any battle, no wise General sits down with representatives of the opposition to discuss battle strategies- that would make no sense.

The very consequences of these collaborative actions have devastated our people but the loss of talented, sincere leaders and groups working on our behalf has produced a “river of blood” being spilled as a direct result of this Unholy Union.

Malik Ismail is an international traveler, historian and activist.

He’s explored many cultures in Africa including Ghana, South Africa and Egypt.

He’s traveled to Cuba and South America going to Rio de Janeiro and Salvador Bahia, Brazil including the favelas of Rocinha and Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Rio and recently returned from Haiti and Dominican Republic.

Author of the book, From Old Guard to Vanguard: A Second Generation Panther.

New Panther Vanguard Movement former Minister of Information (NPVM) whose writings have been featured in the L.A. Watt’s Times, It’s About Time BPP Newsletter, Night Beat Magazine , Rolling Out Magazine, The African Times and The Black Panther International News Service. Email:


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