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(PHOTO: Angela A. Allen-Bell joins Amnesty International in support of the Angola 3 outside of the Louisiana State Capitol on April 17, 2012.)
COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party
with law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell
By Angola 3 News
Whitmore is a member of the Angola Prison chapter of the Black Panther Party
(BPP) that was first started in the early 1970s by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox
of the Angola 3. In reply to the students' question about Whitmore, Cain cited
his affiliation with the Angola BPP and expressed concern that Whitmore could
spread his beliefs in the prison, sparking violence among inmates. "The Black
Panther Party advocates violence and racism--I'm not going to let anybody walk
around advocating violence and racism," Cain said. At the time of publication, Whitmore remains in solitary confinement
Cain's characterization of the BPP as "advocating violence and racism" is
reminiscent of a deposition he gave on October 22, 2008, following Albert
Woodfox's second overturned conviction, where Cain cited Woodfox's affiliation
with the BPP as a primary reason for not removing him from solitary
confinement. Asked what gave him "such concern" about Woodfox, Cain stated: "He
wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant." Cain then
stated that even if Woodfox were innocent of the murder, he would want to keep
him in solitary, because "I still know he has a propensity for violence"he is
still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him
walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates."
(PHOTO: Albert Woodfox, left, with Kenny 'Zulu' Whitmore, right, in 2009.)
remarks by Burl Cain in 2008 and 2014 are just the 'tip of the iceberg' when it
comes to misrepresenting the Black Panther Party. "Until history is accurately
told, this type of misinformation will live on and we will all suffer as a
result of it," argues Southern University Law professor Angela A. Allen-Bell in
the interview featured below. Her new article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance
entitled "Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human
Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on
American Soil," turns the tables on the anti-BPP rhetoric by asking if what the
BPP sustained at the hands of government officials is itself akin to domestic
"Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained," Prof. Bell concludes that the US
government's multi-faceted response to the BPP, primarily within the framework
of the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO
, was indeed the very definition of terrorism.
Bell writes that "the magnitude of the unwarranted harm done to the BPP has not
yet been explored in an appropriate fashion. Much like a fugitive, it has eluded
justice." As a result, "the FBI's full-scale assault on the social movements of
the 1960s and 1970s remains an open wound for the nation itself. This is more
than a national tragedy; this is a human wrong."
pages of Bell's new article examine the case of the Angola 3 in the context of
the broader government repression faced by the Black Panthers. Bell is no
stranger to the Angola 3 case. Her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly
entitled "Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed
Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges,
Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind," used the
Angola 3 case as a springboard for examining the broader use of
solitary confinement in US prisons.
(PHOTO: Billy X Jennings of It's About Time BPP at the first BPP office in Oakland, CA.)
Angola 3 News: Let's
begin by examining the word 'terrorist.' How is this defined?
Angela A. Allen-Bell: For my article, I accept the view
that a terrorist commits atrocities in an attempt to influence the behavior of
the general population and the government. Their intended victims are not those
they kill or harm, but rather are the government and the millions of people
they hope to terrorize into some desired change of behavior.
US government's definition of terrorism is not uniform and varies among
different branches of the police, military, and US government. Some suggest that
even the best intentions would result in an unclear definition, given the fact
that any number of acts could constitute an act of terrorism, including
offenses not yet conceived.
Others suggest the lack of a specific definition is
deliberate. In their book, Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a
Time of Terror, authors Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. and Aziz Z. Huq suggest
terrorism to be nothing more than a "political communications strategy" and a
"preexisting neoconservative blueprint for a more interventionist American
foreign policy, especially in the Middle East."
of the reason for the current difficulty in adopting a uniform understanding of
what is meant by 'terrorism' and 'terrorist,' the lack of a reliable definition
comes at a price. In his article entitled, "A Human Rights Approach to
Counter-Terrorism," Mark D. Kielsgard writes: "On a larger scale, the lack of a
definition diminishes the word's use to a watered-down expression that can mean
virtually anything. Allegorically speaking, the terrorist is the new nameless
enemy, which to some may include all foreigners, immigrants, welfare
recipients, or democrats, to name only a few. Terrorist has become the
twenty-first century equivalent of communist, a generic term of derision
whether the target perpetrates violence or just maintains a different point of
view. It has entered the lexicon as a propaganda tool to label competing
ideologies and promote fear and bigotry."
this understanding, consumers of information must listen with a discerning ear
when these amorphous labels are assigned to the BPP or to other individuals and
A3N: In your new article you directly confront the mainstream portrayal of
the BPP as being a 'terrorist' group. Since you conclude that they were not in
fact 'terrorists,' can you please explain how and why you reached this
AB: From the outset, I wish to note that
my responses apply to the Black Panther Party (BPP), not the New Black Panther
are several competing reasons in support of my conclusion that the BPP was not
a terrorist organization, the first of which involves two official reports
issued by bodies acting on behalf of the government. Both reports were based on
thorough investigations that included extensive witness testimony.
Church Committee Report of 1976
established that they were victims of government
excesses and the 1971 Report by the Committee on International Security, House
of Representatives, entitled "Gun-Barrel Politics," while having almost nothing
positive to say about the BPP, did not find that they had an agenda to kill or
harm solely for the purpose of making a political statement and also did not
find that they had the means to accomplish this even if such an agenda
existed. Therefore, my first reason for
reaching the conclusion that the BPP was not a terrorist organization is the
absence of any credible, official findings establishing that they were.
second reason involves the extensive surveillance used by the government
against the BPP. I have reviewed volumes of these declassified documents and
have found nothing to support a conclusion that the organization was out to
kill or harm in order to make a political point.
last reason involves my extensive research on the topic. I have read countless
court cases, books, documents, interviews and articles. I have even discussed
the topic with BPP members and key figures. In all of this, no credible plot to
kill or harm in order to make a political point has ever emerged.
A3N: If, as
you argue, the BPP was not in fact a 'terrorist group,' what do you think it
was about the BPP that the government actually did feel threatened by? Why did
they choose to undertake the well-documented campaign of repression undertaken
by the FBI as part of COINTELPRO?
AB: I once read a book written by a man who
inspires others to live life without boundaries or limitations. In this book
entitled, Solitary Refinement,
Christopher Coleman makes a profound inquiry. He asks: when was the most
dangerous time in the life of a slave?
might think the correct response to be when the slave was caught attempting an
escape or when he talked back or disobeyed. However, Mr. Coleman forces us to
see past the superficial and argues that the most dangerous time is when the
slave actually accepts the fact that he is a slave because, at that very
moment, bondage becomes self-inflicted and the slave becomes his own slave
master. The slave no longer hopes to or attempts to change his condition. The
slave simply decides to be a slave and wishes for nothing greater.
liberated mind was really slavery's greatest enemy and it was ultimately the
BPP's mindset that made the government so uneasy. In my article, I explained:
"The BPP did not believe in pleading, begging, praying or patiently waiting for
equal rights to be conferred. They felt equality was a birthright, demanding it
was a duty, having it delayed was an insult and compromise was tantamount to
social and political suicide."
They refused to accept
inequality and injustice. If they had succeeded in awakening the inner slave in
marginalized Americans, there would have been important political change in the
US. COINTELPRO was undertaken to prevent these positive changes, to therefore
"neutralize" the BPP and to quell their ability to awaken the populace from a self-inflicted
state of bondage.
(PHOTO: Important book on COINTELPRO)
leads us to the next core argument of your article: that the US government's
response to the growth of the BPP, largely associated with COINTELPRO, was
itself 'terrorist.' Can you please explain how and why you reached this
AB: I reach the following conclusion in my
article: "If a domestic terrorist
engages in acts that are dangerous to human life and does so on American soil
for the purpose of intimidating people or coercing people through mass
destruction, assassination or kidnapping, then there is an argument to be made
that the BPP is a victim of something akin to domestic terrorism--and perhaps
more--and there has been no official accountability."
mentioned in the article, The Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism. The first
part of the definition requires the existence of an activity occurring primarily
within the US. As for establishing an 'activity,' the FBI had declared 'war' on
the BPP. In an effort to establish that the activity occurred primarily within
the US, the article mentions that all COINTELPRO activity was first approved by
high ranking, executive level officials who were acting under the badge of
official authority and as arms of the US government.
second part of the definition involves acts dangerous to human life. The
article documents how every aspect of the government's covert operations
against the BPP was dangerous to human life, including both the lives of the
Panthers and the many innocent people who suffered collateral damage. The
baseless raids where officers were over armed (such as the raid on the NewOrleans Panthers
), the pretextual stops used to justify illegal arrests or to
incite violence, and the periods of unjust incarceration were all extremely
dangerous to human life.
third part of the definition involves a violation of the criminal laws of the
United States. The article chronicles a number of official actions that were in
violation of criminal laws, such as assassinating individuals who are in no way
posing a physical threat, engaging in torture, and manufacturing criminal
final part of the definition requires that the act appears to be intended to
intimidate or coerce civilians, influence government policy by intimidation or
coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction,
assassination, or kidnapping. Then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover demanded that
the FBI "destroy what the [BPP] [stood] for and "eradicate its serve the people
My article details the numerous ways this dictate was implemented
then found that there "are but a few explanations for the stated techniques and
that is to intimidate people into conforming to a single belief system, to
influence government policy, by intimidation or coercion, so as to eliminate
alternative approaches or to affect the conduct of government by mass
destruction, assassination or kidnapping."
(PHOTO: Important film about COINTELPRO)
with the story of the NOLA Panthers, you also examine the case of the Angola 3
and the Angola Prison BPP chapter started by Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox
(Robert King joined the BPP chapter upon arrival at Angola in 1972). Given that
the Angola BPP organized non-violent work and hunger strikes, as well as
multiethnic and collective self-defense against the widespread rape epidemic,
how do these activities contrast with or resemble 'terrorism?'
AB: As noted, one aspect of the definition of
domestic terrorism is the violation of the criminal laws of the US. The Angola
3 case was used in the article as an illustration of a possible violation of
the criminal laws of the US committed by official actors in their terrorism
against the BPP.
Angola 3's BPP organizing was behind the walls of Louisiana State Penitentiary
(commonly referred to as, "Angola."). Beginning in the 1960s, at this former slave plantation
, select inmates were provided arms and used as guards to oversee
inmates working the fields. These inmates were given authority to shoot anyone
who stepped outside of an imaginary boundary.
In addition to this, Angola was
segregated in the early 1970s and was the subject of regular litigation. Multiple
courts found that state and federal constitutional violations were rampant and
violence was comparable to that found in a warring territory.
of engaging in predatory behavior, the Angola 3 courageously chose to teach
their newly discovered Panther awareness to fellow inmates. They did this in an
attempt to change the culture from one of violence, corruption and predatory
behavior to one of mutual respect. They hoped to create a sense of community
amongst the men and they hoped to hold the administration to a standard.
wanted an institution that was safe and one that afforded inmates all the
rights promised to them under state, federal and international law. They
actively organized against inmate-on-inmate violence and rape. They
successfully litigated many favorable changes for prisoners. I have observed
many parents thank them for various transforming acts of service done on behalf
of other inmates. Their intentions were noble, their efforts were heroic and
their accomplishments were far-reaching. In essence, they did for no pay what state
officials were paid to do: better conditions behind bars.
only thing that resembles terrorism in this case is the conduct of some of the government's
official actors, such as the prosecutors who have engaged in years of
documented misconduct and those who have engaged in and defended the use of
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