FBI Operation COINTELPRO targeted 'Omaha Two' Black Panthers with series of dirty tricks leading to conviction for murder using withheld evidence
J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years, waged an illegal, clandestine war on domestic political activists and groups called Operation COINTELPRO. Hoover declared the Black Panther Party the most dangerous of all and unleashed dirty tricks and illegal tactics with lethal ferocity. In Omaha, Nebraska the two principal targets of COINTELPRO were Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice).
Ed Poindexter was the Chairman of the local chapter known variously as the National Committee to Combat Fascism, the United Front Against Fascism, and the Nebraska Committee to Combat Fascism. Mondo we Langa was the Minister of Information and published the group's newsletter. Both men were targeted for harassment and special attention after Hoover complained the Omaha FBI office was not getting results against the Panthers.
On December 10, 1969, Hoover ordered the Omaha FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge to "give consideration to counterintelligence measures directed against these leaders to weaken or destroy their positions." Hoover told Omaha FBI agents to make up a plan against the Panther leaders. "Evaluate your approach to this program and insure that it is given the imaginative attention necessary to produce effective results."
Heavily redacted COINTELPRO files, now archived at Political Research Associates, tell part of the Omaha story. At least four COINTELPRO actions were planned and approved in 1970 against the Panthers. One plan was to ambush the delivery of the Black Panther Party newspaper after it arrived at Eppley Airport aboard United Airlines Air Freight. The FBI office was working with the airline to determine a pattern of newspaper pick-ups at the airport to 'disrupt' delivery of the papers.
A second plan revealed in the PRA archive of confidential FBI documents was directed against Poindexter and involved sending a bogus letter to the Omaha Star and two other 'Negro publications'. The plan used an anonymous letter accusing Poindexter of falsely soliciting for bail money after an arrest that purportedly never happened. Poindexter had gotten into an altercation at a hospital with authorities and ended up on the wrong end of a billy club. The FBI said the incident was never recorded and that was the basis for one of the agents drafting a bogus letter that was sent to the newspaper. Hoover also allowed anonymous calls to the publisher, which also occurred.
The third plan revealed in the COINTELPRO files involved another bogus letter and the Omaha World-Herald. The FBI disruption plan was proposed to Hoover on August 15, 1970 in a three-page memo. The proposal was to use an article published the day before in the Omaha World-Herald to discredit Poindexter and the Panther chapter with another bogus letter sent to Black Panther Party headquarters in California.
The Omaha World-Herald article was titled 'Panthers Cut Omaha Link' and made reference to a notice in a July issue of the Black Panther newspaper announcing the suspension of the Omaha chapter. The redactions of FBI censors prevent a clear understanding of the sequence of events and may cover up another COINTELPRO manipulation of the World-Herald or of the Panther publication. An anonymous phone call to the Omaha Panthers was made on August 4th which would indicate prior approval by Hoover to create a disruption.
What the August 15th COINTELPRO memo does reveal is that the Omaha FBI office wanted to send a copy of the clipping along with a bogus letter to David Hilliard, the Black Panther chief of staff. The plan was to drive a wedge between the Omaha chapter and the national office of the party.
The FBI had an informant in the local group who reported that they had not received the Black Panther newspaper "in the last three or four weeks" and thus were not aware of the July notice about the Omaha chapter. That information led to the anonymous call.
"It appears [REDACTED] misunderstood the phone call. In a newspaper article appearing 8/14/70, in the Omaha World Herald, a daily Omaha, Nebraska, newspaper, [REDACTED] states that a letter recently appeared in the BPP newspaper stating that the local NCCF was ending its affiliation with the panthers and that this letter was attributed to [REDACTED] and NCCF member, Raleigh House."
The Omaha FBI office requested permission to send copies of the letter to Hilliard at the national party headquarters, to the Omaha chapter, and to affiliate chapters in Kansas City and St. Louis.
A copy of the anonymous letter is included in the PRA archive. The letter targeted Ed Poindexter and although his name is redacted three times, the FBI censor missed one use of Poindexter's name revealing he was the subject of the bogus letter.
The fabricated letter was addressed to Hilliard. The letter covered the notice of expulsion and misunderstanding of the Omaha chapter's status with the Black Panther Party. The FBI letter also called the Omaha World-Herald newspaper "Whiteys newspaper".
"[Poindexter] has been rapping to the people, that the guys in California don't know what in the hell they are doing. In fact [Poindexter] said the same thing to Whiteys newspaper the Omaha World herald. I am sending you copies of this jive to show you who Poindexter thinks he is."
On August 17, 1970, two days after the Omaha FBI office asked for Hoover's permission to mail the letter about Poindexter and the World-Herald, a dispatcher at police headquarters received an anonymous phone call about a woman screaming in a vacant house. Four squad cars were sent to investigate the early-morning emergency call.
As eight officers searched the house and yard, one of them approached a suitcase near a doorway. A powerful explosion instantly killed officer Larry Minard, a 29 year-old father of five young children. In the hours following the deadly blast Omaha uniformed officers searched frantically for Minard's killers.
The FBI immediately joined the investigation and offered to analyze the 911 recording of the killer's voice that had lured Minard to his death. However, acting under COINTELPRO directives to "destroy" Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa's position as leaders of the Omaha Black Panthers, the FBI offer of help was tainted.
As day broke on the crime scene and investigators sifted through the bombing debris looking for clues, a new COINTELPRO action was being planned by Omaha FBI agents. Assistant Chief of Police Glen W. Gates met with the FBI and agreed that it was more important to stop the Black Panthers than find Minard's killers. An urgent COINTELPRO 'airtel' memo was drafted for FBI headquarters.
"By airtel 8/17/70 the Omaha Office has advised that the Omaha Police Department has requested laboratory assistance in connection with a bombing which took place in Omaha 8/17/70. This bombing resulted in the death of one police officer and the injuring of six other officers and is apparently directly connected with a series of racial bombings which Omaha Police have experienced. The Police were lured to the bomb site by a telephonic distress call from an unknown male."
"[REDACTED] of the Omaha Police has requested [REDACTED]."
"The SAC, Omaha strongly recommends that the assistance requested by the Omaha Police Department be conducted."
"[REDACTED] It is felt, in view of the SAC's recommendation and the significance of this case, an exception should be made in this case in order to assist the Omaha Police in developing investigative leads. The results of any examination will not be furnished directly to the Police but orally conveyed through the SAC of Omaha."
"If approved, the results of any examinations will be orally furnished the Police on an informal basis through the SAC, Omaha."
When the COINTELPRO memo reached the FBI Crime Laboratory two days later on August 19th the lab director, Ivan Willard Conrad, spoke by phone with Hoover over the unusual request to withhold a report on the killer's voice analysis. Conrad was given the go ahead to withhold evidence about the identity of the anonymous 911 caller. Conrad initialed the memo noting, "Dir advised telephonically & said OK to do."
The fix was in, Minard had not yet been buried and J. Edgar Hoover had already given the order to abandon the search for his killer to make a case against Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa.
On August 24th Hoover gave written approval to the earlier FBI bogus letter request about "Whiteys newspaper". At that point, Poindexter was already in custody and the search was on for Mondo we Langa. Both men were tried for Minard's murder.
Conrad followed orders and issued no report on the 911 tape. The jury that would convict the two Panther leaders never got to hear the recording of Minard's killer. Nor did the jury know about the existence of Operation COINTELPRO or that Poindexter and Langa had been targeted by the clandestine operation.
Raleigh House, named in the August 15th COINTELPRO memo, was identified at the trial as the supplier of the dynamite that killed Minard. A suspected informant, House faced no formal charges for supplying the explosives and only spent one night in jail before being released on his own signature by order of Arthur O'Leary of the county prosecutor's office.
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Both are confined at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary where they continue to deny any involvement in Minard's death.
A new trial request over the withheld evidence and conflicting police testimony is pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court. No date for a decision has been set.
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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.