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10 Things to Know About The U.S. Government’s Attack on Fred Hampton And The Black Panthers

10 Things to Know About The U.S. Government’s Attack on Fred Hampton And The Black Panthers

Hampton
Here are 10 things you should know about the U.S. government’s attack on activist Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party. Photo: Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, speaks at a rally outside a U.S. Courthouse, Oct. 29, 1969, while protesting against the trial of eight people accused of conspiracy to riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Dr. Benjamin Spock, background, listens. (AP Photo/stf)

During the civil rights era, the FBI conspired to destroy Black activists and the Black Panther Party. Part of this plan was the assassination of Panther leader Fred Hampton.

While the story of Hampton’s assassination is not as well-known as that of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, President John F. Kennedy or Robert Kennedy, it illustrates just how much the government worked to demolish the push for the rights of Black people. 

Here are 10 things to know about the U.S. government’s attack on Hampton and the Black Panthers.

What happened

It was Dec. 4, 1969. Fourteen Chica­go police offi­cers exe­cut­ed a predawn raid on an apart­ment that left Illi­nois Black Panther Party lead­ers Fred Hamp­ton and Mark Clark dead, sev­er­al oth­er young Pan­thers wound­ed, and sev­en raid sur­vivors arrest­ed on trumped-up attempt­ed mur­der charges. 

Hampton died in his bed next to his pregnant wife. Clark was killed in another room, ABC News reported.


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The police claimed there had been a shootout that morn­ing but the phys­i­cal evi­dence ultimately proved that in real­i­ty, the Pan­thers fired a sin­gle shot in response to approx­i­mate­ly 90 shots from the police.

Who was Hampton?

Hampton started his activism at the age of 21 when he was an honor student from suburban Chicago. He got his start as an organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He later came to prominence as a leader of the Black Panther Party.

“A self-described ‘revolutionary,’ Hampton envisioned the future of the civil rights movement as a ‘rainbow coalition’ of white, Black, brown, yellow, and red people. Jesse Jackson would later adopt the term as the name of his organization and the theme of his ground-breaking presidential campaigns of 1984 and 1988. In short, Hampton was a charismatic leader with a vision of marrying the social gospel of King to the militant nationalism of Malcolm X,” Counterpunch reported.

The FBI was behind the hit

The FBI orchestrated the assassinations and massive cover-up. From the beginning, though there was little proof at the time, other Panthers knew the government was involved. “In the wake of the raid, Illi­nois BPP Min­is­ter of Defense Bob­by Rush stood on the steps of the bul­let-rid­dled BPP apart­ment and declared that J. Edgar Hoover and the Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion were respon­si­ble for the raid,” In These Times reported.

Hunt for the truth

In March 1971, the first evi­dence to sup­port Rush’s alle­ga­tion was revealed when a group of anony­mous activists who called them­selves the ​Cit­i­zens’ Com­mis­sion to Inves­ti­gate the FBI broke into a small FBI office in Media, Pa. They found more than 1,000 doc­u­ments regarding the Panther raid. The Com­mis­sion exposed the FBI’s ​“COIN­TEL­PRO” pro­gram. This was a secret coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence pro­gram cre­at­ed to, as the L.A. Times reported in 2006, ​“inves­ti­gate and dis­rupt dis­si­dent polit­i­cal groups in the Unit­ed States.

COIN­TEL­PRO

COIN­TEL­PRO was carried out under J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Accord­ing to the Commission’s confiscated doc­u­ments, Hoover had direct­ed all of the bureau’s offices to ​“expose, dis­rupt, mis­di­rect, dis­cred­it and oth­er­wise neu­tral­ize” African-Amer­i­can orga­ni­za­tions and lead­ers, includ­ing the South­ern Chris­t­ian Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence, the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, Nation of Islam, Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., Stoke­ly Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, In These Times reported.

Informant

Hampton’s bodyguard was a government informant. Chica­go Black Pan­ther Par­ty Chief of Secu­ri­ty William O’Neal was being paid by the FBI. A memo from the Chica­go office to FBI Head­quar­ters was later discovered in which there was a request for a $300 bonus to reward O’Neal for his infor­ma­tion. A responding memo from head­quar­ters approved he request.

According to the 2009 book, “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther” by Jeffrey Haas, “Hampton’s bodyguard drew up a floor plan of the apartment, including where Hampton slept, so the police knew exactly where to find him,” International Socialist Review reported.

Plan of destruction

The gov­ern­ment files con­tained direc­tives to destroy the Pan­ther’s Break­fast for Chil­dren Pro­gram and dis­rupt the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the Black Pan­ther Party news­pa­per,” In These Times reported.

The goals of COINTELPRO were to disrupt and “neutralize” organizations which the Bureau characterized as “Black Nationalist Hate Groups,” according to the “Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and The Rights of Americans.”  

‘Enemies’ of the state

Targets of COINTELPRO’s plans to disrupt “militant Black nationalist organizations” included groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), and the Nation of Islam (NOI).

This was expressly directed against such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokley Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Maxwell Stanford, and Elijah Muhammad. The BPP was not among the original “Black Nationalist” targets, according to Jeffrey Haas’s book “The Assassination of Fred Hampton.”

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Hoover’s hate

In September 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described the Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”

Hoover saidthe Panthers were schooled in the Marxist-Leninist ideology and the teaching of Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung.

“Its members have perpetrated numerous assaults on police officers and have engaged in violent confrontations with police throughout the country,” Hoover said. “Leaders and representatives of the Black Panther Party travel extensively all over the U.S. preaching their gospel of hate and violence not only to ghetto residents but to students in colleges, universities, and high schools is well,” he said, according to the Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and The Rights of Americans.

Hoover started to include the BPP in the FBI’s list of targets as the organization grew. He sent a memo ordering FBI field offices to submit “imaginative and hard-hitting counterintelligence measures aimed at crippling the BPP.”

The Blackstone Rangers

The Blackstone Rangers were a heavily armed and powerful Chicago street gang. When the FBI learned that the gang’s leader, Jeff Fort, was resisting Black Panther overtures to enlist the support of the group, the FBI took the opportunity to create friction between the two groups.

There had already been trouble between the two camps. On Dec. 18, 1968, Fort and other Blackstone Rangers were involved in a serious confrontation with members of the BPP. A Panther was shot by a Ranger. Later that day 30 Panthers went to the Blackstone Rangers’ headquarters.

Fort invited Hampton and the other Black Panther members to meet with him and the Ranger leadership. Fort then gave orders, via walkie-talkie and 100 Rangers armed with shotguns and machine guns barged into the meeting. Fort wanted to show Hampton the “power” of the Rangers. But there was something else Fort wanted.

Fort “talked about the two groups joining forces. Nothing was decided at the meeting, however, a decision was made to meet again…News of this meeting caught the attention of the FBI and they began sending letters to both groups creating animosity amongst the groups. So the union between the Black Panthers and the Black P Stone Rangers never happened,” Roots Radio reported.

The FBI’s Chicago office proposed sending an anonymous letter to Fort, telling him that two prominent leaders of the Chicago BPP had been making disparaging remarks about his “lack of commitment to Black people generally,” according to the “Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and The Rights of Americans.”

The FBI was successful in creating so much tension between the two organizations, that a union never happened.