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BY Shaun King

Black Lives Matter protesters, here in Brooklyn in 2016, must be aware of potential acts of undermining by the government.  Kevin C. Downs/for New York Daily News

Black Lives Matter protesters, in Brooklyn in 2016, must be aware of potential acts of undermining by the government.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

— George Santayana

The Black Power Movement, like any other struggle for freedom in America, was full of legitimate conflicts, egotistical personalities and a serious struggle for resources. Any one of those factors could’ve very well done the movement in, but the most definitive research tells us that the United States government actually set out to methodically undermine the movement in some of the most vicious ways imaginable. The Black Lives Matter Movement of today is no different in that it too has its fair share of serious disagreements, egos and resource limitations, but we must ask and seriously consider whether or not our own local, state and federal government could be privately undermining the sincere efforts of the movement to see a more just and equitable nation.

Did you know that Morgan Freeman, recently lauded for his voice work in “The Lego Movie,” is four years older than Emmett Till would now be?

Did you know that Cicely Tyson, who now stars in the Netflix hit, “House of Cards,” is a full five years older than Dr. Martin Luther King would now be?

Did you know George Clinton, the still-touring architect of P-Funk and the Atomic Dog, is a year older than Huey P. Newton would now be?

Till, King and Newton, tragically, are no longer with us, having left this life before most of the young leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement were even born. Many peers of those fallen legends, though, are still very much alive, well, and productive — reminding us of just how recent and touchable our past truly is. Our history is rich with both lessons and warnings, but it must be known and remembered in order for it to guide us in any meaningful way.


Huey P. Newton, Black Panther Party minister of defense, raises his arm as he is literally surrounded by the press at Philadelphia’s International Airport, Sept. 4, 1970 upon his arrival for a three-day convention in Philadelphia.

The Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement, perhaps because they existed so long before social media, before cell phone cameras and selfies, hell, before the internet and personal computers for that matter, seem far more distant than they truly are. Consequently, too many lessons for modern freedom struggles are being learned the hard way.

In the award-winning, “Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party,” authors Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin remind us that, “FBI director J. Edgar Hoover famously declared, ‘The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.’”

That declaration wasn’t rhetorical. Bloom and Martin, in the most thorough text ever on the Panthers, show how our government did far more than simply monitor the movement. On January 17, 1969, Bunchy Carter, the gifted leader of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Black Panther Party was killed “in a confrontation actively instigated, if not directly planned, by the federal government’s COINTELPRO.” John Huggins, another brilliant young man, was also killed in this conflict. They’d ultimately be just a few of the casualties who were definitively tied to destructive government intervention.

Again quoting Hoover, Bloom and Martin remind us of just how clearly the FBI declared “one of our primary aims in counter-intelligence as it concerns the BPP is to keep this group isolated from the moderate black and white community which may support it.” The authors continue, showing how the bureau sought to “create factionalism” and paid outside provocateurs to “forge documents,” “promote violence,” “supply explosives,” and even encourage “Panther members to torture suspected informants.”

How crazy is that? Paid employees of our government were encouraging the Black Panther Party to torture folk!

In “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power,” Seth Rosenfeld, after working tirelessly for three decades in countless lawsuits all the way up to the Supreme Court to get nearly 250,000 pages of previously classified documents released, deftly reveals how Hoover and Ronald Reagan, who was actually an FBI informant long before he became President of the United States, conspired together to target and undermine liberal students and staff members at Berkeley and beyond. The operations were impossibly complex and devastatingly unethical – all done in the name of national security.


In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

Hoover, who was the first ever Director of the FBI, remained in that position for an astounding 48 years – from 1924 all the way until the day he died in 1972. To this very day, in spite of libraries of evidence showing just how nefarious he truly was, like having the bureau send Martin Luther King a letter encouraging him to kill himself, the FBI headquarters are still named after him. It was not like the FBI shape-shifted into a new organization just because Hoover passed away. He built every code and law and rule and mission and habit and handbook there in his own image and likeness.

Today, the FBI has over 35,000 employees including nearly 14,000 special agents. What in the world do we think they are doing? What’s clear, sadly, is that peaceful protest groups affiliated with the Black Lives Matter Movement are being monitored by the Department of Homeland Security.

George Joseph, of The Intercept, states, “Documents, released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination, indicate that the department frequently collects information, including location data, on Black Lives Matter activities from public social media accounts, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, even for events expected to be peaceful.”

Based on what we know about the history of the FBI’s surveillance of such movements, why would we ever think that such collection of data is the beginning, middle and end of their work today? That’s illogical. Jason Leopold, of VICE News, uncovered emails from Homeland Security showing they were tracking the specific locations and activities of very particular protestors in Baltimore. Later it was discovered that Baltimore Police knowingly released uncorroborated reports, which they may have actually concocted themselves, stating that rival gangs throughout the city were unifying for the sole purpose to kill police officers. Released on the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral, the reports sent the entire city into a frenzy and were later used as a public excuse for something akin to martial law.

Julia Craven, in a very thorough piece for Huffington Post, draws a direct parallel between many of the tactics of COINTELPRO, the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program that was suspended in 1971, with historical movements to what we’re seeing today with the Black Lives Matter Movement saying, “This is the same ideology; it’s just a different name.”

Indeed, this point is hard to dispute. The question is not if the Black Lives Matter Movement is being tracked and monitored, that much is clear, but what else might be happening to infiltrate, discredit, co-opt and destroy the movement and how can such possibilities be rebutted? Ignoring these questions or pretending that such threats are far-fetched conspiracy theories could have potentially disastrous consequences. What impact could the outcome of the current presidential election have on how the Black Lives Matter Movement is perceived? The United States of America is highly resistant to systemic change. When any movements threaten the status quo, the system will fight to protect itself.


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.