Black Radicalism

"Anti-Klan (Part 1)": The FBI, the Police, and the KKK

The historical question of the role of FBI informants in destroying radical Left movements and organizations in the 1960s and 1970s has been raised anew by Seth Rosenfeld’s Subversives. By radicals, the use of informants is felt to be particularly pernicious insofar as informants not only abuse the very trust that is essential to building social movements but they weaponize that trust itself to undermine movements. What's more, although informants are defended by the security apparatus as essential and essentially neutral tools in the capturing of bad guys, no one believes they are neutral (or, put more clinically, as sociologist Gary T. Marx does, their mandates are not always clear.) Instead, they frequently direct movements toward illegal, or more illegal, activities in order to build cases for prosecutions. I return to this topic not because informants interest me per se but because they are one symptom of a broader complex that is the relationship of the state and social movements and the state and racism. Where I am going with this is actually a relatively narrow question of the relationship of right-wing extra-legal violence and the police, which I pose by looking at the FBI during COINTELPRO’s spying on white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. But first let me take a wide berth.

Gun Violence in the United States: Reverberations of Empire

I don’t know much about guns. Nor do I, an otherwise inherently inquisitive type, want to know that much. Playing with GI Joe figures as a white boy in the suburbs in the 1980s was enough, thank you very much. What I do know something about, however, is the boomerang effects of colonial forms of rule: how techniques of power deployed in far-off lands by imperial rulers tend to be repatriated for domestic use. Hannah Arendt advocated a version of this thesis in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1950). For her, the roots of the Nazi Holocaust sit with the Boers in South Africa. Michel Foucault in Society Must Be Defended, a collection of 1975-1976 lectures, refers to the “considerable boomerang effect”

Richard Aoki: Are We Missing the Main Story?

Seth Rosenfeld’s Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power generated a great deal of controversy immediately upon publication a couple weeks ago (see, Chronicle of Higher Ed, the American Historical Association’s blog, activist Fred Ho in SF Bay View, and historian Scott Kurashige). The chief complaint is over Rosenfeld’s characterization of Richard Aoki, a key mentor to and member of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, as an FBI informant. Several historians, commentators, activists, and former Panthers argue that this claim is exaggerated, misleading, or false. Although this argument is important and welcome, it misses two issues that I wish to highlight, one smaller and one great.

© 2021 Stuart Schrader