COINTELPRO: The FBI's Domestic War

COINTELPRO: The FBI's domestic war against activists. Part I: The Fred Hampton Assassination, Subverting the Black Panthers, and Harassing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Between 1965 and 1975, the FBI opened more than 500,000 intelligence files on more than one million Americans, according to a Congressional report.... Among the Bureau's targets: Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam War Groups, and the underground press." - Center for Investigative Reporting1

"Purpose of counterintelligence action is to disrupt the BPP [Black Panther Party] and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge." - J. Edgar Hoover2

J. Edgar Hoover issued directives for COINTELPRO, a codename for Counter Intelligence Program, in 1956. The original intent was to monitor the Communist Party USA but quickly expanded its scope to infiltrate and marginalize a variety of groups such as the American Indian Movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Black Panthers, as well as targeting high profile individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The FBI's stated motivation was "protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order."3 (Emphasis added). They used harassment, wiretapping, psychological warfare, propaganda, and assassinations among other techniques to achieve their goals.


* * * *


Fred Hampton


On December 4th, 1969, the Chicago Police Department and FBI raided an apartment housing members of the Black Panther Party. At 4:45 am, the heavily armed police stormed the apartment, killing Panther member Mark Clark immediately, who was serving a security duty. Clark fired his shotgun, the only shot fired by the Panthers that day, while the police and FBI would end up shooting over 98 times.4 Forensics and firearms experts determined that Clark's shot was fired from very near the floor, indicating that Clark had already sustained grave injuries.


The raid team would then assault the room of Fred Hampton, a rising leader in the Panther movement. Police would fire twice at Hampton, who was lying next to his pregnant girlfriend, hitting his shoulder. Court transcripts revealed the following conversation took place:5

"That's Fred Hampton."

"Is he dead?... Bring him out."

"He's barely alive.

"He'll make it.


Two more shots were fired, point blank at Hampton's head.


"He's good and dead now."

Fred Hampton's Bedroom: The Murder Scene

Over a dozen more Panthers residing in the apartment would be wounded, beaten, and then charged with attempted murder of police officers. The next day, the media largely defended the FBI's actions. The Chicago Tribune published photos showing holes purported to be from bullets fired by the Panthers, but forensics would later reveal these holes to have been made by nails.6

Documents released by the Freedom of Information Act include a sketch of Hampton's apartment drawn by an FBI informant, used by police and FBI in the assassination. The informant received $300 from the FBI for providing the information.7


Floor Plan provided by Informant

The FBI had tried other methods before resorting to assassination, including sending a bogus letter to a rival Chicago gang leader in hopes of provoking a violent retaliation which read:


Brother Jeff: I've spent some time with some Panther friends on the west side lately and I know whats been going on. The brothers that run the Panthers blame you for blocking their thing and there's supposed to be a hit out for you. I'm not a Panther, or a Ranger, just black. From what I see these Panthers are out for themselves, not black people. I think you ought to know what their (sic) up to, I know what I'd do if I was you. You might here from me again. Signed, A Black Brother You Don't Know.”8


The use of bogus letters for sabotage and attempting to provoke violence was widely used by the FBI throughout COINTELPRO. 

Why was Fred Hampton targeted? He was a rising leader in the Black Panther Party and was in the process of uniting various gang, including the Puerto Rican 'Young Lords' and the Caucasian 'Young Patriots' into a political coalition. He had the potential to drastically change the political landscape of Chicago by channeling the youth unrest that had previously been directed against other gangs and instead direct it at the political establishment to fight against police corruption and to generate socially constructive energies. 

This type of action was directly antagonistic to one of the primary directives of COINTELPRO put forth by J. Edgar Hoover himself, which read:9


1. Prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups.”
The same document also contained another relevant directive:10
Prevent the rise of a 'messiah'”
Fred Hampton had the charisma to unite large groups of young men and the attitude of social welfare and community development that had the potential to gain the support of the broader progressive community. His assassination prevented his career from escalating to these heights.
* * * *
Subverting the Black Panther Party
The FBI waged a wildly successful campaign against the Black Panther Party throughout the '60s and '70s. By the late '60s, the Black Panther Party was the most prominent African American political force in the United States. They advocated a 10 point socialist program for black self-determination, provided free food and healthcare to communities, fought against hard drugs, and formed legal armed street patrols to deter violence from the KKK and other antagonistic organizations. They also advocated for community control of police, schools and other institutions. Today, these points are largely ignored in favor of the racist caricature promoted by the Bureau. The operations the FBI took to subvert the Panthers is truly astounding.
For example, there is the Black Panther coloring book, created by the FBI and distributed by Bureau informants to black children in an attempt to marginalize the Party within the black community.11 It is directly related to Hoover's directive: 
"4. Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability"


The goal was not to influence the children of these communities, but to marginalize the Panthers within the white community. The coloring book aimed to do just that, and would certainly be shocking to anyone who saw it. Once marginalized, the public would support increasingly repressive policies against the Panthers and their leadership, such as the Fred Hampton assassination.


To J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, it did not matter what the activities of the Black Panther Party consisted of. In 1969, an FBI special agent sent Hoover a memo detailing how his investigation of the Panthers has only turned up pacifist activities such as feeding breakfast to children.12 Hoover shot back a memo saying that the Agent's career ambitions were directly related to supplying Hoover with information supporting his view that the Panthers were "... a violence prone organization seeking to overthrow the government by revolutionary means."13
To prevent the unification of the Black Panther Party and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, popularly known as SNCC, the FBI resorted to fostering splits between the leadership of the two organizations. The FBI targeted Stokely Carmichael by using a technique known as 'bad jacket': they forged documents indicating that Carmichael was a CIA informant.14 It worked.
The FBI also had the policy of arresting Panther members for any reason, even just on suspicion of crime without evidence, for the purpose of exhausting the Party's funds to pay bonds. The Panther's attorney said in 1970:
In a period of two years — December, 1967 to December, 1969 — the Black Panther Party has expended in bail-bond premiums alone— just the premiums, that is, money that will never be returned — a sum in excess of $200,000! How many breakfasts or lunches for hungry children, how much medical attention sorely needed in the ghetto communities would that $200,000 have furnished?...In the same two-year period, twenty-eight Panthers were killed.”15
In instances where dozens of Panthers were arrested, the bond requirements were too high to pay and members sat in jail for weeks, or even months, a common COUNTELPRO tactic used against other groups as well. By 1974, the Black Panther Party had essentially collapsed under the weight of ruthless harassment.
* * * *
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1957, the FBI targeted the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a “likely target for communist infiltration”.16 The nature of the group was entirely non-violent and focused on organizing the southern black vote. It was founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and several other southern black ministers. By 1964, Dr. King had given his 'I have a dream speech' and had emerged as a preeminent civil rights leader and had also began to address social change that transcended racial issues. At this point, the FBI had marked King as a clear threat to the 'established order'. Agent William C. Sullivan committed to writing: 
We must mark [King] now, if we have not before, as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national maybe unrealistic to limit [our actions against King] to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees.”17
When it was announced that King would win the Nobel Prize, the FBI compiled an audio tape consisting of various fragments of conversations from King's tapped phones, bugged offices and hotel rooms. It was purported to demonstrate that King was a sexual deviant. It was sent to King with an anonymous note stating that it would be released to the press unless he committed suicide prior to receiving the award.18 When King failed to reply, FBI Associate Director Cartha DeLoach offered the contents of the tape to various news institutions, including Newsweek, but the reporters nearly universally declined to report on the story.
Heavily redacted letter sent by the FBI to Martin Luther King, Jr.
On April 24, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated. Although public memory has largely forgotten, King was in the process of organizing the 'Poor Peoples Campaign', aimed at uniting poor people of all races to rally for social change. It is likely that if King had not died, the campaign would have been wildly successful. The campaign also represented everything that COINTELPRO had been dedicated to prevent. Although there is no complete proof that the FBI was involved with the assassination, the jury of a 1999 Memphis civil trial came to the conclusion that James Earl Ray did not kill King, and that the real culprit was 'government agencies'.19
* * * *
American Indian Movement
They [the Indians] are a conquered nation, and when you are conquered, the people you are conquered by dictate your future. This is a basic philosophy of mine. If I'm part of a conquered nation, I've got to yield to authority... [The FBI must function as] a colonial police force.” - Assistant Special Agent in Charge Norman Zigrossi20

AIM, the American Indian Movement, began in the '60s as activism focused on preventing the further depredation of Indian lands and resources. As the movement rose to prominence, the FBI marked them as an 'extremist organization' to target.21 One document released under the Freedom of Information Act advocates that: "local police put [AIM] leaders under dose scrutiny, and arrest them on every possible charge until they could no longer make bail.”22
During a presentation by members of the Congressional Black Caucus to the UN Human Rights Commissioner, it was alleged that virtually every known leader of AIM has been imprisoned in state or federal prisons, some repeatedly. Russell Means, for example, was charged with 37 counts but not one has held up in court.23 It was later revealed that the FBI had infiltrated Mean's defense team but was still unable to pin their charges against him.
In 1973, thousands of Native Americans from reservations across the West had gathered at Wounded Knee at the Pine Ridge reservation to simultaneously commemorate the 1890 massacre and protest the political corruption of tribal president Dick Wilson, who had received $62,000 from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and was using it to fund a private force that suppressed opposition and often resorted to murder.24  The force designated themselves "Guardians of the Oglala Nation", abbreviated as GOONS. Attempts to impeach Wilson, who was responsible for years of political violence, had failed. The FBI considered the occupation an act of treason and began a siege of AIM members, in coordination with US Marshalls, agents from the BIA and the GOONS of Dick Wilson. Wilson bluntly declared in a speech that "AIM will die at Wounded Knee".25
According to Historian Rex Weyler, who obtained documents subpoenaed from the Pentagon, the U.S. Marshall Service:
...directed the employment of 17 APCs [armored personnel carriers], 130,000 rounds of M-16 ammunition, 41,000 rounds of M-40 high explosive, as well as helicopters, Phantom jets, and personnel. Military officers, supply sergeants, maintenance technicians, chemical officers, and medical teams remained on duty throughout the 71 day siege, all working in civilian clothes [to conceal their unconstitutional involvement in this "civil disorder"]”26
All of this was on site at Pine Ridge during the 71 day standoff, during which AIM demanded the removal of Wilson from office, the GOONs disbanded, and the military presence removed. By the end, hundreds of thousands of rounds were fired at AIM positions , 2 AIM members were killed, 14 seriously injured, and 8 'disappeared'. In the 36 months that proceeded the end of the Pine Ridge standoff, more than 60 AIM members died violently on or near Pine Ridge.27
The Civil Rights Commission revealed that AIM was right to feel aggrieved during the occupation of Pine Ridge: The FBI had been complicit in rigging the 1974 Pine Ridge elections against AIM members.28
* * * *
The Church Committee investigated COINTELPRO and concluded:

Too many people have been spied upon by too many Government agencies and too much information has been collected. The Government has often undertaken the secret surveillance of citizens on the basis of their political beliefs, even when those beliefs posed no threat of violence or illegal acts on behalf of a hostile foreign power. The Government, operating primarily through secret informants, but also using other intrusive techniques such as wiretaps, microphone "bugs", surreptitious mail opening, and break-ins, has swept in vast amounts of information about the personal lives, views, and associations of American citizens. Investigations of groups deemed potentially dangerous -- and even of groups suspected of associating with potentially dangerous organizations -- have continued for decades, despite the fact that those groups did not engage in unlawful activity...

The Constitutional system of checks and balances has not adequately controlled intelligence activities. Until recently the Executive branch has neither delineated the scope of permissible activities nor established procedures for supervising intelligence agencies. Congress has failed to exercise sufficient oversight, seldom questioning the use to which its appropriations were being put.”


Simply put, the committee's conclusions are correct but fall short. It is clear that for a period of nearly 3 decades, the FBI waged a literal domestic war on largely peaceful activists who sought to bring about social and political change. During the time of the Vietnam war, MK-ULTRA, the struggles of various civil rights movements, Watergate and other criminal acts in the executive branch, the United States drastically needed effective leaders and organizations to affect change yet the FBI successfully suppressed any serious movements that arose.


Food for thought:


  1. How responsible is COINTELPRO for the fall of the American left in the 1970's?

  2. How likely is it that other high profile assassinations similar to Fred Hampton, such as Martin Luther King Jr., actions undertake by the FBI under COINTELPRO orders?

  3. What movements are currently being subverted by the FBI today?

  4. Did J. Edgar Hoover leave a corrupt infrastructure when he retired in 1972, after 37 years of being the FBI Director?


Note: This information is also a part of my free eBook, 'Lifting the Veil: An Investigative History of the United States Pathocracy'. If you enjoy this post, please download the book by clicking this link.



2From a 1970 FBI document, available here.
3Excerpt from the Church Committee, available here page 3
4Ward Churchill, “COINTELPRO Papers,” page 140. PDF available here. A truly astounding book that draws heavily on official documents provided by the FBI. A 'must read'.
6 Chicago Tribune, The Black Panther Raid and the death of Fred Hampton,” December 4, 1969
7 “Cointelpro Papers” page 160
8“Cointelpro Papers,” page 159
10The Guardian, Preventing the rise of a 'messiah',” April 4, 2008
11The Coloring Book is hosted in various places, it is available here at
14“COINTELPRO Papers,” page 147
15Ibid, page 164
16“COINTELPRO Papers,” Page 116
17Ibid. Page 118
19New York Times, Memphis Jury Sees Conspiracy in Martin Luther King's Killing,” December 9, 1999
20Ward Churchill, “Agents of Repression.” Excerpt available here.
21Documents Available Here.
22“The COINTEPRO Papers,” page 280
23The Guardian, Russell Means obituary,” November 1, 2012
24A Presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Committee by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, available here.
25Ward Churchill, “Agents of Repression,” Excerpt available here.
26Weyler, Rex “Blood on the Land,” page 54
27“COINTELPRO Papers,” Page 270


Nice Post!

Like Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man much of what goes on around us is unseen unless we heed the admonition of Socrates that "the unexamined life is not worth living." Much as the U.S. media uses phrases like Russian state media or Chinese state controlled Xinhua News Agency it would not be untoward to preface any mention of the FBI as a U.S. state political goon squad. On the invisible aspect, comedian and activist Dick Gregory said that were you to go to Germany today, you would be shocked to see a building with the appellation of, say, Adolph Hitler Public Library but on returning home and seeing The J. Edgar Hoover Building, ironically, no such alarm is registered.

In the Ford Motor Company sponsored television program The FBI much is made about the intelligence, athleticism and marksmanship of the FBI agents; Hoover was forging a new breed of law enforcers dedicated to the fight for justice. Yet, if one is to believe the many references to the execution of Fred Hampton by the FBI none of this athleticism was necessary as he was shot to death while he lay drugged and sleeping. The drugs were slipped to Hampton by an FBI informer.

A great repository for information on the FBI and COINTELPRO is The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI , by Betty Medsger. It is available in all formats but I recommend the Audible version which is brilliantly read by Bronson Pinchot

More on Medsger and her book

Thanks for the tip. I found this account online: