[Marxism] Richard Aoki's Biographer: Where's the evidence Aoki was FBI informant? (SF Chronicle)
whdgm66 at gmail.com
Thu Aug 23 15:49:08 MDT 2012
Seth Rosenfeld's dramatic announcement that Richard Aoki was an FBI
informant provoked an enormous response from Chronicle readers. Could
it be true? Or was this a "snitch-jacketing," a classic FBI tactic
used to cast suspicion on a legitimate activist by spreading rumors
and manufacturing evidence?
As a scholar, I insist on seeing evidence before concluding any
"truth." But as I read Rosenfeld's work and cross-checked sources from
my biography on Aoki, I realized Rosenfeld had not met the burden of
proof. He made definitive conclusions based on inconclusive evidence.
If Aoki was an informant, when was he informing? How did he help the
FBI disrupt political movements? What were his motivations?
I also questioned Rosenfeld's motives. Rosenfeld's piece, published
the day before the release of his own book, gained him widespread
media and public attention that surely will augment sales.
Rosenfeld offers four pieces of evidence against Aoki.
First, Rosenfeld cites only one FBI document, a Nov. 16, 1967, report.
It states: "A supplementary T symbol (SF T-2) was designated for" -
but the name was deleted. Following the now-blank space was the name
Richard Matsui Aoki in parenthesis, and then the phrase "for the
limited purpose of describing his connections with the organization
and characterizing [Aoki]."
In the FBI pages released to me, only brief background material on
Aoki is linked to T-2. Moreover, T symbols are used to refer to
informants or technical sources of information (microphones,
wiretaps). So was Aoki the informer or the one being observed?
Second, FBI agent Burney Threadgill Jr. said he recruited Aoki in the
late 1950s, but we have no substantial evidence other than Rosenfeld's
reports, and Threadgill has since died.
Third, FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen's statement, as quoted by
Rosenfeld, is hardly compelling: "Someone like Aoki is perfect to be
in a Black Panther Party, because I understand he is Japanese. Hey,
nobody is going to guess - he's in the Black Panther Party; nobody is
going to guess that he might be an informant." But more logically,
Aoki's racial difference made him stand out and aroused suspicion. Are
we asked to simply trust authority figures?
Fourth, Aoki's remarks, as seen in the video, are open to multiple
interpretations, and Aoki denies the allegation. Anyone familiar with
Aoki knows that he spoke with wit, humor, allusion and caution.
Where's the conclusive evidence?
FBI reports notoriously get things wrong, unintentionally
(misinformation, typos) and intentionally ("snitch-jacketing"). The
FBI in its Cointelpro program created false letters and cartoons to
foment conflict between the Black Panthers and another black
nationalist organization, resulting in the 1969 murders of two
Panthers at UCLA.
I have an FBI report, dated July 30, 1971, 105-189989-38, stating that
Aoki had been "invited to become Minister of Defense of the Red Guard"
and served as "the liaison link between the Red Guard and the Black
Panther Party." But this seems wrong, based on archival documents and
my interviews with Aoki and Red Guard leader Alex Hing.
Simply put, because of the FBI's political motives, FBI reports must
be carefully cross-checked with non-FBI sources. But the entirety of
Rosenfeld's evidence relies on FBI sources.
I was surprised that Aoki became the centerpiece of the chapter in
Rosenfeld's book on the 1969 Third World strike. While Aoki was an
important activist, he was largely unknown. Aoki and others agree that
the Third World strike promoted collective leadership. They believed,
as did African American civil rights activist Ella Baker, that the
charismatic leadership model encouraged hero worship, reinforced
individualism and narcissism, and diminished ordinary people's belief
in their own power to effect change. Rosenfeld elevates Aoki to "one
of the Bay Area's most prominent radical activists of the era," a
point that amplifies the drama of his own discovery.
Rosenfeld is particularly critical of activists' use of violence
without placing this violence in a larger context. He implies that
Aoki's guns, given to the Black Panther Party, triggered the police's,
FBI's and government's backlash. Yet he ignores the police brutality
that inspired the Black Panther's police patrols, and the violence of
racism and poverty that inspired the Panther's free breakfast
programs. Instead, Aoki used the symbolic power of violence to stop
the greater violence of the government's failing to actively counter
poverty and institutionalized racism at home and in imposing war in
In my book on Aoki, I write that instead of being the trigger, Aoki
acted as the "safety on the gun." He was careful to teach gun safety.
Neither the Panthers nor Aoki expected to win a military battle with
the government. Firing the gun wasn't their intended goal. Instead,
Aoki used the symbolic power of violence to stop the greater violence
of the state.
So why did Rosenfeld magnify Aoki when his book focuses more on Mario
Savio, Clark Kerr and the Free Speech Movement? What responsibility
does an author have to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt before
broadcasting disparaging accusations? Rosenfeld's article, video and
book raise many questions, but fail to meet the burden of proof.
Diane C. Fujino is a professor and chair of Asian American studies at
UC Santa Barbara and author of "Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki
on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life" (University of Minnesota
Press, April 2012).
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