[News] Government infiltration threatens rights and freedom, warn analysts

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 21 11:46:38 EDT 2010

Government infiltration threatens rights and freedom, warn analysts

By Eric Ture Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | 
Last updated: Sep 21, 2010 - 11:29:31 AM

ATLANTA (FinalCall.com) - Allegations that a 
famed photographer who chronicled the most 
pivotal moments in civil rights history was 
identified as a paid FBI informant reminded 
activists, organizations and dissident movements 
of dangerous government surveillance employed 
yesterday and today against domestic groups.

The last thing one wanted to be thought of in 
activist circles in the heyday of the civil 
rights and Black Power movement was an informant 
or snitch. Providing information and sometimes 
setting up plots to entrap unsuspecting comrades 
resulted in deaths, bitter inter- and intra-feuds 
as well as activists who still languish in 
prison, not to mention the suffering of those 
jailed unjustly or who spent decades in exile.

Since Ernest Withers the man the Memphis 
Commercial Appeal reported was an FBI informant 
is dead, many unanswered questions remain and his 
family doubts the reports are true.

“Personally, and as a family, we do not believe 
what has been alleged. It still has to be 
proven,” Mr. Withers' youngest daughter, Rosalind 
Withers, told The Associated Press in an 
interview. Andrew Jerome Withers, Rosalind 
Withers and Frances Williams vowed to do their 
own FOIA request and talk to the FBI themselves 
in efforts to clear their father's name.

Still the use of informants yesterday and today 
cannot be denied and so are reasons for concern. 
In the current political environment and with 
passage of so-called anti-terror legislation, 
such as the post-9-11 Patriots Acts, advocates 
warn Americans should have major worries about 
violations of their civil liberties and 
government ability to spy and pry into their private lives.

Informants have been at the center of “terrorist 
plots” allegedly involving Muslims from Florida 
to New York. And Muslim leaders from New York to 
Los Angeles have complained about agents sent to 
monitor and infiltrate their places of worship.

“A movement or institution with enough strength 
and political discipline can usually withstand 
the damage from informants. Unfortunately, the 
Black movements in this country have never gained 
the level of critical mass or cohesion necessary 
to escape the damage done and that's the case in 
this era,” observed Professor Hank Williams, and 
instructor and Ph.D. candidate at the City University of New York.

“This has a direct connection to where we are 
today politically, since the movement was 
successfully destroyed and a generation of some 
of the strongest leaders was lost through 
political assassination, exile, and other means. 
Some were bought off, others couldn't handle the 
pressure, and yet others couldn't see the people 
around them destroyed. That affects where we are 
now, since many have survived and are even still 
at the forefront of struggle, losing the wisdom 
and momentum of the leaders and organizations 
that didn't survive the '60s and '70s was a serious blow.”

While people should not “get too wrapped up in 
the past,” Prof. Williams said, “one has to 
wonder how much further along we'd be if the most 
politically advanced ideas of the organizations 
and people who didn't make it had been synthesized and acted upon?”

On Sept. 12, The Commercial Appeal­once noted 
itself for the fomenting of tensions and 
hostilities in its coverage of civil rights and 
Black liberation issues in Memphis­reported that 
photographer Withers was as an FBI informant and 
spied on Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.

A veteran freelancer, Mr. Withers' photography 
ranged from the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till 
in 1955, to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and beyond.

According to the Commercial Appeal, an informant 
identification number assigned to Mr. Withers was 
overlooked in the redaction of a 1977 FBI file. 
The document, obtained via the federal Freedom of 
Information Act provided by the Commercial 
Appeal, cites ME 338-R and identifies Mr. 
Withers. In the right-hand margin the notation 
“b7D'' provides justification for the redacted 
words. Under the FOIA, section b7D allows the FBI 
to withhold information that would identify 
confidential sources, according to the report.

In the article, Mr. Withers, who died in 2007 at 
the age of 85, is portrayed in the eyes of the 
bureau “as a prolific informant who, from 1968 
until 1970, passed on tips and photographs 
detailing an insider's view of politics, business 
and everyday life in Memphis' Black Community.”

“The grief-stricken aides photographed by Withers 
on April 4, 1968, had no clue, but the man they 
invited in that night was an FBI 
informant­evidence of how far the agency went to 
spy on private citizens in Memphis during one of 
the nation's most volatile periods,” the story 
read. According to the Commercial Appeal, the 
story reported was two years in the making.

Mr. Withers' children question Commercial Appeal reporting.

“When I heard that, it was just terrifying,” said 
Rome Withers in an interview with The Tri-State 
Defender on Sept. 14, speaking about his father. 
“I just hope that the community understands that 
this is only an attempt to really demonize his 
Withers' (photography) collection or even to 
devalue his collection because we have been on an 
uphill fight to try and maintain and keep his collection intact,” he said.

Since his death, the Withers' children say 
“forces” have tried to gain control of their 
father's extensive and unique collection. The 
family says it is involved in a court battle and 
wants to make the collection available to the 
public, particularly so the Black community. It 
covers Black life beginning in the 1940s, they added.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Withers is not here to answer 
the allegations or to provide exactly­if 
anything­what happened. However, what we do know 
is that J. Edgar Hoover was so diabolical that 
his hatred for Black people did not stop him from 
doing what he desired to Whites as well. And like 
Mr. Withers, we don't know what was held over 
peoples' heads. We don't know the extent of the 
threat that anyone found operating in this way, 
faced,” said Atty. Nkechi Taifa, senior political 
analyst for criminal and justice reform with the 
Open Society Poverty Center, in Washington, D.C.

“Why the FBI didn't remove ME 338-R remains 
unclear, but the evident oversight provides the 
key that unlocks Withers' secret life,” the paper said.

“They still haven't said what he was doing,” 
observed satirist and activist Dick Gregory, who 
was also a target of the FBI's nefarious 
activities. Mr. Gregory told The Final Call, “We 
may never know why this number was not redacted. 
At the same time, it might help us finally pull some pieces together.”

Mr. Gregory took strong issue with some responses 
to the spying allegations. Civil rights icon 
Andrew Young has publicly said he always liked 
Mr. Withers “because he was a good photographer 
and was always around.” “I don't think Dr. King 
would have minded him making a little money on 
the side,” Mr. Young, 78, told the Memphis newspaper.

“Can you imagine a Jew in Nazi Germany finding 
out that a Jew was working with Hitler for the 
Nazis and then another Jew saying we wouldn't 
have minded him making a little money on the side?” Mr. Gregory asked.

“It is never acceptable to turn for the enemy,” 
commented Kalongi Changa, of the Atlanta, 
Ga.-based Free The People Movement and author of 
the forthcoming book “How to Build a People's 
Army.” He is a grassroots organizer and deals 
with social and criminal justice issues.

“With all due respect to Andy Young, I think that 
is one of the most absurd statements that an 
educated man can make in these days and times. 
Saying that he thinks that Dr. King wouldn't have 
minded this man making money snitching on his 
people is almost equivalent to saying he wouldn't 
have minded a prostitute making a little money 
selling her body,” Mr. Changa said. “Playing with 
your enemy is like playing with fire­someone or 
something will eventually get burned.”

“I presume that snitching is older than stealing 
because a person could steal information and give 
it away before there was ‘property' to steal,” 
said Dr. Nathan Hare, founder of the San 
Francisco, Calif.-based Black Think Tank.

“However, though ‘snitch' is now generally 
associated with giving away or selling secret 
information it also means ‘to steal.' So 
snitching is tantamount to stealing and in most 
people's minds worse than a thief. There at least 
used to be a code among thieves that they didn't 
steal from other thieves, but I don't think 
there's any sense of honor among snitches, and it 
is rightfully and universally despised and 
personified with the words ‘rat' as in ‘to rat,' ” he said.

“Stool pigeon, which suggests a pigeon sitting on 
a toilet stool, but is in fact a pigeon used as a 
decoy to draw others into a net, and thus the 
snitch becomes an extension of the police or, and 
for the enemy,” said Dr. Hare.

A victim of government surveillance himself 
because he was closely aligned with a range of 
Black Power groups, Dr. Hare added, “The other 
side of the coin was that so many good guys 
appeared to be called snitches, who, apparently 
and probably were not. At one point it looked 
like people would call anybody who disagreed with 
them a snitch or an ‘agent provocateur,' usually shortened to ‘an agent.' ”

Dr. Hare said one book about the FBI's dreaded 
Counterintelligence Program, 
<http://www.noi.org/cointelpro/>COINTELPRO, which 
was designed to disrupt and destroy Black and 
progressive organizations, misidentified him in 
connection with the case of former Black Panther 
Elmer Geronimo “Ji Jaga” Pratt, who was jailed 
for 27 years for murders he did not commit. 
Informant Julius Butler, a member of the Panther 
Party, testified that Mr. Pratt boasted to him 
about the murder. Mr. Pratt was only freed after 
a retired FBI agent admitted the agency had 
evidence that proved the Vietnam vet was nowhere near the crime scene.

Atty. Taifa added: “I think what we have to do is 
put it all in perspective. It is one thing to be 
a snitch, then there is the collaborator and then 
there is another situation when there is in fact 
something happening within our communities. Say, 
one of our leaders is murdered and someone knows 
who did it. Or, a child is raped or molested and 
someone has that information for authorities. It 
is critical to provide that information. But it 
needs to be clearly distinguished from those who 
seek financial aggrandizement to bring down the 
movement, seeking to collaborate with the 
movement when it is not in our community's best interest,” she said.

A long history of spying inside America

One would be hard pressed to find an instance 
where dissident or influential individuals and 
groups were not monitored regularly by the U.S. 
government as well as some international 
agencies. The FBI's Electronic Reading Room 
houses tens of thousands of pages detailing some 
of the deepest penetrations into the lives of 
individuals, organizations and the infiltration of mass movements.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union, 
the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay 
Guardian filed a lawsuit against the FBI in an 
effort to speed the release of FBI records on the 
investigation and surveillance of Muslim communities in the Bay Area.

The civil liberties organizations and The Bay 
Guardian have requested the records in order to 
understand and to report on whether and how the 
FBI are “investigating Islamic centers and 
mosques (as well as Christian churches and Jewish 
synagogues); ‘assessing' religious leaders; 
Infiltrating communities through the use of 
undercover agents and informants; Training agents 
in Islam and Muslim culture; and Using race, 
religion and national origin in deciding whom to 
investigate; and identifying particular schools for its Junior Agent Program.

“Clear information about the FBI's activities is 
necessary in order to understand the scope of 
their surveillance tactics to assess whether they 
have had a chilling effect on the right to 
worship freely or to exercise other forms of 
expression,” said Julia Harumi Mass, staff 
attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. 
“This lawsuit is about transparency. The public 
is entitled to this information under the Freedom of Information Act.”

“The FBI admitted in March that our clients' FOIA 
requests are entitled to expedited processing 
because of the widespread media attention on 
these issues, but the government has yet to 
provide them a single document,” said attorney 
Raj Chatterjee of the law firm Morrison & Foerster.

The FBI records are sought in part in response to 
concerns about the effects of possible racial and 
religious profiling and the potential harm such 
tactics may have on national security. The groups 
are also seeking details on whether FBI agents 
are recruiting Muslim and Arab children at Bay 
Area schools to serve in the agency's Junior Agent Program.

“Snitches have played a role in disrupting 
African resistance since enslavement,” said 
Georgia State University Professor Akinyele 
Umoja. Prof. Umoja was referring to paid agents 
who curry favor with oppressive forces, not 
tattle tales about run-of-the-mill street crime or illicit activity.

“Denmark Vesey's planned insurrection was stopped 
due to information provided to the slaveholders. 
Informants were present in the civil rights 
movement in the South. Movement forces assumed 
snitches were in their meetings. Wise movement 
leaders often confused their enemies by providing 
misinformation in public meetings. 
(Counter Intelligence Program of the FBI to 
destroy Black leadership and movements) and 
Southern state documents are full of examples of 
misinformation provided by Movement leaders to 
confuse White supremacists and local, state and federal police,” he said.

“It is also revealed that the Honorable Elijah 
Muhammad couldn't sneeze without the enemy 
knowing. Snitches also played an important role 
in the demise of the Black Panther Party.”

The list of Black groups and leaders targeted by 
government unfortunately goes on and on, he said.

“Informing on the movement is treason. A 
liberation movement cannot be successful if a 
culture of snitching is acceptable. Movements are 
only sustainable and victorious if we have a 
culture of resistance and self-reliance. One 
should wear a ‘badge of shame' for informing on 
our organizations, leaders, and other sisters and 
brothers to our enemies,” Dr. Umoja continued.

“We also have to develop a culture of 
collectivism or communalism. If one wants 
forgiveness, a public apology should be made and 
restitution should be made to the individuals, 
organizations and families involved. People's 
lives and human rights were violated by the 
repression of the 
and other U.S. government initiatives against our movement. “

Dr. Umoja also recommended that if a member of a 
community has an addiction or a financial or 
emotional problem, it should be shared with their 
community and organization. “We are only as 
strong as our weakest link. If we leave brothers 
and sisters out there they are vulnerable for 
parasites who want to destroy the movement,” he said.

directive in the 1960s and 1970s, FBI director J. 
Edgar Hoover was on the lookout for a “Black 
Messiah” who could inspire diverse groups and 
unite the Black masses. The language was clear 
and so were its targets: H. Rap Brown (now Jamil 
Al Amin), Stokely Carmichael (who became Kwame 
Ture), the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam 
and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

“The reason Jamil Al-Amin was transferred to the 
prison in Florence, Colo., if you recall, is 
because the Georgia inmates petitioned to make 
him their imam. An effective organizer­even 
within the prison population­and a charismatic 
leader who had also begun to exercise influence 
over the prison staff is something the government 
could not afford. So now he sits in solitary. The 
same for Dr. Mutula Shakur, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Max 
Sanford, Huey P. Newton. They know they have to 
do something with people like these,” said Dr. Umoja.

But while the Panther Party and other nationalist 
groups were destroyed, one movement has been able 
to re-emerge and is the undeniable target of 
government surveillance: The Nation of Islam and 
the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. With the 
Nation there is the combination of Islam, Pan 
Africanism, nationalism and self-reliance­all 
elements that pose a threat to a nation dependent 
upon its former slaves, said Dr. Umoja. “Now 
Minister Farrakhan is here, who represents a 
blend of all of the elements: an effective 
organizer, charismatic, influential and has the 
genuine love of the people from all walks of 
life. You cannot be an effective leader without 
charisma. No one can deny that, he has that 
charisma that no one can control,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the mission of the Nation of 
Islam has been misunderstood by some in 
government but in other cases misunderstanding 
has been created, which has permitted, and it is 
well documented in history, the violation of our 
civil and constitutional rights through J. Edgar 
Hoover that continues down to the present time as 
revealed in December 2009 disclosures that there 
was Department of Homeland Security illegal 
surveillance of the Nation of Islam and that we 
were still a target of the U.S. government,” said 
Atty. Abdul Arif Muhammad, general counsel for the Nation of Islam.

“It would not be wise for us to not think such 
activity does not continue, especially in light 
of the Islamaphobia present in the United States 
and being stoked by the media and other forces in 
and outside of government to illegitimately 
distort the mission and work of the Honorable 
Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.”

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