A Short History of U.S. Law Enforcement Infiltrating ProtestsBreaking News
tags: Police, FBI, counterinsurgency, COINTELPRO, Protest
THE BEST documented use of provocateurs by the U.S. government occurred during the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counter-Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, from 1956 to 1971. The reason the documentation is available is because a group of citizens broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania — coincidentally, just a short drive from the warehouse targeted by police in 2000 — and stole files that they then passed to the media. This, in turn, led to congressional investigations, which pried loose more information.
In one notorious example in May 1970, an informant working for both the Tuscaloosa police and the FBI burned down a building at the University of Alabama during protests over the recent Kent State University shootings. The police then declared that demonstrators were engaging in an unlawful assembly and arrested 150 of them.
In another well-known case, a man nicknamed “Tommy the Traveler” visited numerous New York State colleges, posing as a radical member of Students for a Democratic Society. He encouraged acolytes to kidnap a congressman and offered training in Molotov cocktails. Two students at Hobart College acted on his suggestions and firebombed the campus ROTC building. Eventually it came out that his full name was Tommy Tongyai, and he had worked both for local police and the FBI.
The list goes on and on from there. A John Birch Society member turned FBI informant helped assemble time bombs and placed them on an Army truck. An FBI informant in the radical political organization Weather Underground took part in the bombing of a Cincinnati public school. A prominent member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War — and FBI informant — pushed for “shooting and bombing,” and his advocacy apparently did indeed lead to a bombing and a bomb threat. An FBI informant in Seattle drove a young black man named Larry Ward to a real estate office that engaged in housing discrimination and encouraged him to place a bomb there; the police were waiting and killed Ward. Thirteen Black Panthers were accused of a plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty after receiving 60 sticks of dynamite from an FBI informant. After 28 people broke into a federal building to destroy draft files in 1971, an FBI informant bragged, “I taught them everything they knew.” All 28 were acquitted when his role was revealed.
The FBI also allowed informants within right-wing organizations to participate in violence against progressive activists. Gary Thomas Rowe, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in 1960, provided the FBI with three weeks warning that the Klan was planning attacks on Freedom Riders arriving in Alabama from the north. The FBI stood by and allowed the attacks to occur. Local police gave the Klan 15 minutes to assault the activists. In those 15 minutes, the white supremacists — including Rowe — set the Freedom Rider bus on fire in an attempt to burn them alive.
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