Statement Regarding Allegations that Richard Aoki Was An FBI Informant
by Mike Cheng & Ben Wang
A recent article (published at CIROnline.org) and book (entitled Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise To Power), both authored by Seth Rosenfeld, contain a serious allegation that Richard Aoki acted as an FBI informant throughout his involvement in several revolutionary movements for social justice. If these allegations are proven to be true, we do not condone these actions in any shape or form. However, as the discourse and investigation of these claims commence, we feel it is important to remind people that the burden of proof must fall on those that make the accusation. “No investigation, no right to judge” is a common Movement saying that bears repeating in these circumstances. Accusing anyone of being an informant is extremely inflammatory and any allegations must be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated for evidence.
For those familiar with the history of COINTELPRO and tactics employed by the FBI falsely hanging snitchjackets on prominent contributors to the Movement to create internal dissent and conflict, the burden of proof must lie with the individual or group making the claim. After reviewing Rosenfeld’s article, video, and book, there is no solid evidence presented that Richard was as an FBI informant.
Rosenfeld’s conclusion that Richard was an FBI informant is based on the following:
· He claims Richard made “suggestive statements” during an interview he granted Rosenfeld in 2007. However, the audio Rosenfeld has provided of the interview reveals that Richard clearly denied any allegation that he was an FBI informant.
· An interview with former FBI agent Burney Threadgill in which he claims he recruited and trained Richard to be an informant. Threadgill passed away in 2005 and does not appear to have offered any additional proof beyond his own word, which contradicts Richard’s.
· An FBI document that connects Richard with a supplementary T symbol (SF T-2). This document does not explain what this designation meant except for the unclear statement, "the limited purpose of describing his connections with the organization and characterizing him." Furthermore, all names under the Informants column on the page with the SF T-2 designation have been redacted. In fact, all names on this page have been redacted except for Richard’s, which calls for further information and clarification as to the actual identity of SF T-2. Since the identify of SF T-2 is unknown, it is possible that the SF T-2 informant was assigned to inform on Richard, explaining why Richard’s name is listed on this document and why SF T-2 was “designated (assigned) for…Aoki.” The FBI files released by Rosenfeld do not reveal any documentation that Aoki actually provided information to the FBI.
· The testimony of former FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen that Richard fits the profile of an informant. While Swearingen has been consistently outspoken and critical of the FBI’s counter surveillance tactics, he admits he does not have any actual connection to Richard.
Armed with no proof, it is unacceptable for Rosenfeld to discredit Richard’s integrity based on the unsubstantiated word of a deceased FBI agent and a document with redacted and vague information. Many individuals and media outlets have immediately accepted the claims of an author who is aggressively promoting his book without properly examining the evidence for themselves. Instead of automatically trusting questionable government sources and Rosenfeld’s sensationalist journalism, we must scrutinize what Rosenfeld states as fact. We urge Richard’s former comrades, friends, associates, the 600 plus mourners who packed Wheeler Auditorium to attend his memorial service, and anyone concerned with government infiltration of social justice movements to get involved. We must conduct our own research and publicly share our findings to determine the truth of the matter. Characterized by many as a man of great principle, consistency, and integrity, Richard wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mike Cheng & Ben Wang
FRED HO REFUTES THE CLAIM THAT RICHARD AOKI WAS AN FBI INFORMANT
August 21, 2012
I knew Richard Aoki from the period of the late 1990s to the end of his life in 2009. Prior to the publication of Diane Fujino’s book, SAMURAI AMONG PANTHERS (University of Minnesota Press), I probably was the main person who had published the most about Aoki (c.f., Legacy to Liberation: Politics and Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America, AK Press).
In fact, Richard Aoki and I spoke on the telephone a day or two before he killed himself. During the Spring of 2009 we were in regular contact via telephone (as he was in the Bay Area and I in New York City) as I had undergone another surgery in the cancer war I have been fighting since 2006, and he was facing major illness and deterioration, hospitalized during this time. Richard regularly contacted me as he was very concerned about my dying, and I was concerned for him as well.
We had a very special relationship that allows me to easily, comfortably and assertively rebut the claims made by the two proponents of the accusation that Richard Aoki was an FBI informant.
What was our special relationship? Richard was exasperated at how creative, revolutionary ideology had seriously waned, both from Panther veterans and from the younger generation stuck in the Non-Profit Industrial Complex mode of organization and their “activistism” (or what I humorously proffer as “activistitis”, the political tendency to be tremendously busy with activism but failing to have a revolutionary vision guide and dominate that activism). As Fujino remarks, Aoki viewed me as someone with creative revolutionary ideology and he sought me out and we shared many discussions and a special closeness. (Note: Aoki did not know the brilliant political prisoner, Russell Maroon Shoatz,
someone who now at age 68, could go toe-to-toe ideologically with Richard Aoki!)
Why would an FBI agent do this, almost 50 years past the hoorah days of the Sixties? It is implied by the calumnious assertions by journalist Seth Rosenfeld (whose book is opportunistically coming out today: Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicalism, and Reagan’s Rise to Power, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) that Aoki was probably still an agent even to the time of his death, though, like the rest of the “evidence” or assertions by Rosenfeld, never substantiated or clearly documented.
That is because Aoki NEVER was an agent, and unlike many of the prominent Panthers (notably Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton), remained a revolutionary for life and never degenerated into self-obsession and egomania. To the end of his life, Aoki could go toe-to-toe with any revolutionary intellectual, theorist or organizer on the complexities and challenges of revolutionary theory, including the U.S. “national question,” socialism, etc.
Here is my rebuttal to Seth Rosenfeld and to former FBI agent Wes Swearingen, the two main proponents of the Aoki-was-an-FBI-agent claim.
1. The written FBI documents are very vague and much is redacted. The T-2 identification has Richard Aoki’s middle name incorrectly listed. All other identities of other informants are redacted. Why? Why was only Aoki “revealed”? This is the only real factual evidence that Rosenfeld has to offer. The rest is supposition and surmise.
2. Scott Kurashige asserts in his contextualization and weak challenge to Rosenfeld that perhaps Aoki during the 1950s had agreed to be an FBI informant during a period in Aoki’s life when he wasn’t interested in politics or “communism.”
But that later, in the ‘60s, when Aoki, as so many of that generation got radicalized, that he couldn’t admit to what he had done earlier as it would have cast huge aspersion and suspicion around him among the Panthers who were quick to be intolerant and unwilling to accept such past mistakes. However, Kurashige falls short here. Even if this were the case, that Richard had naively agreed to be an informant in his youth, prior to being radicalized, and couldn’t admit to it later, what is impossible to reconcile is that the entire 50 year arc of Richard’s life and work has helped the Movement far more than hindered or harmed it.
3. If Richard was a FBI agent, how did he help the FBI? By training the Panthers in Marxist ideology, socialism? By leading drill classes at 7am daily and instilling iron-discipline in their ranks? By being one of the leaders to bring about Ethnic (Third World) Studies in the U.S.? Other questions that aren’t answered by Rosenfeld: How much was Aoki paid if he was an agent? What did Aoki get out of it? How long was he an agent for? There is no evidence that Aoki sabotaged, foment divisions, incited violence, etc. The over-emphasis upon Aoki providing the Panthers their first firearms is sensationalist fodder. What is conveniently ignored is what he contributed most to the Panthers and to the legacy of the U.S. revolutionary movement: promoting revolutionary study, ideology and disciplined organization. That’s why he was Field Marshall because the cat could organize and tolerated no indiscipline and lack of seriousness.
4. How does a FBI agent acquire the super-Jason Bourne-equivalent ideological skills to influence so many radicals both of the Sixties and continuously to his death, including myself? There is no Cliff Notes or Crash Course FBI Training Academy 101 on Revolutionary Ideology on the
nuances of debates on “peaceful transition to socialism as revisionism”, or “liberal multi-culturalism as the neo-colonialism within U.S. Third World communities,” etc. You get the picture. Richard Aoki intellectually had the brilliance that surpassed any professor of radicalism at any university or college. Could a FBI agent really be this? We see from the FBI agent who helped in the assassination of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton, that he was paid around $200, that he was primarily head of security for the slain Panther leader Fred Hampton, and that he committed suicide ostensibly for the guilt that he had over his role in the murder of Hampton and Clark. There is no evidence of this for Aoki, in fact, Aoki remained a committed revolutionary to the end.
5. The supposed admission that Rosenfeld has on tape, shown on the link: http://californiawatch.org/public-safety/man-who-
armed-black-panthers-was-fbi-informant-records-show-17634 is typical Aoki humor in answering “Oh.” The subtext, as Aoki knew he was talking to a reporter, is really: “Oh, you motherfucker, so that’s what he said, well, stupid, then it must be true!” Rosenfeld notes that Aoki laughs (which is laughing AT Rosenfeld!). Anyone who really knew Richard Aoki knows that he used humor often to turn someone’s stupid questions back at them, saying to the effect: well if you are stupid to think that, then it must be true for you!
6. The corroboration offered by former FBI agent, now turned squealer, Wes Swearingen, is not evidence. Swearingen only thinks that it is likely Aoki was an informer for the FBI because he was Japanese! How stupid! Would fierce black nationalists accept someone more easily because he was Japanese? If that were so, there would have been more Asians in the Panthers! Yes, Richard personally knew many of the founding Panther members, including Seale and Newton, precisely because these hardcore guys truly trusted Richard because Richard could do the do! Again,
the question must be asked, what benefits did the FBI get from having Aoki as an informant to lend credibility to this assertion? At best, Swearingen can only offer speculation and surmise, as he can’t testify that he actually KNEW Aoki to be an agent or witnessed FBI encounters with Aoki.
7. The one FBI agent who might have actually encountered Aoki, an agent named Threadgill, is now (conveniently) deceased, who claimed in mid-1965 he was Aoki’s handler. We have no way of verifying this except relying upon Rosenfeld’s claims. When Rosenfeld asked Aoki point blank if he knew this guy, Threadgill, Aoki flatly denies knowing such a person and jokes about it (again, in the Aoki style: “Oh, if that’s what he claims, and you think it so, then it must be so, stupid!”)
8. Lastly, what is to be gained by this accusation of Aoki as FBI informant, a day before Rosenfeld’s book hits the bookstores? To sell books via this hype and sensationalism. Aoki did more to build the student movement in the Bay Area than many others. Let’s ask the question, how much was Rosenfeld paid for his book deal? We should ask that same question about the late Manning Marable, whose supposition-filled and sloppy “scholarly” account of Malcolm X is equally reprehensible. Besides the obvious gain to Rosenfeld directly of hoping to increase book sales and his wallet, we must ask the larger political question, how does this accusation against the deceased Aoki affect the larger politics of today?
Well, here’s how: it fuels doubt on so many levels to building radical politics, sowing dissension between Black nationalists and Asian American radicals, distrust of our revolutionary leaders of past and present, fear for the police-state and its power to extend itself into the core leadership of revolutionary movements, and
as witnessed by Scott Kurashige’s capitulation to the reformist politics of non-violence, to elevating Martin Luther King, Jr. above the Black Liberationists (Kurashige calls for a re-look and re-examination of MLK, implying this is safer and more amenable than the “violence” advocated by Aoki and the Panthers). And this is simply the tip of an iceberg building to stave off the growth of radicalism generated by the Occupy, eco-socialist and anti-globalization movements both in the U.S. and across the planet.
Here is the initial reaction by most people not cowered or shocked by Rosenfeld’s accusations, who either personally knew Richard Aoki (as I did) or who are accustomed to or familiar with such “dirty tricks” as employed by Rosenfeld: If Aoki was an agent, so what? He surely was a piss-poor one because what he contributed to the Movement is enormously greater than anything he could have detracted or derailed. If it is implied that Aoki promoted firearms, and violence, to the Panthers, well, here’s some news: the Panthers were well on that direction as part of the trajectory set by Malcolm X, Robert F. Williams, the Deacons of Defense (who the Panthers modeled themselves upon), Harriet Tubman, Geronimo, Tucemseh, Crazy Horse, and so many others.
And if you are gullible to believe these “dirty tricks” (which isn’t surprising given how media hype today is so powerful and influential), and rely upon the internet instead of actual experience in struggle and revolutionary organizing, then you need to get real, get serious, and deal with counter-hegemonic consciousness-raising for yourself. But most of us who never were shocked by this accusation towards Richard simply took the attitude, PHUCK THEM (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; Swearingen, Rosenfeld, and anyone who swallows this crap!)!
Where's the evidence Aoki was FBI informant?
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 Vietnam.
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).
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Where-s-the-evidence-Aoki-was-FBI-informant-3808396.php#ixzz25zUoux4h