Black Panther Richard Aoki: FBI Informant 1961-1977

Whether armed self defense remains effective in an era of increased militarization of the cops today is open to question. A guiding light for the Black Panthers from its earliest days, Richard Aoki certainly promoted the idea it was and is credited with training and helping arm the organization.


Speaking of the Panthers, some rather embarrassing revelations about the person initially responsible for arming and training them in the use of firearms have recently come to light. Richard Aoki, known to some as the Yellow Panther, was on the FBI payroll as an informant starting in 1961. People invested in keeping his memory and legacy pristine are falling over each other in their efforts to clear Aoki’s name, insisting that his information could only have been superfluous or of minor importance (nobody can tell since the FBI, in a continual strategy of spreading mis- and disinformation, has redacted everything relating to actual information they received from him), or that Aoki actually became a principled radical from his exposure to the ideology and practice of the BPP and then backed away from informing. Faced with declassified FBI documents, however, everyone has to concede that Aoki was indeed recruited soon after he left the Army and continued to supply information to the feds for the next 16 years. He provided them with enough useful information to remain on their payroll until he asked to be retired — a full two years after he had left the Panthers to pursue graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

After these uncomfortable revelations, it’s up to those who hold him in high regard to defend his now-tainted legacy; denial, deflection, diminution, and cries of defamation are all deployed with varying levels of success. But for anarchists, not having any investment in the legacy of the Panthers, or the Third World Liberation Front, or other progressive campaigns he helped organize, it’s much simpler: Aoki was an FBI informant. End of story. But it’s curious that with all the debates around forgery, disinformation, and minimizing the importance of specific information being passed to the cops, the actual issues of informing and spying are rarely, if ever, discussed. This is certainly the result of all the loudest commentators themselves being statists and authoritarians, all of whom take for granted that secrecy, disinformation, and spying are necessary for maintaining control and influence over others, whether they have already attained state power or are merely yearning for it.

The ruinous results of what’s come to be called the Green Scare (the state’s use of provocateurs and holding out promises of more lenient sentences if alleged ELF/ALF militants inform against each other) are unfortunate and devastating. These contemporary cases of entrapment and snitching need to remain fresh in our minds, not in a paranoid invocation of a laughable Security Culture (because it is neither secure, nor much of a culture), but to remind us that — regardless of what we may think our impact could be with this anarchy stuff — the state, if they aren’t already, will start to pay attention at some point. The importance of developing trust and tight friendships based on real affinity cannot be overstated.

Richard Aoki’s FBI file (declassified)

The Narratives of Richard Aoki: Pitch Video from Roldan Lozada on Vimeo.

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