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
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:
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!)!
Friday, August 31, 2012
August 21, 2012