Richard Masato Aoki, who helped to arm and train the Black Panther Party was revealed to have been an informant for the FBI by the agent who recruited him, in a book released yesterday. Documents obtained by author Seth Rosenfeld as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit confirm that Aoki was part of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI’s COINTELPRO or Counter Intelligence Program. COINTELPRO was designed to disrupt and ultimately destroy radical, anti-war and civil rights movements. COINTELPRO methods involved the use of informants who would not only monitor and observe but also offer aid in the form of firearms, and explosives. They also spread rumors and gossip to divide and isolate targets. In some cases they even went so far as to poison or drug targets like Fred Hampton, who was drugged before being shot to death in his bed, by police.
Richard Aoki, who took his own life in 2009 following a bout of serious illness, was confronted with allegations that he had worked for the FBI. His response which was recorded seems a bit cagey and surprised. Aoki said that he thought or would say that it wasn’t true but then tempered that by saying that “people change. It is complex.” Former student activist and long-time close friend of Aoki’s Harvey Dong expressed shock at the revelation but did say that Aoki tended to “compartmentalize” his life. Upon his death he had neatly laid out both his Black Panther Party uniform and the U.S. Army one he wore before that.
Aoki was the only person of Asian decent to take a leadership role in the party. He along with his family and thousands of others of Japanese decent or origin were interned in concentration camps by the U.S. government during World War II. Former FBI agent Burney Threadgill Jr. said in a 2005 interview that he recruited Aoki out of high school in the late ’50’s to monitor communist organizations. He went onto say that “he was one of the best sources we had.” Aoki started informing on activities of the Communist Party, and went onto join and rise to leadership positions in a number of socialist organizations before becoming affiliated with the Black Panther Party.
In recent years both a feature-length documentary film, Aoki, and a 2012 biography, Samurai Among Panthers, have been released and portray Aoki as a legitimate and committed militant activist. It was Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seal who outlined Aoki’s pivotal role in providing arms for the party in his 1970 book Seize the Time: “a Third World brother we knew, a Japanese radical cat. He had guns … .357 Magnums, 22’s, 9mm’s, what have you.”
This follows a pattern that stays true today. It is very often the person who offers to provide the firearms, explosives, expertise, or funds who is working for the police.