By Guest Contributor Cecile Lusby, cross-posted from Hyphen Magazine
Image courtesy of Cecile Lusby
How can anyone explain a man who lived two lives? I try to unravel the mystery of Richard Aoki, because in 2012 Seth Rosenfeld reported that Richard served as an FBI informant. I view Richard’s life as having two turning points: one in 1956-7, and then again in 1966-1967, as he formed a new identity through the ‘60s activism that transformed and radicalized him.
Disclosures about Richard’s work with the FBI have been hard for his contemporaries, his students — and for me — to accept. My knowledge of Richard began in 1966 as he was leaving the Socialist Workers Party and joining the newly organized Black Panther Party. He joked about his earlier conservatism and his vote for Nixon in 1960 before his political ideas evolved. He voiced contempt for the student socialists who read, but never risked action. “I’m down for the struggle,” Richard would say. He did have a history.
Say it ain’t so.
When the news broke that beloved radical activist and former Black Panther Richard Aoki may have been working as an FBI informant, I was floored. I had the same reaction as Phil, over at Angry Asian Man:
I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this.
Granted, Aoki, who committed suicide in 2009, is not around to verify, deny, or explain these claims–claims that will no doubt help to sell the crap out of this new book. I’m not willing to accept this bombshell just like that, especially based on one article that happens to be written by Seth Rosenfeld, the same guy who wrote the book making these claims.
We’re also talking about the FBI, who definitely aren’t amateurs when it comes to shady discrediting tactics. It’s not hard to believe that there are holdovers from that era who would go to these lengths to tarnish Aoki’s legacy. Hell no. Not buying this. Need more information.
So I went looking for all the information I could find–and what remains is frustratingly inconclusive. Here’s a quick walkthrough of FOIA requests, COINTELPRO, other informants, and why the truth in these situations is so hard to find. Continue reading