The Assassination of Fred Hampton: New Documents Reveal Involvement of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover

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Newly unearthed documents have shed new light on the FBI’s role in the murder of the 21-year-old Black Panther leader Fred Hampton on December 4, 1969, when Chicago police raided Hampton’s apartment and shot and killed him in his bed, along with fellow Black Panther leader Mark Clark. Authorities initially claimed the Panthers had opened fire on the police who were there to serve a search warrant for weapons, but evidence later emerged that told a very different story: The FBI, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Chicago police had conspired to assassinate Fred Hampton. FBI memos and reports obtained by historian and writer Aaron Leonard now show that senior FBI officials played key roles in planning the raid and the subsequent cover-up. “It was approved at the highest level,” says attorney Jeff Haas. We also speak with attorney Flint Taylor. Both are with the People’s Law Office and were the lead lawyers in a landmark civil rights case over the deaths of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

As Black History Month begins today, we look back at the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Chicago 51 years ago and how new documents reveal more details about the FBI’s role in the murder of the 21-year-old revolutionary.

Fred Hampton was killed December 4th, 1969, when Chicago police raided his apartment and shot and killed him in his own bed. Black Panther leader Mark Clark was also killed by police in that raid. Authorities initially claimed the Panthers had opened fire on the police who were there to serve a search warrant for weapons. Evidence later emerged that told a very different story: The FBI, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and Chicago police had conspired to assassinate Fred Hampton.

Now several hundred pages of FBI memos and reports, obtained by historian and writer Aaron Leonard through a Freedom of Information Act request, document that the director of the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Division, William Sullivan, and the head of the Extremist Section of the Domestic Intelligence Division, George Moore, both played key roles in planning the raid and the cover-up that followed.

For more on what these documents say, we’re joined by Flint Taylor and Jeff Haas, founding members of the People’s Law Office in Chicago, who were the lead lawyers in the landmark Fred Hampton and Mark Clark civil rights case. Their new piece for Truthout is headlined “New Documents Suggest J. Edgar Hoover Was Involved in Fred Hampton’s Murder.”

Jeff Haas, let’s begin with you. You wrote a book about Fred Hampton. Talk about what these new documents show and what you see as the smoking gun of J. Edgar Hoover’s direct involvement.

JEFF HAAS: Thank you, Amy.

Well, first of all, it’s 51 years after the incident and 40-some years after the trial. We had never gotten these documents before. But what they showed was that Hoover and Sullivan and Moore were following Roy Mitchell, a special agent in charge, very closely with regard to O’Neal. And they were complimenting him and rewarding him from the moment he gave the information and the floor plan to special agent Mitchell. They were congratulating Mitchell on what a wonderful job he did with this informant. Of course, Mitchell got the floor plan, gave it to Hanrahan’s police, and that’s what led to the raid. The floor plan even showed the bed where Hampton and Johnson would be sleeping.

So, we knew much of this. We knew O’Neal had gotten a bonus. We never knew Mitchell got a bonus. And we never knew that Hoover and Sullivan and Moore were starting to watch this in November, 10 days before it happened. They were monitoring exactly what went on. And so it was approved at the highest level. And during the trial, we had sought to go up to Sullivan and Moore and Hoover, but the judge wouldn’t allow us. And we thought perhaps even John Mitchell and Richard Nixon were involved. We didn’t have these documents, so we couldn’t uncover that. This also shows that after the raid, the head of the FBI in Chicago met with and congratulated the informant, O’Neal, thanked him for his information, which led to the success of the raid.

What’s also interesting is, 51 years later, these documents still have redactions. There’s a specific redaction because an FBI agent had been called in front of a grand jury, and he was told, “If you get asked any questions about blank,” which is the FBI, “leave the grand jury and report to your higher-ups.”

A year after the raid, the FBI role and COINTELPRO had never been disclosed. It was only about Hanrahan and the police. So it took us 13 years to uncover that it was COINTELPRO, a program whose objective was to disrupt, destroy and neutralize the Panthers and, specifically, prevent the rise of a Black messiah, like Fred Hampton, who could unify and electrify the masses. It was this FBI program that led to the passing of the floor plan and the 90 shots and Fred Hampton executed in his bed at 2:30 in the morning on December 4th.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Jeff, the documents also seem to indicate that there was a plan to cover up the FBI’s involvement in the raid. Could you talk about that aspect of what you’ve uncovered?

JEFF HAAS: Yes. At the grand jury — this was a special state grand jury. Because the Black community was so outraged and there was a lot of pressure, they called a special grand jury, where they allowed the FBI agent who talked about who fired the guns, but they didn’t allow anybody to talk about the floor plan or the role of the informant, William O’Neal, in setting up the raid and getting a bonus for it. So, that was kept quiet. Matter of fact, if there hadn’t been a raid at the Media, Pennsylvania, FBI office, we might never have learned about COINTELPRO.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of why it’s taken so long and there’s still redactions on some of these documents— I mean, the assassination of President Kennedy, there have been documents released from that. And here we have one radical revolutionary in Chicago, and it’s taken so long just to get information about what actually happened.

JEFF HAAS: Well, yes. I think the cover-up continues, in the fact that many of these pages contain redaction, including the information from O’Neal. So there are things the FBI has still not released, we think showing the involvement of higher-ups. We do have a continuous rewarding of the special agent, Roy Mitchell, referring to the success of the raid, how the raid was critical to the role of the FBI. So, some of these documents are new. But for the next year, Roy Mitchell got congratulated for how well he had handled O’Neal and how important the information he’d gotten. And they continuously internally called the raid a success, while externally they were hiding it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Flint Taylor into this conversation, co-founder of the People’s Law Office in Chicago. You and Jeff were arrested for protesting what you called in the piece “the outrageous rulings of the judge and the blatant misconduct of the defense.” Can you explain what this trial was, Flint?

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, this was a trial, 18 months on trial, Jeff and I and others in our office, fighting to get these documents out, fighting to establish the role of the FBI. And we had a judge who was very similar to Judge Hoffman in the Conspiracy 8 trial, which many people may remember. And he was dead set against us. He was originally from Alabama. He was a racist. And he did not believe and would not let us get at the evidence that the FBI was involved in this case. But we were developing this evidence along with the Senate select committee, the Church Committee. So we were exposing this evidence both in court and outside of court, and the judge was getting more and more upset with us.

And so, when we protested the unfair rulings that he was making — he was keeping us from putting Hoover in the case. He was keeping us from putting John Mitchell and the others from Washington in the case. And he was keeping us from getting the documents that showed the bonus to O’Neal, the informant. All of this, we were fighting for, day and day after day. And when we protested, both of us, at various times, were held in contempt and sent to the federal lockup here in Chicago.

But we kept fighting it. The judge threw the case out after 18 months of trial, believe it or not. He wouldn’t let the jury decide the case. We fought it to appeal, and we won a remarkable decision in the court of appeals, defended it in the U.S. Supreme Court. And 13 years of litigation and fighting to get the evidence out, we were ultimately able to obtain one of the largest, if not the largest, police violence settlement, for the families of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton and the surviving Panthers, in the history at that time of the federal courts.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Flint, for the younger members of our audience who really do not, perhaps, understand the role and significance of the Black Panther Party and, for instance, J. Edgar Hoover labeling them the greatest domestic threat to the U.S. government, Hoover was aware, by then, although the public found out later, that there had been polling done, secret polling done, that showed that more than 25% of all African Americans at the time supported the Black Panther Party. Could you talk about the party’s significance?

FLINT TAYLOR: The party was very significant. And its leadership was, as well. And Fred Hampton was not only an up-and-coming leader, but a very charismatic and dynamic leader. And the Panthers had a Ten-Point Program. That program covered the waterfront with all sorts of revolutionary and socialistic programs — a free breakfast program, for example, a free medical clinic, for another example, a newspaper that came out every week and talked about the atrocities of the police and the government.

It was very much an anti-imperialist organization, fought against the War in Vietnam, said people should not go to Vietnam, opposed mass incarceration before there actually was that term, and also was very strong in setting up and fighting for coalitions between Black, Hispanic or — like the Young Lords — of course, you know about that, Juan — and other organizations, revolutionary and radical organizations. And this is another reason why Hoover feared the Panthers so much, because they were bringing together all sorts of different radical and revolutionary groups, groups against the War in Vietnam. And this was very threatening to the government at that time, and they targeted, under the COINTELPRO program, which was focused to destroy the Black Panther Party, on Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers, because they were so successful here in Chicago.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Flint Taylor and Jeff Haas, co-founding members of the People’s Law Office in Chicago, lead lawyers in the landmark Fred Hampton, Mark Clark civil rights case. Their new piece, we’ll link to, at Truthout, is headlined “New Documents Suggest J. Edgar Hoover Was Involved in Fred Hampton’s Murder.”

Next up, we continue our look at the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Chicago 51 years ago as told in a remarkable new feature film premiering at Sundance Film Festival today. It’s called Judas and the Black Messiah. We’ll speak to its director, Shaka King. Stay with us.

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Next story from this daily show

“Judas and the Black Messiah” Director Shaka King on Fred Hampton, the Black Panthers & COINTELPRO

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