The FBI and New York Police Department are facing renewed calls to open their records into the assassination of Malcolm X, after the release of a deathbed confession of a former undercover NYPD officer who admitted to being part of a conspiracy targeting Malcolm. In the confession, Raymond Wood, who died last year, admitted he entrapped two members of Malcolm’s security team in another crime — a plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty — just days before the assassination. This left the Black civil rights leader vulnerable at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, where he was fatally shot on February 21, 1965. Raymond Wood’s cousin Reggie Wood, who released the confession last week at a press conference, tells Democracy Now! his cousin’s involvement in the plot haunted him for much of his life. “Ray was told by his handlers not to repeat anything that he had seen or heard, or he would join Malcolm,” says Reggie Wood. “He trusted me enough to reveal this information and asked me not to say anything until he passed away, but at the same time not to allow him to take it to his grave.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
The FBI and New York Police Department are facing new calls to finally open their records related to the assassination of Malcolm X, shot dead 56 years ago at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, February 21st, 1965. This comes after the release of a deathbed confession of a former undercover New York police officer who admitted to being part of a broad New York police and FBI conspiracy targeting Malcolm. In the confession, the former officer, Raymond Wood, who died last year, admitted he entrapped two members of Malcolm’s security team in another crime, a plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty, just days before the assassination. On Saturday, Ray Wood’s cousin, Reggie Wood, read the letter at a news conference at the Shabazz Center in Harlem.
REGGIE WOOD: “It was my assignment to draw the two men into a felonious federal crime, so that they could be arrested by the FBI and kept away from managing Malcolm X’s Audubon Ballroom door security on February 21st, 1965.”
AMY GOODMAN: In his letter, Raymond Wood also revealed he was inside the Audubon Ballroom at the time of Malcolm’s assassination. At least one other undercover New York police officer, Gene Roberts, was also inside, after infiltrating the security team of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the group Malcolm founded after leaving the Nation of Islam. Both officers, Wood and Roberts, were part of the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations, or BOSSI, a secretive political intelligence unit of the NYPD nicknamed The Red Squad.
Following Malcolm’s assassination, police arrested three members of the Nation of Islam for his murder, but questions about the guilt of the men have lingered for decades. In his letter, Raymond Wood openly says one of the men, Thomas Johnson, was innocent and was arrested to, quote, “protect my cover and the secrets of the FBI and the NYPD,” unquote. Ray Wood’s letter echoes claims in recent books by Manning Marable and Les Payne that some of Malcolm’s actual assassins were never charged.
In a moment, we’ll be joined by Raymond Wood’s cousin Reggie Wood, who released his deathbed confession. But first I want to turn to the words of Malcolm X himself, speaking after his home in Queens was firebombed just a week before his assassination, February 14th, 1965.
MALCOLM X: My house was bombed. It was bombed by the Black Muslim movement upon the orders of Elijah Muhammad. Now, they had come around to — they had planned to do it from the front and the back so that I couldn’t get out. They covered the front completely, the front door. Then they had came to the back. But instead of getting directly in back of the house and throwing it this way, they stood at a 45-degree angle and tossed it at the window, so it glanced and went onto the ground. And the fire hit the window, and it woke up my second-oldest baby. But the fire burned on the outside of the house. But had that fire, had that one gone through that window, it would have fallen on a 6-year-old girl, a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old girl. And I’m going to tell you, if it had done it, I’d taken my rifle and gone after anybody in sight. I would not wait. And I say that because of this: The police know the criminal operation of the Black Muslim movement because they have thoroughly infiltrated it.
AMY GOODMAN: “Because they have thoroughly infiltrated it.” Those are the words of Malcolm X right before his assassination, right after his home was firebombed in February of 1965. Just days later, he was shot seconds after he took the stage at the Audubon Ballroom.
We’re joined now by Reggie Wood, the cousin of Raymond Wood, author of the new book, The Ray Wood Story: Confessions of a Black NYPD Cop in the Assassination of Malcolm X. Still with us, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who attended that news conference with Reggie Wood at the Audubon Ballroom, now the Shabazz Center, where Malcolm X was assassinated 56 years ago.
Reggie, thank you so much for joining us. You read parts of the letter this weekend. Talk about your cousin, Ray Wood, and what you understand happened, the conspiracy he alleges that he was a part of by the FBI and the New York Police Department to assassinate Malcolm X.
REGGIE WOOD: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Ray was a complicated man. I think, based on his past experiences, he lived with a lot of fear and caution on a daily basis, which he instilled in me over the past 10 years. But Ray was a person that lived as a — he lived as a very quiet and reserved person because of what he had experienced. He witnessed some horrible things firsthand and also realized that he was a part of it after the fact. And so, therefore, Ray was told by his handlers not to repeat anything that he had seen or heard, or he would join Malcolm. Therefore, for 46 years, Ray separated himself from the family, in fear that he would put us in danger.
Ray lived alone many years, and he finally — in his final years, when he realized that his cancer was reoccurring, he wanted to reconnect with family because he didn’t want to die alone. So, I volunteered to move him to Florida so that my wife and I could take care of him and get him back and forth to his cancer treatments and things of that nature. And therefore, he trusted me enough to reveal this information and asked me not to say anything until he passed away, but at the same time not to allow him to take it to his grave.
AMY GOODMAN: You write in your book, Reggie Wood, “He had spent years living in relative obscurity, wanting to ensure the cops wouldn’t preemptively act to silence him. He also feared retribution from society, especially the Black community. Ray was ashamed of what he’d been a part of and felt he had betrayed his own people. Due to his lugubrious feelings about his actions and fear for what might be done to him in retaliation, this 2015 article deeply impacted Ray.” And he’s talking about this news coverage from February — he was talking about the article by Garrett Felber in The Guardian that really laid out your cousin’s seminal involvement here and the FBI-police involvement in the assassination.
REGGIE WOOD: Yes. That book really details everything that happened. I felt that after consulting with Mr. Crump, I was looking for the best way to put this information out there. I wasn’t sure if it was safe to turn it over to authorities. Therefore, I just wrote everything that Ray told me into this memoir and made it available to the world, so that everyone would see it and hear it at the same time. And I think that’s the best way to do it. It’s a load off of my back, because I’m no longer in fear of the government trying to quiet me, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to news coverage from February 1965 about the police-orchestrated plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty. This was just days before Malcolm X’s assassination. This might be news to a lot of people, even old-time activists. In the video, Raymond Wood is seen being promoted for his role in that plot.
NEWSREEL: The happy ending to the plot was written by a rookie policeman who had been on the force only eight months when he infiltrated the extremist group. His work led police to a quiet New York residential area where the dynamite had been hidden. … Another arrested was Khaleel Sayyed, who, police say, went to the Statue of Liberty to buy a model and further the plot with the fourth conspirator, Walter Bowe. The hero cop, his face hidden for future undercover work, is promoted on the spot to the rank of detective, a happy climax to a bizarre story.
AMY GOODMAN: The arrests were carried out on February 16th, just days before Malcolm X was assassinated. And this is very significant, Reggie Wood, as you know, this so-called —
REGGIE WOOD: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — Statue of Liberty plot, because these men who were arrested were the security team of Malcolm X, meaning he wouldn’t have them there February 21st, a few days later, when he was assassinated.
REGGIE WOOD: That’s correct. That’s correct. As we were doing our research, my research assistant, Lizzette Salado, really helped me put the pieces together. We whiteboarded everything that Ray said and attempted to connect it to facts that the FBI had released and that historians had pulled out. And we worked closely with some historians to try to corroborate the information that was there. And once we were able to do that, we were able to present that information to Mr. Crump and show that this was a legitimate situation that needed to be brought to light.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, in the 2015 article in The Guardian, historian Garrett Felber reveals notes written by the late Japanese American activist Yuri Kochiyama. At a meeting held in 1965, she identified Ray Wood to be at the scene of Malcolm X’s assassination. She wrote, quote, “Ray Woods [sic]” — she wrote, with an “s” — “Ray Woods [sic] is said to have been seen also running out of Audubon; was one of two picked up by police. Was the second person running out,” Yuri wrote. This appears to substantiate some of the accounts of a second man taken into police custody after the assassination. I spent many hours with Yuri Kochiyama talking to her at an assisted-living facility at the end of her life in Oakland before she died. Can you talk about what happened at the assassination — because Yuri is right here; she was very close to Malcolm X, up on the stage with him, as well, at the end, after he was shot — that your cousin ran out and was taken away by police?
REGGIE WOOD: Yes. What Ray basically explained to me was that once he saw what was going down and he realized what had actually happened, after spending time with Mr. Sayyed and Mr. Bowe, he was there, and he reminisced or thought about the situation with him coming into the Audubon without being checked. He thought about the fact that those guys were in prison as we spoke. And he decided he needed to get out of there.
And as he was leaving, some individuals that knew him from his other undercover work — and he had been exposed somewhat from the bombing case — saw him, and they attempted to grab him. As they were grabbing him, trying to restrain him, a police officer intervened and grabbed Ray and took him into the police car. And from there, they took him to the precinct and put him into a cell, where he sat there for three to four hours not knowing what was going on. The only information that he had was listening to the chatter on the radio while they were transporting him to the police station.
And later that afternoon, the same two gentlemen that told him to go to the Audubon came and removed him from his cell and drove him back home and told him, quote, “Do not speak of this again, or you will face similar consequences.”
AMY GOODMAN: Did he know Gene Roberts, the other undercover officer, or at least one other, that we know of, who was there?
REGGIE WOOD: No. No, he did not. He did not know him. He did not know he was an undercover. He assumed he was part of Malcolm X’s team.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Ben Crump, you ended the last segment where we want to talk at the end of this segment, and that is the issue of what evidence is out there that the police or the FBI is hiding, and what you are calling for. It’s interesting that last week a judge ruled — a court ruled that the disciplinary records of New York police, going back for years, must be released. De Blasio said they’re releasing them, the mayor of New York. Not clear if they’re being released at this moment. That’s disciplinary records. And the police unions have been fighting this tooth and nail. What are you calling for in this case?
BENJAMIN CRUMP: Well, Amy, thank you for covering this important matter, as well, and to Reggie Wood, who has put forth this dying declaration letter from his cousin, Ray Wood, and documented all the corroborating evidence, and the memoir that he and Lizzette researched to show that everything in that letter is true. It is legitimate. And that’s very important to help exonerate all those Black people who were wrongfully convicted by Ray Wood’s work, all those people who have been conspired against by the NYPD and the FBI, whether that be Walter Bowe, Khaleel Sayyed, whether it be Thomas Johnson, who was picked up, who wasn’t even at the Audubon Ballroom but, to ensure that Ray’s cover would not be blown, was arrested and served almost three decades in prison for a crime of killing Malcolm X that they all knew he did not do.
And also Tupac Shakur’s mother, Afeni Shakur, part of the Panther 21, who Ray Wood testified against, saying that they tried to blow up New York monuments, and therefore, quite literally, she was imprisoned when she had her prince, Tupac Shakur, because of NYPD and the FBI were conspiring to wrongfully convict them.
And as Ray Wood said in his letter, their job was to discredit civil rights organizations and Black leaders. And that’s why we are calling for a Malcolm X commission to be convened by the United States Congress, so his daughters, but also the people who was affected by these felonious actions of NYPD and the FBI to target Black people can be exposed, because, Amy, the past is prologue. As Reggie Wood and I have often taught, the same way they targeted Malcolm X for saying that Black people deserve equality by any means necessary, they are targeting young Black Lives Matter activists today, labeling them as Black identity extremists. And so, we need to have our federal government be held to account for trying to stop Black people from exercising their First Amendment rights, but, more importantly, for being able to declare that Black lives matter, over and over again.
AMY GOODMAN: Benjamin Crump, we want to thank you for being with us, civil rights attorney, speaking to us from New Orleans. And thank you to Reggie Wood, author of the new book, The Ray Wood Story: Confessions of a Black NYPD Cop in the Assassination of Malcolm X. Reggie Wood, speaking to us from Tampa, Florida.
When we come back, we’ll get reaction from Ilyasah Shabazz, one of the six daughters of Malcolm X, who herself has just written a young adult novel based on her father’s time in jail. Stay with us.