Two on the dark history of the FBI

The FBI’s War on Black-Owned Bookstores 

At the height of the Black Power movement, the Bureau focused on the unlikeliest of public enemies: black independent booksellers.

By Joshua Clark Davis

In the spring of 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover announced to his agents that COINTELPRO, the counter-intelligence program established in 1956 to combat communists, should focus on preventing the rise of a “Black ‘messiah’” who sought to “unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement.” The program, Hoover insisted, should target figures as ideologically diverse as the Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture), Martin Luther King Jr., and Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad.

Just a few months later, in October 1968, Hoover penned another memo warning of the urgent menace of a growing Black Power movement, but this time the director focused on the unlikeliest of public enemies: black independent booksellers.

In a one-page directive, Hoover noted with alarm a recent “increase in the establishment of black extremist bookstores which represent propaganda outlets for revolutionary and hate publications and culture centers for extremism.” The director ordered each Bureau office to “locate and identify black extremist and/or African-type bookstores in its territory and open separate discreet investigations on each to determine if it is extremist in nature.” Each investigation was to “determine the identities of the owners; whether it is a front for any group or foreign interest; whether individuals affiliated with the store engage in extremist activities; the number, type, and source of books and material on sale; the store’s financial condition; its clientele; and whether it is used as a headquarters or meeting place.”

 

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A Threat of the First Magnitude

Sometime in the late fall/early winter of 1962, a document began circulating among members of the Communist Party USA based in the Chicago area, titled “Whither the Party of Lenin.” It was signed “The Ad Hoc Committee for Scientific Socialist Line.” This was not the work of factionally inclined CP comrades, but rather something springing from the counter-intelligence imagination of the FBI.

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The untold story of the FBI informants who penetrated the upper reaches of organizations such as the Communist Party, USA, the Black Panther Party, the Revolutionary Union and other groups labeled threats to the internal security of the United States.

A Threat of the First Magnitude tells the story of the FBI’s fake Maoist organization and the informants they used to penetrate the highest levels of the Communist Party USA, the Black Panther Party, the Revolutionary Union and other groups labelled threats to the internal security of the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.

As once again the FBI is thrust into the spotlight of US politics, A Threat of a First Magnitude offers a view of the historic inner-workings of the Bureau’s counterintelligence operations — from generating “fake news” and the utilization of “sensitive intelligence methods” to the handling of “reliable sources” — that matches or exceeds the sophistication of any contenders.

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