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Damn it, Richard, what the f***?!

August 29, 2012

by Belvin Louie and Miriam Ching Yoon Louie

Belvin writes:

  1. The front page of the March 1969 issue of the UC Berkeley Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) newspaper shows TWLF strike leaders Richard Aoki of the Asian American Political Alliance, Charlie Brown of the Afro American Student Union and Manuel Delgado of the Mexican American Student Confederation representing Third World solidarity. – Photo: Muhammad Speaks, courtesy of Bea Dong
    FBI
    1. I don’t trust anything that the FBI says, even in its own documents.
    2. The FBI has a long establish track record of sowing dissent and lies.
    3. It’s odd that in the FBI document referenced by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) video exposé, all names were blacked out, except for “Richard Aoki.”
    4. The agent said, “I helped develop him.” This sounds like bragging to me.
  2. Seth Rosenfeld
    1. Seth Rosenfeld is a longtime journalist.
    2. He’s trying to generate a buzz to sell his book.
    3. All allegations refer to the period from when Richard was supposedly recruited right out of high school, up to and including 1967.
  3. Richard Aoki
    1. Richard always talked about guns, the “pigs and/or fools.”
    2. Richard was super paranoid – “They’re always listening.” Richard never said anything sensitive over the phone. This is counter to what the FBI agent said on tape about Richard providing reports to him over the phone. In fact, the walkway to Richard’s rear upstairs apartment was purposely covered with loose gravel so that anyone approaching had to make a racket.
    3. He grew up in the internment camps and often spoke about being raised 200 percent American to prove himself.
    4. He served in the US Army as an arms specialist.
    5. He was a well-read intellectual.
    6. Richard’s 2009 response to Rosenfeld’s questioning was “Oh, that’s interesting.” This is a typical Richard response to draw out more information from Rosenfeld before he responded later in the interview that the FBI statements were not true.

While it is possible that he was “recruited” right out of high school when he was “200 percent American,” this remains only an allegation in my opinion. Besides, what are the specific impacts or consequences of Richard’s alleged reports to the FBI? None are mentioned that are tied specifically to Richard.

As much as authorities fear militant Blacks, they fear multi-racial solidarity even more – witness last year’s California prison hunger strikes. Here, Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) strikers’ picket line is being pushed by police at Sather Gate, UC Berkeley, in 1969. – Photo: Stand Up Archives, courtesy of Bea Dong
I was stunned by the allegations that Richard was an FBI agent. I never saw any signs of it since I started running with him in 1968. That said, I would be inclined to give Richard the benefit of the doubt. One’s life should be judged by its totality, not by short periods nor by a few of the mistakes we human beings inevitably make along life’s journey.

Miriam asks:

Why do I feel like me and my peeps just got yellow periled and willie hortoned? By a white dude in a suit? Why is fanning racial fear to sell product still called “yellow” not “white” journalism?

Cowardice in journalism triumphs when an experienced reporter uses insufficient evidence to accuse a movement leader of being an FBI informer betraying the Black Panther Party and others – after the brother is dead and the crows and worms have already done their work. It’s a shameful day when the reporter detonates this bomb in multiple media outlets as the first-day publicity launch for his book – even though the accused, Richard Aoki, and his movements are but a sideline in a book about Ronald Reagan, the FBI, Mario Savio, the Free Speech Movement and Clark Kerr. Sorry, Ronny, J. Edgar, Mario and Clark. Y’all white guys will never be as sexy as “sneaky japs” and “negroes with guns.” Remember Executive Order 9066. Remember COINTELPRO. Remember the Maine, William Randolph Hearst and “yellow” journalism.

Cowardice in journalism triumphs when an experienced reporter uses insufficient evidence to accuse a movement leader of being an FBI informer betraying the Black Panther Party and others – after the brother is dead and the crows and worms have already done their work.

It’s a sorry day when a reporter employs the Great White Hunter (GWH) school of hype, luring prey into the lair, building trust and then springing the gotcha! trap, as his cameraman zooms in on his prey’s distress. That’s what GWH did to our bro Harvey Dong for Rosenfeld’s Center for Investigative Reporting video blast, “The Man Who Armed the Panthers.”

At Richard Aoki’s memorial on May 2, 2009, was this stunning tableau of his life – the main message written in the center: “Serve the People.” In front were placed candles, rice and sake for folks to come pay their respects. – Photo: Andre Nguyen, www.takenbyandre.com
Did GWH tell Richard’s cousin, family minister, filmmakers and sisters and bros in the Third World Liberation Front and Black Panther Party that he was interviewing them to lend authenticity to his planned exposé alleging that Richard was an informer? As courtesies a reporter might extend to survivors of internment camps, FBI persecution and police violence? Did GWH inform the caretakers of the Harvey Dong, Richard Aoki and Ethnic Studies UCB archives of his purpose in using their materials, motherlodes created to tell our stories in our own words, without white voiceovers?

Richard was my Asian Studies 198 instructor on Third World Liberation Movements during Fall 1969. Before we met, he had urged Belvin (my “paramour” in FBI parlance) to take up leadership in the Asian American Political Alliance and the Third World Liberation Front’s Central Committee. Sure Richard was a vet and gun nut of NRA proportions, but his provocations to our movement were intellectual. His memorial yielded a thicket of troublemakers, a testament to the generations of critical thinkers he helped instigate. Lord knows he was no angel. And who can predict what information may emerge in the future. But to Belvin and me, Richard deserves a fair hearing because he served time when the U.S. government railroaded him and his family into a concentration camp for the “crime” of being Japanese and because he spent adult life motivating and educating youth.

Oakland High School students with the Asian American Movement were as outraged as his comrades in the Black Panther Party when Lil Bobby Hutton, 16, was murdered by Oakland police April 6, 1968, two days after the assassination of Dr. King. Bea Dong is in front. – Photo: aam1968.blogspot.com
Any allegations against him merit careful investigation and analysis. Not the savaging of his memory and tooling of his family, friends and community to sell product. Not the retraumatizing of those who have already suffered FBI harassment and whose families, friends, neighbors and employers were interrogated because of our activism and, in some cases, because they were immigrants. As is now being perpetrated against our Arab, South Asian and Muslim sisters and brothers.

What gives Seth Rosenfeld the impression that he can play, plunder and dishonor us like this? Irrespective of what comes out about Richard in the future, I believe Rosenfeld owes Richard’s family, friends and community, especially the Black Panther Party and Third World Liberation Front strikers, a public apology for the sensationalist and racially exploitative way he conducted his investigation and book promotion in relation to Richard and our movements.

Any allegations against him merit careful investigation and analysis. Not the savaging of his memory and tooling of his family, friends and community to sell product.

And while dealing with my rage and sense of betrayal, I also struggle to hold a mirror to myself and my fellow writers of color. Let this painful episode be a lesson for us as well. May we be scrupulous in our assessments and work with people. May we not pander to prejudice, no matter how popular. May we write hard truths without twisting conclusions to fill our pockets and egos.

Belvin and Miriam Louie were members of the Asian American Political Alliance and such groups as the Venceremos Brigade, National Anti-Racist Organizing Committee, Manilatown Heritage Foundation, Third World Women’s Alliance, Asian Immigrant Women Advocates and Women of Color Resource Center. 

 

12 thoughts on “Damn it, Richard, what the f***?!

  1. Cecile

    Cecile Lusby

    A Warrior’s Journey

    In 1966 a coworker introduced me to a man she had met at a meeting of the Socialist Workers Party, a man she claimed was ‘a true radical’: Richard Aoki. Richard and I started going out in 1967 right after he began passing out copies of the first issue of the Black Panther Party newspaper. I saw him as unusual and passionate about the Movement. I was a divorced working mother too busy to participate much, but I admired his dedication. His beliefs did not keep him from being involved with a woman with two biracial (Afro-American and Caucasian) children.
    We had a romance that lasted until late summer of 1968, but soon his political associations caused long absences. Before our relationship ended, he taught my son to tie his shoelaces and then kept watch over my youngsters when I had to go to the hospital for surgery, even mopping the floors of my small house.
    Richard lived with extreme stress in the late 1960s, a cigarette in hand and a slender stainless steel flask of vodka in the inside pocket of his jacket. He didn’t eat much and drank his coffee black. He explained that he was a revolutionary who should not have a family, but we remained friends even after I remarried and moved away. I never knew when I would pick up the phone and hear, “Hey, it’s Richard, what’s happening?”
    My connection to Richard continued for decades. The world had changed, with most people dropping out of the movement in the days of the ‘Me Generation.’ Richard reminded me that there were people who still believed, who never changed. In the decades when Richard worked as a teacher and counselor for Merritt College and Alameda College, he continued to look good and to talk about the old days and his time with the Black Panthers. But eventually, after he retired, he had issues with his health: a stay in ICU after major surgery, a vena cava repair, and a stroke.
    I made my last visit to his duplex in early fall 2008 and found him temporarily unable to walk. He got up in the night to find his meds, dizzy and in pain, and fell, bruising his coccyx. I had not realized he had become so fragile, and tried to be accepting when he sent me away, claiming his nausea was a reaction to taking pain meds on an empty stomach.
    The next year I lost five friends and Richard was one of them. I did not get the news until the S.F. Chronicle’s obituary was published on April 26, 2009 citing complications from diabetes as the cause of his death that March 15. I felt forlorn that I had not heard earlier, but my grief would grow.

    Reply
  2. Cecile Lusby

    The next year I lost five friends and Richard was one of them. I did not get the news until the S.F. Chronicle’s obituary was published on April 26, 2009 citing complications from diabetes as the cause of his death that March 15. I felt forlorn that I had not heard earlier, but my grief would grow.

    I read the August 20 book tour article online, read an excerpt on Amazon.com, and I watched the video on Huffington Post. I felt devastated and still do not believe it.
    When I look back on my friend of more than forty years, I see him as a product of his upbringing: his family broken up when sent to the Topaz Internment Camp in 1942, Richard returning to his old West Oakland neighborhood in 1946 to find it populated by Southern African-Americans who had come to work at the shipyards at Mare Island and Hunters Point, watching his grandfather brandish his old sword, Richard getting beaten up regularly out in the streets until he learned to fight back, and then his reputation earned him friends. I can imagine Richard when his father left home, a father whose internment at Topaz meant losing his place at UC Berkeley as a student pharmacist, finally turning to gambling and minor hustles. I can picture Richard at the nearby junior high after being home schooled, getting in trouble before transferring to Berkeley High where he did well, graduating at seventeen. His mother and stepfather worked long hours at the family laundry, struggling to make house payments.
    Richard quickly joined the Army, making a deal at the time of his enlistment the same year to seal his juvenile records before serving a year of active duty as a medical assistant and an orderly. Perhaps conditions were placed on his service, since it would have been unusual in the extreme for the Army to recruit a juvenile offender before the age of 18.
    Rosenfeld names one Burney Threadgill as the FBI agent who approached Richard in the year 1957, when Richard was 18. Threadgill wanted Richard to join various left wing organizations in the East Bay after picking up his voice on a wiretap on the home phone of a friend whose parents were identified as Communists. Richard was not active politically at that time, but was recognized as a leftist by 1963. I know that when we were going together he expressed contempt for the American Communist Party, feeling it was inextricably linked to Stalin and his regime. When I inquired about the SWP, Richard drove me to a meeting, but did not want to attend, introducing me to the chairperson and then leaving with other business before returning to drive me home at 9 PM. I gave up after two meetings since I did not agree with the concept of a revolutionary vanguard. Richard then announced his belief that the entire SWP membership was boojee while he was a real revolutionary, naming the struggle of the poor and people of color as his main concern. In the 42 years of our friendship, he never strayed from this code, or never suggested to me or my children that his beliefs had waned. I regarded him as an encyclopedia of the Left, their organizations and their histories.
    Nobody knew the history of American progressivism like Richard. I was liberal, but too flexible for the doctrinaire Marxists of that era; my focus was on the responsibilities of a working mother. Richard knew that a family would divert his focus from his cause
    I remember taking calls from Eldridge Cleaver on my phone since Richard didn’t trust that his own phone was safe. My children answered my phone when I was in the basement doing laundry, so they took messages too, following the rules not to say names out loud. Richard took them to the Panther Breakfast Program a few times, and taught my daughter to spell her first words, ’free Huey’ on her blackboard. Richard brought Little Bobby Hutton to my house once just a few months before he was shot.

    Reply
  3. Cecile Lusby

    Part 3

    I cannot believe that Richard was a turncoat or a double agent, although as a conservative teenager, he may have been persuaded to join groups and talk about it. I believe he had a change of heart and converted to the worldview of the Left before joining the Black Panther Party. The burden of proof is on Rosenfeld and/or the FBI to show what Richard disclosed. There are allegedly 4000 pages of documents that Rosenfeld has sued for under the Freedom of Information Act, but the FBI denies having a ‘main file.’ Something is wrong, and I suspect that Richard turned out not to have any worthwhile information, or at least not to have given it up. The man I knew would never have given any information of value. His name is on some documents, but they are non-specific, so I have doubts. I really wonder how the only activist named by Rosenfeld as informant in the 733-page text is a person of color and dead.
    What if it is true? I heard Richard deny it on tape, but at times he had an evasive way of expressing himself, wanting to be seen as revolutionary, but careful not to be too specific. He knew that there were mistakes made and excesses that brought down many of the Panthers. Anyone who read the newspapers knew that.
    Perhaps the FBI will eventually disclose the contents of the 4000 page file Rosenfeld describes. I suspect there is something very embarrassing for the agency in that file, and there are very few clear documents presented in the book. The unsavory history of the agency’s Counter Intelligence Program, or cointelpro, has been widely covered in the mainstream and alternative press. Rosenfeld himself discusses the topic in Subversives. Until I see better evidence, I will hold on to the memory of my friend’s integrity, and doubt the story of the FBI. I know Richard Aoki lived with his history and stayed true to his code. He was a loyal friend when I needed one; that is how I will remember him. I will stay loyal to my memory.

    Reply
  4. Danny Li

    I've read the posthumous allegation on Richard Aoki, the various rebuttals by his close comrades, and I actually knew Richard(tho not as well as others in the Bay Area movement)back in the late '60s during and after the Third World students strike at UCB. Moreover, knowing the dirty history of the CIA & FBI, I am inclined to think this may well be a sophisticated info "sting" operation to discredit opponents of the USA Imperial regime, and a recurrent effort to sow dissension among present and potential oppositional movements. That being said, I also know that human motivations & behavior are complex, and it's possible that that Richard may have been "duped" into unflattering activities in his youth. Still, the burden of proof is on the rat-finkers, and I didn't see any definitive proof(much of the "evidence" is heavily "redacted" that's it's virtually worthless to substantiate anything!)that Aoki is a lifelong or dedicated "informant" for the Federal Bureau of Instigators…Stay tuned for more revelations when all the files are opened, as the USA empire implodes under the weight of its own spying Behemoth.

    Reply
  5. Peralta Colleges

    Peralta TV To Broadcast Exclusive 2008 Interview with Richard Aoki

    In 2008, Peralta TV produced an award-winning documentary on the origins of the Black Panther Party at Merritt College. As part of the documentary, “Merritt College: Home of the Black Panthers,” Peralta TV interviewed Richard Aoki, who for many years worked for the Peralta Community College District as a teacher, administrator and counselor.

    Although regarded by many as a leader in civil rights and activist circles, recent evidence suggests that Richard Aoki may have been an FBI informant. Peralta TV conducted a lengthy interview with him in October 2008, just months before he died in 2009.

    Peralta TV will broadcast its entire 90-minute interview with Richard Aoki in three episodes this week on Wednesday (9/12), Thursday (9/13) and Friday (9/14) at 8:30 p.m. Peralta TV can be seen on Comcast cable channels 27 (Alameda and Berkeley) and 28 (Oakland, Emeryville and Piedmont) and throughout the Bay Area on AT&T’s U-Verse channel 99.

    Was Richard Aoki an FBI informant or a committed revolutionary? See his story in his words this week on Peralta TV.

    View a trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5RvwMIC5gg

    Reply
  6. Peralta Colleges

    Peralta TV’s Exclusive 2008 Interview with Richard Aoki Now on YouTube

    You can now watch all three episodes of the Peralta News Special Report on our exclusive interview with Richard Aoki on Peralta TV’s YouTube Channel at http://bit.ly/QY2BWW

    In 2008, Peralta TV produced an award-winning documentary on the origins of the Black Panther Party at Merritt College. As part of the documentary, “Merritt College: Home of the Black Panthers,” Peralta TV interviewed Richard Aoki, who for many years worked for the Peralta Community College District as a teacher, administrator and counselor.

    Although regarded by many as a leader in civil rights and activist circles, recent evidence suggests that Richard Aoki may have been an FBI informant. Peralta TV conducted a 90-minute interview with him in October 2008, just months before he died in 2009.

    Was Richard Aoki an FBI informant or a committed revolutionary? See his story, and our conclusion at the end of Episode 3, at http://bit.ly/QY2BWW

    Reply
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