A video published Monday by the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that the man responsible for arming and training members of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s did so while acting as a federal informant.
According to reporter Seth Rosenfeld, Richard Aoki was approached by FBI agent Burney Threadgill Jr. in the late 1950s, around the time he was graduating high school, and developed into a source into the activities of various political groups during the following decade.
“I said, ‘Well, why don’t you just go to some of the meetings and tell me who’s there and what they talked about?’” Threadgill is quoted as saying. “Very pleasant little guy. He always wore dark glasses.”
Aoki, who committed suicide in 2009 after working as an educator for 25 years following his involvement with the party, has been remembered for his activism. He was the subject of the biography Samurai Among Panthers: On Race, Resistance And A Pardoxical Life, which traced his ascent within the organization, where he became the highest-ranking non-black member of the party.
Rosenfeld wrote that he discovered Aoki’s double-identity while researching a book of his own, scheduled for release this week. He also noted that Aoki disputed the allegation during a 2007 interview, saying he thought Rosenfeld was mistaken before adding, “People change. It is complex. Layer upon layer.” Aoki did, however, admit to “cutting a deal” with military authorities while serving in the U.S. Army, sealing the criminal record he had amassed in his youth.
Aoki would go on to serve in the Army reserves, during which time, Rosenfeld writes, he filed reports to Threadgill detailing his involvement in groups like the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Young Socialist Alliance and the Vietnam Day Committee. By the time Aoki met Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, when Newton and Seale were developing what would become the Black Panther Party’s 10-point program, Aoki had been assigned to another agent.
In his interview with Rosenfeld, Aoki said he provided weapons and training to the Panthers.
“I had a little collection, and Bobby and Huey knew about it, and so when the party was formed, I decided to turn it over to the group,” Aoki said. “And so when you see the guys out there marching and everything, I’m somewhat responsible for the military slant to the organization’s public image.”
Watch Rosenfeld’s report in its entirety below.
[h/t Hyphen Magazine]