Defending Richard Aoki -- and the movement

A community activist gets labeled as an informant, but where's the evidence?


OPINION In a new book, Bay Area journalist Seth Rosenfeld publicly names longtime Asian American leftist Richard Aoki as an FBI informant during his time as a leader of the Third World Liberation Front movement and as a founding member of the Black Panther Party. As Asian American activists in the movement today, we denounce these claims as baseless and false and are shocked at the way Rosenfeld makes such unsubstantiated claims while promoting his book release. His allegations damage the movement and reinforce trite "yellow peril" stereotypes of Asian Americans.

The allegations against Richard come without any credible evidence. Rosenfeld provides one incomplete document that he claims identifies Richard as an informant called "SF T-2." It reads: "SF T-2 was designated for [redacted] (Richard M. Aoki) for the limited purposes of describing his connections with the organization and characterizing him." The FBI cover sheet associates names of informants with their "T" codes. All informants' names have been redacted.

It is astounding to us that Rosenfeld concluded Richard was an informant from that scrap of evidence. Later in this document, Aoki's name is used again in order to name an FBI file location. In the few pages available under his FBI file, the informant "SF T-2" goes on to inform about the readings, political thought, and organizational/party membership of Richard Aoki. It appears to us that an informant named "SF T-2" was assigned to inform about Richard.

Rosenfeld also cites a former agent named Burney Threadgill, who claims Richard was an informant; before his death in 2009, Richard denied that in an interview. Threadgill is hardly a credible source and was a major player at the height of COINTELPRO, implementing FBI policy that was designed to deter and divide the movement. Unfortunately, both men are now deceased and cannot defend their claims.

He also uses testimony of a former FBI agent, M. Wesley Swearington, who had no relation to Richard Aoki. Despite this, Swearington claims that Richard was a "perfect informant" because he was a Japanese person in an organization of Black Americans. That makes no sense because Richard stuck out while in the Black Panther Party, and again feeds into the divisive stereotypes of Asian Americans.

Rosenfeld implies that Richard worked as an instigator, pushing people toward violent action. In fact, Richard was cautious about the use of violence and was vigilant about it during mass actions. It's true that Richard armed the Black Panthers; however, he did so in the name of self-defense and protecting the people against police brutality.

All in all, Seth Rosenfeld's news story on Richard Aoki was poorly researched and only a small fraction of his new book. His public accusations are unfounded and sensationalist.

Richard's advanced leftist political thought, mentored and developed new leaders, educated his working-class sisters and brothers, and built black and Asian solidarity — and this was invaluable. Richard and other movement veterans inspired us and a new generation of young leaders to carry forward the work today. We are stronger because of them — and that is how people should be judged and remembered.

Steve Woo is an organizer in the Tenderloin and steering committee member of the Richard Aoki Fund. Alex T. Tom is the executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association.


I'm not sure that there needs to be infiltration for "The Left" to serve the interests of power in squashing independent radical movements.

"The Left" seems engineered to do just that, as its major focus is on proving the political correctness of its ideology over that of any other contenders on "The Left" rather than actually making any change.

Indeed, the fetishization of "The Left" and "The Struggle" as ends in and of themselves precludes any advancement of "The Working Class" assuming that it still exists or ever existed.

Witness the frothy invective post-Occupy where the leftists project their frustration at decades of powerlessness at those who were able to raise the slightest bit of radical, independent energy last year.

And see how the Occupy messaging is often hijacked with the unpopular leftist rhetoric that insists that everyone else view the world through their rigid class analysis and then berates those who do not shoehorn reality into those theories.

Posted by marcos on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 10:53 am

frequent insightful and valid contributions -- you are tripping over your own compulsion to play the part of "contrarian."

The left, anti-war movements, labor -- even artists for chrissakes! -- *have* been infiltrated in the past. True, your observations pose an important question to those who think themselves to be representatives of the wider interests of people over governments and corporations, but lets not lose sight of facts which are right in front of our faces.

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 11:17 am

Do you find yourself looking over your shoulder a lot?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 11:31 am
Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 11:36 am

we can now safely discard that 15-minute wonder to the trashcan of history and ill-fated but ultimately futile gestures.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 11:19 am

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