Eddie Conway: Welcome to this episode of Rattling the Bars. About 52 years ago, the United States government and Chicago Police committed one of the most egregious acts of extrajudicial punishment by assassinating two Black Panther Party leaders and shooting a number of others. It took a number of years before the case got to trial, and since then, there’s been new revelations. So, we have this opportunity to talk to two of the lawyers that pursued this case and exposed what turned out to be government involvement. And so, joining me today is Flint Taylor and Jeff Haas. Both of them had been working as lawyers in a law team, in a law firm they founded decades ago. Jeff, Flint, thanks for joining me.
Jeff Haas: Glad to be here. Thank you.
Flint Taylor: Very honored to be with you, Eddie.
Eddie Conway: Okay. And likewise, likewise. Jeff, I think I would start off with you, and just lay out the parameters of the original case and trial, if you can, just so that our audience will know exactly what happened at that point.
Jeff Haas: Okay. On Dec. 4 of 1969, 14 Chicago police officers assigned to the state’s attorney, Edward Hanrahan, who was the heir to Mayor Daley at that time, came to the Panther apartment, the apartment where Fred Hampton and Akua Njeri and two other people were living, and they raided the apartment. They came in with shotguns, handguns, a carbine, and a 45 caliber machine gun. After the raid, Mark Clark was dead, four Panthers were wounded, and Fred Hampton was executed in his bed. Of course, that’s not the story they told. The original story was that the Panthers had opened fire on the police. So, that’s the way Dec. 4 started, with Hanrahan holding this press conference.
Jeff Haas: So, basically, Flint and I spent much of the next 13 years not only proving what happened that day, but also who was behind it. I learned that morning from Deborah Johnson that she said she had been in the bed with Fred Hampton. During a pause in the shooting, they had pulled her out of the room. She saw two policemen go in. These are not in uniform police, plain clothes at that point. Went in, one of them said, “Is he dead yet?” She heard two shots, and then she heard the other one say, “He’s good and dead now.” And so, that’s how I began to learn about what this raid was. It wasn’t a shootout. It was a shoot-in. And I continued to gather stories from the survivors of the raid who said there was a knock on the door and the police came in firing. While I was talking to the survivors and learning their accounts, Flint was actually at the apartment that had not been sealed, so he was gathering the other part of the truth to confront the phony stories that Hanrahan was putting out.
Eddie Conway: Okay. And I understand, Flint, I understand y’all went to jail through this process a number of times. Did y’all receive any other … Talk about that for a minute. Other harassments, or what exactly happened with y’all involvement as lawyers in this particular case.
Flint Taylor: Well, as Jeff mentioned, my involvement in the case started on Dec. 4, the same as Jeff’s did. I went to the apartment, the police left the apartment open, and went back to crow about what they had done and to falsely claim the Panthers had engaged in a shootout. I spent 10 days there with many others taking evidence and lining up the bullet holes and seeing that there were 90 bullets fired in with machine guns and handguns and rifles and, at most, one fired by Mark Clark, as he was shot through the heart as he was sitting sentry at the door of the apartment.
Flint Taylor: During those 10 days, we were definitely afraid of the police coming back. Bobby Rush, who was the Minister of Defense, was not in the apartment, and that was said, “Rush is next.” So, we were staying there in the apartment, we thought the police might come there and raid again. We were taking evidence and hiding it at churches, in their attics, so that in case the police came that we would have secreted and saved the evidence. So, right at the time, there was a great deal of fear in terms of what might happen.
Flint Taylor: And as Jeff and I were on trial several years later in the civil trial, we were both held in contempt for protesting the injustices that were going on in the courtroom. And the murderers, cops, were defendants the case, and they came to the trial, and they would be whispering things to Jeff and me and to Fred’s brother, Bill, who came to the trial, and to Doc Satchel, who was one of the survivors of the raid, little whispered threats, as well. I mean, anyone who would murder a man in his bed and shoot up an apartment is certainly, you had to fear that anything might happen with these crazed cops. And so, we were always on our guard throughout the trial and even afterwards.
Eddie Conway: Okay. Jeff, Jeff, tell me, how was the case won, and what did that mean?
Jeff Haas: I’m going to make a long story short, because it’s a 13-year legal saga. Eighteen months of those were in the trial court with a very hostile, racist 80-year-old judge from Alabama. Everything we tried to put in, when we accused the police of murder, he dismissed that part of the case, saying that accusation was scurrilous. So, originally, our case was thrown out. Then we fought tooth and nail to get every document that we could. During the course of the trial, two things came out. One, an informant named O’Neal, had been in the Panther Party, and also the discovery of the COINTELPRO program. And we thought, “Is there a connection here?” And another two or three years were spent fighting for documents, and a US attorney turned over to us a floor plan that was in the Do Not File file, but it was Watergate, and he didn’t want to get caught [inaudible 00:07:50].
Jeff Haas: So, in that file was the floor plan of the apartment where Fred Hampton and the others would be staying. And so, when Flint walked in the morning of Dec. 4, he saw the blood on that bed, because when the police came in and had that floor plan, the 90 shots converged on the bed of Fred Hampton. So, we learned more and more that it was the FBI COINTELPRO program that started this, and that actually directed Mitchell, the control agent, to get O’Neal, to get the floor plan. O’Neal gets a bonus. And maybe, to go more into recent stuff, it turns out new documents discovered a year ago … I mean, excuse me, discovered a month ago, show that how much higher ups in the FBI were directly involved in watching what O’Neal and Mitchell were doing and then rewarding them for the raid.
Eddie Conway: In fact, I was getting ready to ask Flint, Flint, talk about the discovery of these new documents. Both of you recently wrote an article, and you talk about them a little bit in the article. What does that mean now … I see other had been pursuing this government Information Act since 2015. What’s in these new documents, Flint?
Flint Taylor: Well, as Jeff touched on, this battle that we fought for 13 years was a battle to uncover the FBI’s role, and it came out piece by piece, came out with us risking our legal licenses to fight for to get this evidence, because the government was covering it up. And piece by piece, we got that floor plan. We later got evidence that showed that, yes, it was part of a COINTELPRO program from Washington. That document said, was dated, the day before the raid and said that the raid was part of a COINTELPRO program. And then, during the trial, among 200 volumes of documents that were covered up from us was a couple of documents that showed that after the raid, the FBI gave O’Neal a $300 bonus, what we call the 30 pieces of silver that O’Neal got for making the raid, in the FBI’s own words, a success, and that his information was of tremendous value that was not available from any other source.
Flint Taylor: So, what we were uncovering at the trial was that, on the one hand, they were congratulating themselves under the secret COINTELPRO program for assassinating Fred and Mark and maiming the others in the apartment, but they were also secreting it from the public and from the courts. And after the trial, and we had connected these dots and gone through 13 years of fighting this case, we knew that Hoover and his lieutenants in Washington, Sullivan, and Moore, were behind this, but we had no documentation. And that’s what came out in the past few months, that here we are 50 years later, and the whole story has not yet been documented. And under the Freedom of Information Act, we got documents that showed that Hoover and Moore, head of the extremist section, and his boss, William Sullivan, who was right next to Hoover, knew about O’Neal, knew about his activities, knew about this guy, Mitchell, who controlled O’Neal, and that they were giving and gave Mitchell a reward in the same way that they gave O’Neal a reward.
Flint Taylor: So, what we had been saying and fighting for way back in the 70s and early 80s, these documents confirmed, and that was it wasn’t just a program that was implemented in Chicago under the Chicago FBI, but that, in fact, in Washington, at the highest levels of the FBI, Hoover on down, they were watching, they were rewarding the activities of the FBI, and specifically this informant provocateur, O’Neal, who set up Fred Hampton.
Eddie Conway: Okay. Jeff, and I guess my question concerns the statute of limitations. Okay. So, it’s like 50-some years later, and now there’s actual proof of government fingerprints. We’ve always known that. We’ve always said that. Everybody sensed that. The statute of limitations, how is it that the statute of limitations will stop victims of egregious acts, murder and assassination, wounding, et cetera, applied to a case like this when the government sets the statute of limitations, but it’s government agencies that violate the human rights? How is that possible?
Jeff Haas: Well, of course, we were in a civil suit. I guess if the perpetrators were still alive, I guess then could be charged with murder or a federal civil rights violation, like some of the people in the Schwerner-Chaney incident. They could be charged criminally. But of course, Hoover was passed away by the time we actually got our appeal decided, and Sullivan and Moore no longer exist. So, I think it would be difficult to sue them in a … Criminally, there’s nobody left to criminally prosecute. I don’t know about a civil case, because we did settle it. I do think there’s some things left undone. These documents that we just got a month ago still contain redactions, which show the FBI is still hiding things. Things that O’Neal reported are blanked out. What we do see is they deliberately told any agent who appeared before a grand jury not to mention the FBI role, and so we don’t know the name of that agent. It’s been redacted today.
Jeff Haas: So, I think, and Flint talked to Bobby Rush, who was a congressman and was the head of defense, about releasing the entire FBI file on Fred Hampton. I think at least the public should be allowed to know the truth. I also think Chicago has never … There’s never been an apology by either the federal or local authorities for the murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. And I think just like was done in the John Birch cases, there should be a memorial. It should be taught in the schools. And so, there’s still things left undone here. And I think there’s information to be uncovered, and I think there’s some kind of reparations that should be made, at least to the public. And there are still survivors of the raid.
Eddie Conway: And I’m a victim myself of COINTELPRO. I spent 44 years in prison, and so this is a personal interest to me. Yes, all the perpetrators, most likely, have passed away, and I understand the two FBI agents that did get charged were pardoned. But this is the government, and I look at Germany and the Jewish question, I look at Kent … It’s the government, those people were acting in the name of the government, as agents of the government, and operating with the auspices of the legality of the government. Why isn’t the government the culprit here and not the individuals that has passed on? I wonder about that. Why isn’t the government … The government did this, why isn’t the government held responsible? And I’m not just talking … Excuse me. I’m not just talking about Fred’s death, I’m talking about Fred Bennett’s death, I’m talking about a number of people where we can see the government’s fingerprints now later in life on those particular cases.
Flint Taylor: Well, I think your point is well taken. Of course, the individuals are responsible, whether it be an informant or whether it be the head of the FBI, but they’re working for the government. And in the Hampton case, we had and have a documented case, through the documents of the FBI itself, of a political assassination. And we have a program that lasted for decades and decades called COINTELPRO, which was not only … It wasn’t a surveillance program. It was a disruption and destroy program. It was highly illegal and unconstitutional. And we see the same kinds of activities, perhaps, in different forms happening today.
Flint Taylor: So, we have to call the government out as the responsible parties. They are equally, if not more so, responsible for the actions of their higher ups and all the way down to their informants. And I think that we need to raise these issues wherever and whenever we can. And I think we agree with you, Eddie, that it’s a governmental issue, but the government, as you probably know, has a lot of immunity. They protect themselves in the courts and in the law, so you can’t just walk in and say, “Well, the government’s responsible for the assassination of Fred Hampton.” They’ll throw you out of court for that.
Flint Taylor: So, it’s a political question that you’re raising. It’s an educational question, I think. It’s a narrative question. It’s in terms of writing people’s history and talking about people’s history and rewriting the lies that are told by the government, whether it be the federal government or whether it be the state’s attorney of Cook County or whether it be the Chicago Police Department and its mayor. All of those aspects fit into the mosaic that you’re talking about, that when you add them all up, the equal sign points to the government.
Eddie Conway: Okay. And I’m wondering if … Because you take the New York 21, you can see Gene Roberts, you know that that was part of this particular program. You see the efforts to turn the Blackstone Rangers against the Panthers, you see down in LA, the assassination of Panther leaders by another organization who was also heavily infiltrated with informers, and informants probably actually carried out the assassination. Is this something that can go to Congress? Is this something that the victims and their survivors can seek relief, maybe in Congress or something? I’m curious because I had walked away from it and left it alone, but I’m thinking about it now. And it seems to me that if this is not addressed today, the water protectors … And Jeff, you can talk a little bit about what’s happening with the water protectors and other movements, Black Lives Matter, Black identity extremists, environmental activists, gay rights advocates, et cetera, stands to face this same kind of stuff. You want to talk a little bit about that? Maybe it was a loaded question.
Jeff Haas: Well, it’s a loaded question by somebody who’s very educated about what you’re asking about, and of course, you’re right. And although COINTELPRO, the program with that name, ended shortly after it was really uncovered in the 70s, other government programs of not only surveillance, but disruption have continued. And we see this in different forms. I was just noticing in the COINTELPRO, they refer to groups, they’re targets, as Black nationalist hate groups, and I asked, “What is a Black nationalist group?” And they said, “Well, it’s a Black group that has a national headquarters.” So, that was a pretty broad definition.
Jeff Haas: Today, their targets, they call them ‘Black identity extremists,’ which is BLM, Black Lives Matter, and any other groups. So, they have these terms that then, I guess, by their terminology, justify targeting them. And we’ve seen these in different forms, a lot of similarities between Ferguson and Standing Rock, where they used in the streets, they used drones, they used surveillance methods, they used tear gas, they used all kinds of concussion grenades, things that are used against the communities. Many of these things are provided by Israel, who’s tested them on Palestinians.
Jeff Haas: And we noticed up at Standing Rock, and I was a lawyer up there for quite a while, and we learned later that not only was the pipeline using every single law enforcement, from the National Guard to the Morton County police to … But they also had hired TigerSwan, which was a private security firm from Iraq to do counterintelligence, which meant investigating, it meant infiltrating Water Protectors, and trying to turn them against each other and other groups, and also informing law enforcement. So, you see these techniques developing against movements.
Jeff Haas: Just last week, Feb. 3, on the night of Nov. 20, the police opened fire on the bridge, if people remember, at Standing Rock and used water cannons when it was below freezing, but also these [percussion] grenades and tear gas, and did everything they could to attack Water Protectors. And at one point, a woman named Sophia Wilansky was hit by one of these percussion grenades and had half of her arm blown off. Today, when she’s suing, last week, they called the grand jury and they called one of the witnesses there to testify in front of a federal grand jury in an effort to prevent her civil suit from going on, but also to harass one of the water protectors who had been there. So, he had refused to testify, and Steve Martinez has been locked up in the in the Burley County Jail in North Dakota. And that grand jury is sitting for another 17 months, so he could be there for awhile. And this is like a collusion between the defendants, Morton County law enforcement and the FBI, using this to harass one of the witnesses in the case.
Eddie Conway: So, I’m sure you’re actively involved in this also, Flint. This is a whole security thing. When I start watching it, it was like BlackRock, Blackwater. Then it turned into … They were being used in Afghanistan, they were being used in Iran. I mean, Iraq. This whole idea of using government security contractors to fight wars overseas, and now to surveil the movement and they use them right here in Baltimore, private planes and everything, what can be done? I mean, now, it’s the government is hiring mercenaries, but the government is no longer responsible for their behavior. What can be done about that, Flint?
Flint Taylor: Well, there are avenues that you can, if you can show the connection between law enforcement and the private agencies, you can sue them under the civil rights statutes, but this is criminal activity that you’re talking about. You’re talking about, and Jeff’s talking about, this is criminal activity by these private agencies, and this is not something new. Back in the 60s and 70s, there was collaboration between white supremacist groups and the police and the FBI. And it’s really the same kind of dynamic. And you see it also in terms of private prisons, doing the dirty work of the government in terms of mass incarceration.
Flint Taylor: And again, that has to be exposed. The movements are and have to deal with exposing this information because the courts are not always the best place to raise these issue, and they need to be raised. And we’ve had experience in the past, and also forward, in raising it into internationally, raising it at the UN, raising it in the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. We did that with the police torture cases. But the links have to be exposed. I mean, we look at the Capitol, and now we’re starting to see the links between law enforcement and the white supremacists. And that, again, is nothing new in the sense of we know that the Klan was very much connected with the FBI and the police in the South. We know that the Klan and the Nazis were connected with the police in Greensboro, North Carolina, when the five anti-Klan demonstrators were massacred. And again, Charlottesville. These are the kinds of things that need to be fought against and exposed in any forum that we can raise them in.
Eddie Conway: For a final question, and I’m going to go to you, Jeff, but Flint, you can add, what ways can … I mean, exposure, obviously, that information doesn’t necessarily go out on the mass media outlets. What ways can people protect their self and fight back?
Jeff Haas: Well, like you said, it was the Intercept that really uncovered some of the details of TigerSwan up in Standing Rock. And also interesting, when they actually uncovered some of these reports, they said, “Well, they’re supporters for the water protectors, they’re going out back to Chicago and Baltimore and other places. I think we need to follow them.” So, in other words, they were trying to justify a private security following people who had been supporting the water protectors up there. So, certainly, publicity is one of the means.
Jeff Haas: Actually, the state of North Dakota sued TigerSwan at one point for operating an investigative agency illegally, because they had no license to do that. I wouldn’t rely on the state of North Dakota, which is so dependent on oil and gas and actually suppressed the water protectors as much as they could. But still I think exposure to do that, I think there probably could be laws that when we actually catch them violating the law, they could be sued or they could be criminally prosecuted. So, I think being aware.
Jeff Haas: Also, of course, in this surveillance society, social media has become the new tactic. And so, even in our new case in Santa Fe, where Native Americans took down a obelisk that was assembled to the Union soldiers that had fought “the savage Indians,” and that statue had been there. They’re looking for the social media of some of the defendants who are charged with taking down that obelisk. So, I think one of the things is that people be a little careful on social media when they’re at demonstrations and so forth. But I think making people aware, I don’t think people a lot … The whole idea is, as you pointed out, is if you have a private security agency, the idea is to avoid the restrictions that are theoretically on law enforcement. But as Flint said, if they’re serving a “law enforcement purpose,” they can be sued under the Civil Rights Act.
Eddie Conway: Flint, you got the final word.
Flint Taylor: The final word. I think Jeff covered it quite well. I think that what we have here, we have a new generation of young people and organizations that are fighting back, that are taking through the streets, that are raising these issues. And that’s extremely important, whether it be fighting against police violence, like the Movement for Black Lives, or the young people who are fighting against violence in the schools, and environmental issues, which are so important these days, saving the planet. All of those young folks and all those movements need to be supported.
Flint Taylor: On the other hand, or complimenting that, as elders, and the three of us all certainly qualify in that category, we need to lend our experience and our knowledge. Jeff and I as lawyers who have been serving the movement for decades, and you, of course, going through the experiences of COINTELPRO, of a wrongful conviction, of mass incarceration, we all need to do our part as elders in imparting our knowledge and helping to shape and reshape the narratives about what has happened in the past, such as the assassination of Fred Hampton, such as the torture in Chicago by the police commander there, John Birch. And we need to encourage the young folks to listen to us from time to time, because we have a few things that might help them on their road to fighting for the future and for a future.
Jeff Haas: Could I [inaudible 00:32:13] a word, Eddie? Not that Flint didn’t cover it beautifully, but just one other additional thing. I think the fact that Black Lives Matter doesn’t have such a hierarchal and patriarchal leadership so that one leader can be targeted or imprisoned or compromised in ways, I think, as they say, “We’re leader-full, not leader-less,” I think that’s also a tactic that makes it harder to destroy a movement than some of the traditional methods.
Eddie Conway: Okay. On that note, and I agree with you fully, because that’s really what destroyed most of the movements, was the attack at the top and the second echelon. Thank you, Jeff and Flint, for joining me.
Jeff Haas: It was my pleasure, Eddie, to see you, and you’re really a symbol of resistance for all of us.
Flint Taylor: Amen to that.
Eddie Conway: Okay. Thank you. And thank you for joining this episode of Rattling the Bars.
Flint Taylor and Jeff Haas, co-founders of the People’s Law Office in Chicago, were the lead lawyers in the landmark case that exposed the FBI’s involvement in the assassination of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. While that case was settled nearly 40 years ago, newly revealed documents show that the conspiracy to murder Hampton and cover up evidence of government involvement goes deeper than most ever imagined. In this special episode of “Rattling the Bars,” Eddie Conway talks with Taylor and Haas about their decades-long battle for the truth, the government’s continued surveillance and persecution of dissenters, and the ongoing fight for justice and accountability.