Richard Aoki, known to be a radical Japanese American educator and key figure within the Black Panther Movement, was an informant to the FBI, according to a recent report published by the Center for Investigative Reporting. He allegedly reported to the agency on various political groups, including the Black Panther Party, of which he was the most prominent non-black member.
During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Aoki worked with FBI agent Burney Threadgill Jr., under the alias T-2, according to reporter Seth Rosenfeld.
The information breaks with today’s release of Rosenfeld’s book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. It is the first time Aoki’s relationship with the FBI has been reported on.
In a 2007 interview, when a reporter working on Subversives asked Aoki point-blank if he had been an FBI informant, Aoki faltered. When the reporter asked if he was mistaken about Aoki’s past, he replied, “I think you are. People change. It is complex. Layer upon layer.”
Aoki’s work as an informant started when he infiltrated socialist and communist activist groups in the Bay Area. By the mid-1960s, Aoki was deep in the Black Panther Movement, arming the now notoriously militant nationalist group and offering them weapons training.
However, the FBI’s reports do not mention Aoki providing the Panthers guns.
Aoki later became an influential leader in the Third World Liberation Front at U.C. Berkeley, a 1969 strike for ethnic studies in higher education.
Because of Aoki’s role in political and social movements, there are those who remain wary of the revelation, waiting it out for further facts.
“Anyone who’s seriously concerned needs to examine the facts,” Mike Cheng, co-executive director of the film Aoki told the online news source, Colorlines. “Before I can speak definitively one way or another about it, I have a responsibility look at the information presented, analyze it, and see how it all fits.”
Aoki committed suicide in 2009.
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