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Asian American Activists Surprised Re: Richard Aoki as FBI Informant

Posted: Aug 23, 2012

 Asian American activists are reacting with surprise — and in some cases, skepticism — to a report that Richard Aoki, a prominent member of the Black Panther Party, was an FBI informant.

Aoki, who died in 2009 at age 70, was an icon for many, a symbol of solidarity between Asian Americans and African Americans. Although he was in poor health in his final years, it was later revealed that he killed himself at his Berkeley home. Since his death, he has been the subject of a documentary, “AOKI,” and a book, “Samurai Among Panthers.”

During the turbulent late 1960s, Aoki became a high-ranking member of the Black Panthers and provided them with weapons and training. Since then, he remained friends with the surviving Panthers and continued to promote the ideals that he embraced as a member of the BPP, Third World Liberation Front and Asian American Political Alliance.

This week, Seth Rosenfeld of the Center for Investigative Reporting published an article in The San Francisco Chronicle about Aoki’s ties with the FBI. The article and a companion video, “The Man Who Armed the Panthers,” were released in conjunction with Rosenfeld’s book, “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power,” which is based on 30 years of research.

Rosenfeld said in the video that he was contacted by a former FBI agent, Burney Threadgill. When Threadgill saw an FBI document containing Aoki’s name, he said, according to Rosenfeld, “I know that guy. Aoki was my informant. I developed him.”

Threadgill, who died in 2005, said of Aoki in a 2002 interview with Rosenfeld, “Oh yeah, he was a character. He said, ‘I don’t have any interest in communism.’ 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?’ So one thing led to another and he became a real good informant.” Read more here.

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