Spurred by anger over cop shootings, a new group has formed, billing themselves as the New Black Panther Party. This group brought guns to Cleveland mere days before the Republican National Convention as a means of “self-protection.” Despite being based on the old group, NBP has been lauded by any radical chic as did the old one when celebrities like Marlon Brando and Paul Newman hosted meetings for them. The liberal Southern Poverty Law center, a non-profit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest, has stated about the NBP that they are a “viruently racist and anti-semitic organization whose leader has encouraged violence against Whites, Jews, and law enforcement officers.”
Even those whose movement the NBP has modeled themselves on have condemned the group. Refusing to allow them the luxury of doing things in the name of the original Black Panther Party, former member Bobby Seale has denied them the right to call themselves Black Panthers, new or otherwise. Eldridge Cleaver has gone even farther, castigating them as “idiot extremists who are every bit as racist as the Klu Klux Klan and Nazis.”
But Cleaver has made statements in the past that have portrayed his old group by the same lights. In a 1997 interview, he stated that “If people had listened to Huey Newton and me in the 1960s, there would have been a holocaust, a blood bath, in this country.”
Which calls into question the 50 year legacy of the Black Panthers. Is the new group billing following in their “extremist” tradition? Or were the Panthers something different than the group using the name today?
The answer is all of the above. The Black Panthers were everything their enemies and friends said about them. Their story was one of the “revolution eating its children”; of genuine, selfless accomplishments that benefited the black community as a whole; of criminal activity carried out under the guise of political correctness; of street battles evolving into community organizing and trying to change the system from within; of money laundering and the murder of those who discovered it.
In 1966, career criminal Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to the consternation of that proponent of “passive resistance” Martin Luther King, emulated Lenin and Mao by forming an armed, violent, revolutionary army. Their characterization of their enemy country, the United States, could have come from Pravda: the country faulted not only for its racism but also for its “capitalism.” Their clarion call was textbook Maoism: member Emory Douglas urged blacks to take “up arms against this government, killing the officials, until the reactionary forces…are dead, and those that are left turn their weapons on their superiors.” Along with weapons came communist indoctrination; Mao’s Little Red Book was required reading for all members. Now armed, they marched into the California State Assembly to protest a gun control bill–the Panthers saw that liberation could only be achieved for blacks via gun ownership– and were promptly arrested.
This group, like the NBP today, who back in 2010 sought to form an alliance with Iran to help overthrow America, tried to establish strategic links with dictatorships. In 1970, the Panthers were honored guests in North Vietnam, North Korea, and China, and sought to brainstorm ways to overthrow America. They even met with Yasser Arafat in support of the Palestinians.
Not all blacks supported the Panthers, however. Radical comedian/activist Dick Gregory dismissed the Panthers as “a bunch of thugs.” And this was certainly borne out by the criminal records of members. As David Horowiz, a former ally of the Panthers has noted, in 1969 alone, Black Panthers were arrested “348 times for murder and armed robbery.”
And Huey Newton was in the thick of it. A career criminal, (he once stated that he wanted to go to law school so he could become a “better criminal”), he stated that “I swore to myself that if I couldn’t make it as a revolutionary I would make it as a bank robber.”
As with Communist groups and governments, the Panthers engaged in purges, not always for political deviations. According to rumors, the Panthers used the Santa Cruz Mountains as a killing field for those believed to be police agents (J.Edgar Hoover, who deemed the Panthers the most dangerous group in America did send agents to infiltrate the Panthers).
But like Communist dictatorships, personal, self-serving reasons were the underlying reason for murders deemed political. More often than not, they were carried out to protect Newton and his criminal activities. Betty Van Patten, a secretary hired by the Panthers to do the books of the community programs created by the Panthers, was found floating in the San Fransisco Bay with her head caved in. The reason was that she may have discovered that Newton was using funds raised for community projects to engage in criminal activities. According to a former press aid of Newton, the latter told him he ordered the murder while in exile in Cuba.
Newton’s reasons for being in Cuba had to do with him murdering an 18 year old prostitute in 1974 for called him “baby,” a hated nickname given to him while a child, Back in the US and on trial, Newton ordered members of his personal bodyguard, who along with his silk suits, were paid for by monies raised for Black Panther community programs, to kill the chief eye witness, Crystal Gray. Members went to the wrong house and the occupant fired back, killing one Panther and wounding another. The survivor was aided in his escape to Las Vegas by a Panther paramedic named Nelson Malloy. Because of his knowledge of the attempted hit, Newton ordered that Malloy be murdered. Despite being shot and buried alive in the desert, Malloy survived and named two Black Panthers as his would-be executioners.
The tragedy behind Newton’s priorities of protecting himself rather than aiding the cause was that certain programs created by the movement were successful. Calling them “survival programs,” the Panthers had created a community learning center in the heart of the ghettto. They were able to raise an enormous amount of money for the school. Rather than shun the group as was done previously, the “Man,” in the form of the Oakland government as well as the California state government was donating large monies to the school, as well as “The Breakfast for Children” programs and a “free medical clinic.” And the Party was liberalizing in spite of the corrupt practices of Newton. No longer did they promote “power coming from the point of a gun”, but instead championed community organizing. Rather than engaging in street battles, they sought to change the system from within via electoral politics.
Hence, the Black Panther legacy was mixed. Newton’s criminal activity to the contrary, the Panthers were evolving. Some today (Cleaver, now a conservative Christian) have experienced second thoughts about Black Panther violence. And on these matters , they are indeed different from the NPB. Since their founding in 1989, they have peddled the same anti-Semitic, cop-killing, race war line.