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not to be the white asshole who just got here five minutes ago & is already like "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU DIDN'T KNOW THIS, GOD, MEGAN," but in researching my book I learned some stuff history class omitted which might be helpful to other white folks, specifically about Fred Hampton.
BTW this thread is not for Black folks, who know this already, or for white activists who have already done the work and educated themselves on their history

this thread is for, like, your white relatives who think all protest and all Black activism is inherently threatening
And this is not to position myself as an expert, but to share some information, documents and further resources that might help contextualize why one of the state's most powerful weapons against Black people is nice white people.
So, COINTELPRO stands for Counter-Intelligence Program, and it was a secret FBI project created by J. Edgar Hoover designed to spy on, infiltrate and discredit every progressive activist movement, with a particular emphasis for Black civil rights leaders, especially the Panthers.
If you've heard about, like MLK being wiretapped and blackmailed about his affairs, that was COINTELPRO. They also gave an advance heads-up to KKK-affiliated cops to let them know when Freedom Riders would be coming through town, so they could arm up and be ready for them.
COINTELPRO had three core goals w/r/t the Panthers:

1. to discredit radical leaders in their own communities, by falsely painting them as snitches or sellouts, spreading rumors that they were collaborating with the FBI or law enforcement, so their own people wouldn't trust them
2. to force rifts between different coalitions with the same values - whether between, say, a very liberal Black civil rights org vs a more centrist one, or between a Black activist group and a Latinx one - to sow chaos and prevent cooperation;
and 3, most relevant to our current national conversation - to create a framework in which the vast, vast, vast majority of white people saw not just the Panthers but the entire Black civil rights movement as a violent, disruptive threat which needed constant police control.
And the only reason we know that these things were carefully-crafted tactics is that in 1971 a group of white activists broke into an FBI field office in Pennsylvania, stole a bunch of documents and revealed the existence of the then-secret COINTELPRO operation to the public.
But the thing about human brains is that when you've believed something for so long that it FEELS TRUE, it is hard to receive or absorb even the most concrete facts in opposition to your idea.
So even seeing literal FBI documents saying "HEY, LET'S CONVINCE EVERY WHITE PERSON THAT THE BLACK PANTHERS ARE A BUNCH OF DOMESTIC TERRORISTS LOL" didn't UN-convince white people that the Black Panthers were a bunch of domestic terrorists, because it still FELT TRUE
This is a PDF of a pamphlet from 1980 called "Counterintelligence: A Documentary Look at America's Secret Police," and I cannot urge too strongly that white people read it. It's full of leaked FBI memos and documents, including those from the 1971 raid.

peopleslawoffice.com/wp-content/upl…
The greatest danger to the FBI's supremacy was the risk that white people would start realizing, "hey, wait a minute, Black people aren't scary, and the things they're asking for are actually super reasonable, and the way they're being treated is horrible"

so they just .... lied
If you grew up, like I grew up, with the vague notion that the Black Panthers like, just went around wantonly shooting at cops, then you might never have learned - I know I didn't - that a huge part of their role in communities was stuff like free breakfast programs for kids.
Also, they were by and large armed DEFENSIVELY, not OFFENSIVELY, with firearms and licenses obtained legally, which they used to protect their neighborhoods (cops were less likely to wander in and fuck up some kids for sport if there were a few armed Panthers on the corner)
Anyway, so this brings us to Fred Hampton.

I cannot stress enough to white folks who have never heard of Fred Hampton how different our world might be in 2020 if this one man had not been murdered.
archives.gov/research/afric… here's a fuller and more detailed biography of his life for anyone who wants more reading

also check out the People's Law Office, who fought for justice for him over the course of decades

peopleslawoffice.com/about-civil-ri…
peopleslawoffice.com/about-civil-ri…
“The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther” by Jeffrey Haas (a Jewish civil rights activist and a Panther lawyer) is also a great book, and all of this has far more information than I can dump on you in a Twitter thread, BUT
So Fred Hampton was this just extraordinary young person, who really wanted to play for the Yankees when he grew up, but instead he decided to go to school to study law, to help his people. He was a youth organizer for the NAACP in Chicago and a WILDLY charismatic speaker.
He joined the Panthers and rose through the ranks so quickly that he was Chairman of the Chicago chapter by like, age 20? And his specialty was coalition-building.

Which is, of course, how he landed on COINTELPRO's radar.
The thing that Fred Hampton was really, really good at was going to a group of people with seemingly conflicting ideologies - rival gangs, for example - and convince them of their shared interests, shared need, and common enemy: the white supremacist power structure.
The FBI decided to murder him when he was 21 years old, just as he was on the cusp of brokering a transformative collaboration between the Black Panthers, the Latin Kings, and a coalition of white churches to begin organizing in earnest around fair housing.
He was drugged by his bodyguard, who was an FBI plant, and assassinated. You can find the details yourself, I don't want to put more brutalization of Black bodies into everyone's timelines, but what you need to know is that the cops broke into his house and fired 99 times.
The Panthers fired exactly one shot in response, which was an accidental reflex of a dying man whose hand clenched on the trigger as an unconscious muscle spasm.
But part of COINTELPRO was making sure Hoover had local white government leaders in his pocket, and he had locked in the support of state's attorney Edward Hanrahan, and if you read some of the shit they said in the news about the Panthers shooting first, your blood would boil.
“Chicago Police Sgt. Daniel Groth, who led the fourteen police raiders, said: 'There must have been six or seven of them firing. The firing must have gone on ten or twelve minutes. If 200 shots were exchanged, that was nothing. It’s a miracle that not one policeman was killed.'"
fucking Hanrahan:

"The immediate, violent and criminal reaction of the occupants in shooting at announced police officers emphasizes the extreme viciousness of the Black Panther Party. So does their refusal to cease firing at police officers when urged to do so several times."
quotes above taken from this article, which is great - thenation.com/article/was-fr…
it cannot be overstated that THE ONLY REASON THE COUNTRY EVENTUALLY LEARNED THAT THIS WAS BULLSHIT was because two years later those people broke into the FBI office and leaked all those COINTELPRO documents that revealed all the details of the murder plot.
and it STILL took like 18 years and multiple lawsuits for the surviving Panthers' names to be cleared and for the cops who committed the murders to actually be charged with a crime.
Fred Hampton had done nothing wrong except be charismatic and passionate and fight to build a coalition of diverse communities that could have changed not just Chicago but the whole country if he had been allowed to grow up into the elder statesman he deserved to become.
And even knowing that the Panthers were victims of a truly insane and terrifying level of stalking, harassment, infiltration, kidnappings, murders, blackmail, threats and violence, FROM THEIR GOVERNMENT, the narrative about them among white people was already locked in.
So, white people: that nervous, uncomfortable feeling you have when Black people are visibly no longer afraid of us in public? when they hold up signs, when they shout, when they march, when they fight back?

congrats, you're giving J. Edgar Hoover just what he wanted from you.
that feeling of "i mean I don't like racism either, but do they have to be so AGGRESSIVE about it?"

that message was focus-grouped and finely-crafted and distributed through whisper networks and has soaked into the air you breathe and the water you drink, by your government.
And the fact that COINTELPRO, as Hoover initially conceived of it, was performatively disbanded after it was revealed to the public does not mean that the FBI or law enforcement actually abandoned those tools.

Those tools still work! They're working now!
When you learn white people history in white people schools your whole life, one of the most poisonous threads running through it is this confident, implicit trust in institutions. This idea that the government, while imperfect, is nonethless reliably on the side of Good For All.
Most white people learn about the Civil Rights Era only through a few carefully-selected MLK quotes misinterpreted as a call for niceness. If you're about the Black Panthers at all, it's often with an air of danger and menace, even now.
So I didn't learn about Assata Shakur and the Panther 28, I didn't learn about Fred Hampton and COINTELPRO, I didn't learn about Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover and the Southern Strategy and the FBI's strategic attacks on Freedom Riders, until I was in my thirties.
we as white people have NO LIVED CONTEXT for what it means to grow up as Black in America, where the entire system of law enforcement is not just not there to help, but is actively at war with you, and carefully rewriting the narrative to make the victims look like the threat.
all of this is to say:

read up on Black history. especially the parts that make you feel uncomfortable in your whiteness. sit with that. that's our work.

examine your sources. law enforcement and government have a vested interest in redirecting your fear to Black protesters.
the American government has been invested since its inception, and with redoubled efforts since the Civil Rights Era, in convincing white people that Black people need our permission and approval for how they ask us to give them some rights, and we can say no if they're too rude.
And whoever you are, however woke you think you are, that is IN YOU

it was sure as hell in me

it's BAKED IN. we've been breathing it in our very air. this notion that the only good protest is nice, quiet, polite, and "you're not helping your case" if things get loud and messy.
a lot of people have been tweeting good threads, which I've been boosting whenever I see them, about the danger of the white protest tourist, who wants the dopamine rush of smashing windows but without the messy internal work of the "how" and "why"
but i look at people like Portland's mayor, Ted Wheeler, with his curfew and his disappointed dad lectures about property damage, and I think about how delighted someone like Hoover would be to see even Democrat leaders still, in 2020, doing his fucking work for him.
the things we believe about the world come from somewhere. and we HATE admitting that we're wrong, or that we've been the victim of a disinformation campaign, or that we've been manipulated. it's terrifying to realize up is down and down is up and you were lied to the whole time.
but white people:

we were lied to the whole time.
and we will never stop being the fucking problem until we start digging deep and rooting out all the things we were told to be true by people we should never have trusted.
tl;dr, fuck J. Edgar Hoover.
last link, I promise, but this is a TV special created for the 40th anniversary of Hampton's death and everybody should watch it

okay now i'm done

democracynow.org/2009/12/4/the_…
Good morning I’m thrilled this blew up and that white folks are learning about Fred Hampton

please know that I am not a historian, I write time travel sci-fi and this is a tiny incomplete slice of the story, which is why I included so many sources for further reading
This came up in the replies but the documentary “Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” (on Netflix,and for non-US folks I think people were finding it on YouTube) covers a lot of the stuff I left out. I found it really helpful and hopefully you will too.
If you want another story about a person you should have learned about in history class, did you know that Tupac’s mom was a WHOLE BADASS??? Add Afeni Shakur and The Panther 21 to your reading list after Fred Hampton.

google.com/amp/s/www.work…
A group of 21 Panthers were wrongly accused by the cops of a bunch of terrorist plots in NYC and at age 22, with no legal training, and pregnant, Afeni Shakur served as her own counsel in the trial and FUCKING WON and cleared all their names, where is her movie
some further context on the documentary I mentioned above! as always, it's helpful to consume information from a variety of sources and check everything for implicit bias.

hello, a lot of people have asked how to share this thread with friends and family who are not on Twitter, and @djtuini has helpfully screencapped the whole thread to Facebook with all the links at the top

m.facebook.com/story/graphql_…
It’s also saved to my Instagram Highlights here

instagram.com/s/aGlnaGxpZ2h0…
thank you to the person who reminded me that I also have a Tumblr, the thread is now on Tumblr (with links!)

clairewillettwrites.tumblr.com/post/619893194…
Hi everyone!

It continues to be humbling and surreal to see how far this has spread. I love seeing how many people have been seeking out further resources and are having conversations in their own families and communities in response to this.

A few final thoughts:
I have been overwhelmed with messages asking me either to thread on another topic (“can you do redlining next?”) or asking for addendums to the thread on some of the many aspects of Hampton’s life there wasn’t space to include here.
I want to remind everyone that I am not a historian or an expert on the complexities of race in America.

What I am is a person who grew up in a family where we talked to each other all the time at the dinner table about whatever we were reading, and what we learned.
I read about Fred Hampton, and it changed me, and I wanted to share what I learned. I linked to my sources in this thread so other people could do the same.

But having a twitter thread go viral does not make me an expert. I can signal-boost, but I can’t field every question.
I am muting this thread because I want to make sure that i am keeping space - both mentally and online - to be available for the work that’s happening right now, especially in my own city.

I’m so sorry if I didn’t get to your tweet or DM. It’s been really, really overwhelming.
If you are in search of resources, many Black writers have compiled anti-racist reading lists (see my pinned tweet) @michaelharriot has a great thread on Fred Hampton from last year with even more info and details. Please keep seeking out Black voices to learn more.
I didn’t post this thread to frame myself as a scholar of Black history. I did it because I think it’s important work for white allies to be honest about the fact that for everything we know, there was a time when we didn’t know it, and if I can learn, anyone can.
Thanks again to everyone who has shared this. The conversations I’ve had with strangers over the past five days have been incredible and I encourage you to keep having those conversations with each other and in your own communities.

#BlackLivesMatter
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