UPDATE: A Bay Area journalist’s accusation that a Japanese American Black Panther Party co-founder was a paid FBI informant sent shock waves through the Asian/Pacific Island American communities last month and triggered angry denials from former activists, academics and those who knew the accused personally. But author-journalist Seth Rosenfeld, who originally accused Richard Aoki of being a government snitch in his book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power, says newly released documents “confirm” that Aoki, who committed suicide in March 2009, was an informant from 1961 to 1977.
Following Rosenfeld’s accusations, Aoki’s biographer, Diane Fujino, chairwoman of UC Santa Barbara’s Asian American Studies Department and the author of Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance and a Paradoxical Life, shadowed Rosenfeld on the promotional media blitz for his book, challenging the lack of hard evidence provided by the award-winning former San Francisco newspaper reporter and Center for Investigative Reporting contributor.
Democracy Now! ~ ‘Was Bay Area Radical, Black Panther Arms Supplier Richard Aoki An FBI Informant?’ Part 1 of 2
According to Rosenfeld’s Sept. 7 California Watch article:
Aoki’s friends, as well as his biographer and the producers of the film about him, expressed shock at the disclosure that he had been an informant, and some of them angrily disputed it. Some suggested the story was an attempt to place a “snitch jacket” on Aoki – an FBI tactic of falsely claiming radicals were informants, causing suspicion and mistrust among fellow activists
Rosenfeld’s apparent response to the criticism of his “outing” of Aoki as an informant came in Friday’s California Watch, CIR’s monthly online news magazine, in the form of a self-bylined, 2200-word summary of the FBI’s heavily redacted 221-page file on Aoki, in which agents describe information supplied on Bay Area activist groups by Aoki “voluminous information” in “current, concise and complete reports, usually typewritten by him.”
An FBI memo from 1971 when Aoki was an Asian Studies instructor at UC Berkeley and a counselor at Peralta Junior College reads: “Coverage furnished by this informant is unique and not available from any other source,” it says. “Many activist individuals seek informant’s advice and counseling since informant is considered as a militant who has succeeded within the establishment without surrending (sic) to it.”
According to the California Watch article:
FBI officials even reminded Aoki to report his pay as an informant on his tax return, according to a handwritten notation on a Dec. 29, 1972, report. The records do not say how much he was paid, but according to a congressional study, security informants in the 1960s typically received about $100 per month, with more valuable informants receiving up to $400 per month, the equivalent of about $2,900 today.
Read “FBI files reveal new details about informant who armed Black Panthers” by Seth Rosenfeld in California Watch. Download a copy of what is apparently a raw, footnoted version of Rosenfeld’s article here. See (and download if you’re 1337) a copy of Richard Masato Aoki’s FBI file.
Bay Area jazz musician and social activist Fred Ho has published the first rebuttal to the CIR/California Watch piece ~ “An Analysis of Seth Rosenfeld’s FBI Files on Richard Aoki” ~ in the San Francisco Bay View
Lastly, the trailer from the 2009 documentary AOKI by Mike Cheng and Ben Wang, featuring comments by Asian American activists Yuri Kochiyama, Bryant Fong, Harvey Dong, Patty Hirota and Kei Fischer.