The litany of tactics that Hinds lists belongs to the playbook of COINTELPRO, the counterintelligence program of the FBI. The program was masterminded by J. Edgar Hoover, the Bureau’s pre eminent founder. Origins of the COINTELPRO doctrine can be found in this declassified memo which outlines the scope of the FBI’s war on African-american activists: “The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of Black nationalists, hatetype organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, members, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder.”
Hinds points to the continued persecution of Assata Shakur as the continuation of COINTELPRO. But the FBI cannot continue to use that same playbook because it has been vilified in the public sphere and found to be largely illegal. Instead, it must pivot and switch to the contemporary language of repression. Label Shakur a terrorist. Make her one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.
This logic effectively covers up the existence of COINTELPRO and denies the murders, surveillance and false convictions of an entire generation of political dissidents. Many of those who experienced the might of this repression firsthand and could attest to it are now dead, and others, like Sundiata Acoli, are still in prison. Assata is the loose end the state desperately needs to tie up. Her existence and freedom link the FBI’s troubling past to its suspicious, opaque present. “Labeling Assata a terrorist and putting a bounty on her head,” says NLG executive director Heidi Bogoshian, “is a clear attempt by U.S. authorities to hide this chapter in history.”
Even worse, by further criminalizing Assata Shakur, the Justice Department under Obama is lifting up those older chapters of struggle and condemning them in the fearful language of the present, equating radicalism and militancy with terrorism. This campaign of slippery diction has condemned numerous environmental and political activists to lengthy prison terms under new state and federal anti-terrorism laws, and it is the preferred terminology used to entrap and indict innocent activists.
Are we to look back at militant and radical labor struggles that gave us the eight-hour work day and call this the work of terrorists? Undoubtedly, this is the road we are going down.
Assata Shakur: Timing is Everything
“I believe that we have to look at this in the context of what has just happened in Boston,” Lennox Hinds told Amy Goodman. “I think that with the massacre that occurred there, the FBI and the state police are attempting to inflame the public opinion to characterize [Shakur] as a terrorist, because the acts that she was convicted of have nothing to do with terrorism.”
Hinds may be right with his suspicion. But as Trevor Aaronson points out at Mother Jones, the situation in Boston could have been prevented if the FBI had been investigating Tamerlan Tsarnaev more closely and not spending gross amounts of money to entrap and convict innocent persons like Rezwan Ferdaus, who became the FBI’s target after they stopped trailing Tsarnaev in 2011. Rather than devoting valuable resources to apprehending a revolutionary, now in the twilight of her years, the FBI ought to focus its attention and budget on preventing serious attacks that put us all at risk. If there is another attack in the near future, we will be forced to ask: could it have been prevented if the FBI was paying attention where it should have been instead of pursuing Assata Shakur?
For the Next Generation of Activists
Unfortunately, this decision by the FBI is more than a bid to rewrite history. Angela Davis told Democracy Now! that “it seems to me that this act incorporates or reflects the very logic of terrorism,” Davis says. “I can’t help but think that it’s designed to frighten people who are involved in struggles today. Forty years ago seems like it was a long time ago. In the beginning of the 21st century, we’re still fighting around the very same issues — police violence, healthcare, education, people in prison.”
What message does this announcement send to activists who are in communities fighting police violence, stop-and-frisk, police murders like the killing of Kimani Gray in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn? The persecution of any political activist impacts all political activists and creates a chilling effect.
Lennox Hinds points out that the decision to put Assata Shakur on the Most Wanted Terrorists list is irreversible, and as such, carries the weight of the US government’s support.“There is no way to appeal someone being put on the terrorist list,” he said. The only way to be taken off, according to the FBI’s website, is to be proven innocent in a court of law, or to be proven dead.
For Assata, it is too late to be proven innocent; she has already been wrongfully convicted. But if in the course of these new escalations we can clearly see the process by which language is being used to revise history and to manufacture terrorist threats, then maybe we can see our current moment for what it is: a time when actual threats to public safety are ignored, but a 66-year-old grandmother is considered a high-level threat.
By: Tom Hintze