Rabble rouser: The FBI conspiracy against H. Rap Brown
By Paul Lee
Special to the Michigan Citizen
The following is the conclusion of a revised, updated version of an article on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) conspiracy against Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, known during the 1960s as the firebrand Black Power advocate H. Rap Brown, which originally appeared in The Michigan Citizen in the April 7th-April 13th and April 14th-April 20th, 2002, issues.
Part III of III
In July 1974, while former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) chairman Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, then still known to the public as H. Rap Brown, was serving a five-to-15-year sentence for robbing a West Side Manhattan bar — which he claimed to be innocent of — and facing a complex web of additional charges at Maryland and New Orleans, his attorney William M. Kunstler filed an affidavit with the New Orleans Federal Court.
It asked that Al-Amin’s sentence be set aside on the grounds that the FBI had set out to destroy him and other black leaders, beginning in 1967.
Kunstler was referring to the FBI’s long-secret Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) against “Black Nationalist-Hate Groups,” which had become known through documents released to NBC News reporter Carl Stern.
“The F. B. I. instructions to its field offices,” The New York Times summarized the affidavit as stating, “said that agents should use fabrications and other devices, including the arrest-upon-arrest technique on any conceivable charge, to stop the spread of ‘black hate group’s and to prevent the creation of a ‘Mau Mau’ in the United States,” referring to the black Kenyan guerilla movement that helped free that East African nation from British colonialism.
Amin, the Times’ summary of the petition continued, “had been harassed unceasingly by the local police and agents of the F. B. I. from 1967 until he was driven underground. … “Local police and the F. B. I. used the technique of ‘piling charge upon charge’ in an effort to exhaust [Al-Amin’s] resources for bail money. …”
The latter included a 1968 federal gun-control indictment and the complex tangle of Maryland charges. The federal indictment was eventually dismissed after New Orleans patent attorney James W. Lake, Jr., revealed in an April 1974 letter to Kunstler that Lansing L. Mitchell, the New Orleans federal judge who was to hear Al-Amin’s case, told Lake that he would maintain his health because he was going to “get that nigger” (Al-Amin).
Al-Amin was paroled on Oct. 21, 1976.
By this time, SNCC was no more, and many of Al-Amin’s former comrades were dead, in prison, self-exiled or burned-out. Some managed to channel their commitment into new outlets, reinvigorating old and innovating new organizations and social movements. Some did something that many of them had once considered unthinkable: They started families.
H. Rap Brown had changed, too. He had embraced traditional Islam while in prison in 1971 and become Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.
Following in the footsteps of his 1960s hero, Malcolm X (whose Muslim name was El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), Al-Amin made the hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holy city of Islam, which is obligatory for all Muslims who are able to make it.
“There is a refrain that you hear everywhere you go when you enter the holy precincts around Mecca,” he recalled in his little-known 1993 book, Revolution By the Book: The Rap Is Live.
“It is the sound of the servants reporting for duty: Labbaika Allahumma labbaik, Here I am, O Allah. At your service! Everywhere, day and night, the pilgrims keep chanting their readiness for service, and praising their Lord … An army of believers, two, three, four million people believing in, bowing, submitting to the same God.”
Many of those who knew Al-Amin as H. Rap Brown would scarcely have recognized him in these words. However, to the man, himself, the way of life that he found in Islam was the true essence of the revolutionary struggle that he had committed his life to as a young man. Indeed, it was “a continuation of a lifestyle,” he said, only at a deeper level of understanding.
“It became evident that to accomplish the things we talked about in the struggle, you would need a practice,” Al-Amin told John Lewis of Baltimore’s alternative City Paper in 1992, on the 25th anniversary of the Cambridge uprising. “Allah says He does not change the condition of a people until they change that which is in themselves. That is what Islam does, and it points out right from wrong. It points out truth from falsehood.”
Revolution by the book
In Revolution By the Book, he offered a description of that “practice” — salaat, or prayer, the second of Islam’s “Five Pillars” — which could apply to his own internal revolutionary process.
“Prayer is a practice, a program, that begins to make you aware, that makes you conscious of the Creator; it makes you fear Allah, and that brings about within you a transformation, a change that is necessary to throw off that whole system that you have become accustomed to. It is the beginning of a revolution in which expands to aspects of your reality.”
While his perspective had been transformed, there were certain fundamental constants: He remained gentle and soft-spoken in private; fiery and eloquent on the platform; thoughtful and methodical in his thinking; prepared to defend himself and his loved ones, if necessary; and, most of all, still consumed with a passion for justice, or right over wrong, truth over falsehood.
The Prophet Muhammad, Al-Amin told a Washington Post reporter in August 1978, “said expect a mountain to move before the character of a man. Life is simply one step after another.”
The lens was new; the man was essentially the same, but matured.
There were at least two important changes other than the obvious change in name, dress and lifestyle: He exhibited a certainty in the truth of his beliefs that some saw as rigidity and he became exceptionally disciplined. As Al-Amin explained in his last book:
“Islam is something that Allah has given us, to take us from the level of degradation, from the level where we have been crushed, to a level where Allah is satisfied with us and grants us success.
“It deals with training. It deals with discipline. It deals with submission, to the point where it becomes automatic; where we don’t give a second thought about doing things that are good, to enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong.”
Al-Amin settled in the traditionally black West End neighborhood of Atlanta, where he co-founded the Community Mosque of Atlanta, a small, mostly African American ummah, or Muslim community.
This mosque served as the basis for the formation in 1983 of the National Community, a coalition of some 30 U. S. and Caribbean masajid, or mosques, which reportedly sought to revive the defunct Dar ul-Islam movement. Representatives of this movement had introduced al-Amin to Islam at New York’s Rikers Island jail in 1971.
The Dar, as it was often called, was a predominantly black Sunni Muslim federation founded at Brooklyn in 1963, an offshoot of Shaykh Daoud Faisal’s Islamic Mission of America, Inc., composed of African American and emigrant Muslims.
Despite being targeted by the FBI, the Dar flourished in the late 1960s and ‘70s, becoming a rival to Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam in some cities and prisons.
It sought to channel the black nationalist upsurge of that era into a revitalized traditional Islam that could lead to a cultural renewal based upon the principles of the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book. However, in the mid-1970s, the Dar devolved into factionalism and was formally disbanded in 1980.
Al-Amin’s mosque, deeply committed to spiritual regeneration, organized neighborhood patrols, programs for Muslim youth and converted drug users to Islam and helped them break their habit. He and his followers were also credited with virtually eliminating prostitution in the area around the mosque.
However, according to Al-Amin and his supporters, some things hadn’t changed. “I realize I’m under constant observation,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1993. According to that paper, the FBI had “amassed a 40,000-page file on the imam,” and local police sought to implicate him in a murder, gunrunning and an assault.
On March 16, 2000, a Fulton County, Ga., sheriff’s deputy was killed and another wounded in a shootout in the West End. The authorities implicated Al-Amin.
He fled to White Hall, Ala., where he had worked as a SNCC field organizer 35 years before. When he was apprehended, FBI Special Agent Ron Campbell, without provocation, assaulted the handcuffed Al-Amin, according to the trial testimony of Lowndes County, Ala., Sheriff Willie Vaughner.
“He kicked him, he spat on him and he called him a scumbag cop killer,” Vaughner said.
As he had done in 1971, Al-Amin maintained his innocence and charged that he was the victim of an ongoing conspiracy.
On March 9, 2002, Al-Amin was found guilty on 13 counts and later sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The facts as alleged are completely out of character for the man we knew in the civil rights movement and now know as a religious leader in the Muslim community,” declared an advertisement placed in an Atlanta newspaper two days later.
Among the 250 signatories were many of Al-Amin’s former colleagues in SNCC and the BPP, as well as others who had shouldered side-by-side with him in the civil-rights, Black Power, anti-War and Muslim movements.
“As a civil rights activist and chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee … Al-Amin … worked tirelessly in the struggle of disenfranchised communities in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi to gain the right to vote. As SNCC national Chairman, he spoke out against the war in Vietnam and championed the rights of oppressed people in the US and abroad.
“Since then,” the statement continued, “Al-Amin has been a devout spiritual teacher and a public-spirited local leader. We know Imam Al-Amin as a principled and compassionate man, committed to justice for all oppressed people and devoted to the moral welfare of his community. …
“During the sixties, H. Rap Brown was hounded by authorities for his militant defense of black protest. This pattern of harassment has continued. Over the past twenty years, authorities have made over thirty attempts to charge him with a variety of crimes. All charges were found to be baseless and were dismissed for lack of evidence.
“In light of the discrepancies in the accounts of the current case,” the statement concluded, “and our knowledge of Imam Al-Amin’s character, we urge a suspension of judgement until all the facts are heard. We also call for a fair and impartial trial.”
Al-Amin is continuing to appeal his murder conviction.
J. Edgar Hoover died on May 2, 1972, after serving nearly a half-century as the FBI’s director. In 1977, a new political climate swept into Washington, D. C., with the election of President Jimmy Carter.
Under the new dispensation, W. Mark Felt, who briefly served as the associate director, or second-in-command, under Hoover’s successor, and Edward S. Miller, former assistant director of the FBI’s Intelligence Division, which ran the Counter-intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, against “extremist” groups and individuals, were convicted of conspiracy to violate the civil rights of friends and relatives of the mostly white Weatherman, later known as the Weather Underground Organization (WUO).
This radical, anti-Vietnam war “New Left” group had been implicated in the bombing of government facilities. (The only fatalities that the WUO admitted to were three of its own members, although it is suspected that at least one other person was inadvertently killed. Presumably, the latter would’ve been considered collateral damage.)
Felt, first as assistant director of the Inspection Division and then as associate deputy director, and Miller, whose Intelligence Division oversaw the New York office’s Squad 47, or counterintelligence unit, had ordered illegal break-ins (called “black bag jobs”), wiretaps and mail intercepts at the homes of relatives and friends of the Weatherman fugitives, supposedly in an effort to head off future bombings.
However, no one in the FBI was held accountable for similar and worse excesses directed against black groups such as SNCC, the Black Panther Party, Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, Muhammad Ahmad’s (formerly Max Stanford) mostly underground Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), the separatist Republic of New Africa (later Afrika, RNA), Maulana Karenga’s US organization and dozens of others, not to mention the bureau’s now-infamous campaign against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On April 15, 1981, President Ronald Reagan pardoned Felt and Miller on the grounds that their zeal was a “good-faith” effort to “preserve the security interests of our country.”
“They have never denied their actions,” Reagan’s statement correctly noted, “but, in fact, came forward to acknowledge them publicly in order to relieve their subordinate agents from criminal actions.”
The next day, fellow Republican and former law-and-order President Richard M. Nixon sent them a bottle of champagne.
On May 31, 2005, Felt confessed to being “Deep Throat,” the mysterious Watergate whistleblower, after denying it for three decades. (The pseudonym was taken from the title of a popular 1972 pornographic movie starring Linda Lovelace.)
Felt had secretly provided critical leads to the investigation of young Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein into the very kind of illegal activity that he, himself, had ordered — specifically, the 1972 break-in of Democratic National Committee headquarters at Washington, D. C.’s Watergate Complex.
A five-man “Plumbers” team, so named because it was originally formed in the White House in 1971 to plug leaks of government information, conducted the botched burglary. With the approach of an election year, the Plumbers and their contract operatives were directly and indirectly connected to the Committee to Reelect the President, abbreviated CRP and pronounced “Creep.”
The Watergate operation proved to be only the tip of an iceberg of wide-ranging governmental and extra-governmental abuses initiated or sanctioned by President Nixon. This investigation sparked Congressional impeachment hearings that led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and the imprisonment of six of his key aides.
In the July 2005 Vanity Fair article that “outed” Felt, John J. O’Conner, Felt’s attorney and later the ghostwriter of his revised 2007 memoir, “A G-Man’s Life,” stated: “I believe that Mark Felt is one of America’s greatest secret heroes” because of his role in exposing the Watergate scandal.
Similar, if less effusive, encomiums followed Felt’s death on Dec. 18, 2008. However, few recalled his role, during those very same years, as an unrepentant violator of the civil rights of 1960s and ‘70s organizations and activists, including Al-Amin, who had committed — and, in some cases, gave — their lives to right historic wrongs.
Copyright © 2002, 2009 by Paul Lee