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What Caused the Downfall of the Black Panther Party?

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The Black Panther Party was the most influential revolutionary group during the Civil Rights movement era. The BPP became a very strong political power. It influenced many government decisions and attracted the mass media. Yet, due to a number of reasons the BPP eventually collapsed. The Black Panther Party came to its demise due to government operations against it, various mistakes by the Party itself, and by short comings by its own leaders.

The most devastating cause of the BPP's demise was programs ran by the Federal Bureau of Investigation aimed at breaking up the party. The FBI was mostly responsible for the eventual breakup. In the 1960s, the FBI had a secret program to undermine upsurges sweeping through the nation. This program was known as COINTELPRO, which stands for "Counterintelligence Program". The Black Panther Party was one of many different "radical" groups that were targeted by this FBI led program. According to Wolf, "the FBI set out to eliminate radical political opposition inside the US." J.Edgar Hoover, who once called the BPP as the 'greatest threat to national security', and the FBI used any means required to demolish this threat.

" When traditional modes of repression (exposure, blatant harassment, and prosecution for political crimes) failed to counter the growing insurgency, and even helped to fuel it, the Bureau took the law into its own hands and secretly used fraud and force to sabotage constitutionally-protected political activity. It's methods ranged far beyond surveillance and amounted to a domestic version of the covert action for which the CIA has become infamous throughout the world."

Thus, the demise of the BPP was caused mostly by the FBI operation COINTELPRO. It destroyed the Panthers, in time, with a string of arrests, murders and forced exiles.

One of the effective ways COINTELPRO worked was how it systematically destroyed the power structure of the Black Panther Party. For instance, fabricated letters were sent to different factions causing dispute. These efforts were made to encourage division between essential leaders especially between Newton and Cleaver. The FBI's goal to have different factions fight against themselves worked well. In January of 1969, for example, unidentified gunmen murdered two Los Angeles Panther leaders at UCLA. The gunmen were believed to be fellow members of the BPP.

Another tactic used by the FBI to discredit the BPP was the use of infiltrates to engage in illegal which eventually caused members to be arrested. These agents also fabricated information when arresting members and when trials were held. This even included intimidation of witnesses and coercion. As Hilliard noted, "the Bureau concocted a threatening letter to jurors, during the 'Chicago Eight' conspiracy trials in efforts to obtain convictions"(179). Indeed, these tactics used by the FBI crippled and eventually broke up the BPP Party.

In the same way, the FBI's actions were not solely responsible for the BPP's demise. In fact, various BPP mistakes caused its own downfall. The most serious structural flaw in the BPP was the way it carried out operations. Party members who openly worked in BPP offices or organized in the community daily, were the same people who carried out underground armed operations at night. Naturally, this provided the police with a convenient excuse to make raids on any BPP offices or the homes of the members. Such raids forced the party to make stationary defenses of the BPP offices. Unfortunately, since there was no separation between the daily operations and the underground-armed apparatus, the Party became doomed.

In addition, although the BPP was proficient at the art of propaganda making very good use of its own and the establishment's media, too many Panthers still fell into the habit of making boisterous claims in the public media that they could not back up. These false claims eventually caused the media and the public not to take the Panthers seriously. The press, who were usually agents, encouraged Panthers to make these boisterous claims. The press encouraged these Panthers because it worked well for agents simply looking for slanderous material to air or information that may incriminate members of the Party.

Furthermore, the BPP often became demoralized by attitudes of fellow members. These tendencies were what the media played-up the most. These tendencies are associated with a lack discipline, misuse of alcohol, marijuana and curse words, loose sexual morals and a criminal mentality. This was partly due to the fact that a large number of the members were youths and students. These tendencies within the Party provided the media with and opportunity to slander the Party. As a result, the public's attention was directed away from the Party's more positive work.

In addition, the BPP was very much anti-capitalist transfixing the Party's concept of building economic foundations in the community. Thus, the BPP built few businesses that generated income. Therefore, the Party did not help to provide self-employment to its membership and to the people in the community. The BPP failed to encourage the Black community to set up its own businesses to move toward self-reliance.

Finally, the corrupting of leaders of the Party was deeply damaging to the survival of the BPP. As mentioned, one of the FBI's tactics was to encourage differences and hatred between essential leaders of the Party. Indeed this tactic worked. This was a major cause of the eventual downfall of the BPP. COINTELPRO eventually intimidated and corrupted all three of the BPP's top leaders: Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver. Each in their own way, caved in to the pressure and adopted behavior that was deliberately designed to destroy the BPP. It also was designed to disillusion Party members and all African Americans. The aim of this tactic was to make African Americans distrust any African American leader to come. The program hoped to cause African Americans not to follow any organization or leader that advocated any solutions to the oppression of blacks.

In addition to the corruption of leaders, some panthers, due to early successes, came to feel as if they were the only possessors of absolute truths. Some became arrogant when dealing with its own members, the public and civil rights leaders. People began turning away from the Party. Meanwhile, within the party the leaders tended to have differences of opinion. Newton and Seale eventually decided to shift from the revolutionary ideals and concentrate more on helping the community. These leaders called



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