In 1919, J. Edgar Hoover, a Bureau of Investigation supervisor, received a tip from the Bureau office in the Panama Canal Zone about Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Hoover, who spent World War I chasing immigrants and radicals, launched what would become a life-long personal war against black leaders that he considered undesirable.
Hoover wrote to his superior. “Garvey is a West-Indian negro and in addition to his activities in endeavoring to establish the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation he has also been particularly active among the radical elements in New York City in agitating the negro movement. Unfortunately however, he has not as yet violated any federal law whereby he could be proceeded against on the grounds of being an undesirable alien, from the point of view of deportation. It occurs to me, however, from the attached clipping that there might be some proceeding against him for fraud in connection with his Black Star Line propaganda.”
Hoover hired four black undercover agents and went to work penetrating Marcus Garvey’s organization. As the investigation proceeded, Hoover began lining up witnesses against Garvey. In 1923, on New Years Day, a key witness was attacked and shot. Reverend J. W. H. Eason died in New Orleans following an after-church shooting. The murdered pastor, who had split with Garvey, was to be a leading witness in the Black Star Line mail fraud case. According to a Bureau of Investigation source, Garvey announced the shooting of Eason at Liberty Hall in New York just one hour after it occurred in New Orleans.
Hoover suspected Garvey of ordering Eason’s murder to silence his rival. Prosecution against Garvey was ruled out in New Orleans by local authorities who feared the expense of such an undertaking. Although Hoover saw Garvey imprisoned and then deported for mail fraud over his back to Africa promotion, Hoover’s inability to see Garvey prosecuted for murder was a source of lifelong frustration. The Garvey case shaped and influenced Hoover’s future counterintelligence directives, he would no longer play by the rules.
Hoover directed his attack on black America using wartime techniques honed in World War II espionage cases and later in counterintelligence operations against the Communist Party in the United States. The clandestine program, code-named COINTELPRO, was nation-wide in scope with Hoover demanding results across the country. One Midwestern city on Hoover’s watch list was Omaha, Nebraska.
In May 1967, Hoover sent a special report on racial problems in Omaha to President Johnson and warned of the prospects for summer rioting. “Informed sources consider the present situation tense and rate the possibility of racial violence “quite high” due to the ill feeling created by the past incidents and the rapidity with which Negro youths respond to the leadership of militant malcontents who are not associated with any civil rights groups.”
That summer, J. Edgar Hoover launched a new counterintelligence program against so-called Black Nationalists in a memorandum to twenty-three FBI field offices. “The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder. The activities of all such groups of intelligence interest to this Bureau must be followed on a continuous basis so we will be in a position to promptly take advantage of all opportunities for counterintelligence and to inspire action in instances where circumstances warrant.”
“No opportunity should be missed to exploit through counterintelligence techniques the organizational and personal conflicts of the leadership of the groups and where possible an effort should be made to capitalize upon existing conflicts between competing black nationalist organizations.”
“Many individuals currently active in black nationalist organizations have backgrounds of immorality, subversive activity, and criminal records. Through your investigation of key agitators, you should endeavor to establish their unsavory backgrounds.”
“All Special Agent personnel responsible for the investigation of black nationalist, hate-type organizations and their memberships should be alerted to our counterintelligence interest and each such investigative Agent has a responsibility to call to the attention of the counterintelligence coordinator suggestions and possibilities for implementing the program. You are also cautioned that the nature of this new endeavor is such that under no circumstances should the existence of the program be made known outside the Bureau and appropriate within-office security should be afforded to sensitive operations and techniques considered under the program.”
“You are urged to take an enthusiastic and imaginative approach to this new counterintelligence endeavor and the Bureau will be pleased to entertain any suggestions or techniques you may recommend.”
Hoover’s secret war on black Americans was now official policy and considerable Bureau resources were directed to the clandestine program against unsuspecting citizens.
In March 1968, Hoover ordered Omaha added to the list of FBI field offices engaged in COINTELPRO operations against “Black Nationalists” raising the number of offices conducting racial counterintelligence from twenty-three to forty-one. Hoover reminded agents, “Because of the nature of this program each operation must be designed to protect the Bureau’s interest so that there is no possibility of embarrassment to the Bureau.”
In a memorandum Hoover told Omaha Special Agent in Charge Paul Young that often anarchists do not join organizations, even subversive ones, because their nature is to not affiliate thus the need for vigilance.
“It should be borne in mind that even if a subject’s membership in a subversive organization cannot be proven, his inclusion in the Security Index may often be justified because of activities which establish his anarchistic tendencies….It is entirely possible, therefore, that a subject without any organizational affiliation can qualify for the Security Index by virtue of his public pronouncements and activities which establish his rejection of law and order and reveal him to be a potential threat to the security of the United States.”
In July 1968, Hoover continued to press Young and other supervisors for a crack down on radicals. “There has been a marked increase in recent months of bombings and burnings of public buildings and other acts of terrorism which could logically have been perpetrated by extremist elements of the New Left.”
“I expect an immediate and aggressive response from you.”
“I have reminded you time and again that the militancy of the New Left is escalating daily. Unless you recognize this and move in a more positive manner to identify subversive elements responsible so that appropriate prosecutive action, whether federally or locally initiated, can be taken…..I am going to hold each Special Agent in Charge personally responsible to insure that the Bureau’s responsibilities in this area are completely met and fulfilled.”
Young responded with a proposal for a gossip campaign against the Black Panther Party leaders. Hoover cautioned: “The utilization of your sources and informants to spread gossip in the ghetto area concerning BPP leaders and members must be done on a selective basis so as to preclude tracing the origin of the gossip to the FBI. This is an effective but risky maneuver and you must insure that your informants are not compromised.”
Meanwhile, the San Francisco FBI office informed Hoover on developments involving Eldridge Cleaver and mentioned Cleaver’s trip to Omaha in August 1968 to establish a chapter of the Black Panthers in the Midwestern city and a FBI effort to exploit the trip.
“Also, with Bureau concurrence, an anonymous letter was sent to BPP Headquarters via Omaha, where [Cleaver] was in August, 1968, organizing a new BPP branch, and where he had temporarily been detained and interviewed by police, suggesting that the brothers in Omaha were suspicious of [Cleaver], who had easily gotten out of jail on a local charge.”
“It is believed that the BPP is becoming sensitive to the possibility of informers. This office will try to ascertain those Panthers who have been arrested and who BPP thinks might start to talk. We would then formulate some plan to cast suspicion on the man. We must bear in mind that if the plan is successful, a gang-type murder may be the result.”
Lethal outcomes did not deter Hoover so long as the crimes could not be traced to the FBI or its informants. Hoover saw death as a permanent way to rid America of its domestic enemies and an acceptable counterintelligence operational option.
In February 1969,Hoover was pleased with the San Diego FBI office and sent the Special Agent in Charge a complimentary memorandum. The memo revealed what Hoover expected from field offices. “You are encouraged to continue your aggressive attacks against the leaders of the Black Panther Party.”
In August 1969, Paul Young informed Hoover of a shake up in Omaha and introduced a new COINTELPRO target. “Although the BPP in Omaha is considered defunct by National Headquarters, it appears that this chapter at a future date will be reactivated possibly under the leadership of Edward Poindexter who, according to Kansas City, recently arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, to attend a BPP training school.”
The next month failure to submit counterintelligence proposals caused Omaha and thirteen other FBI offices to be ordered to explain what steps had been taken to exploit membership weaknesses of the Black Panther Party. Hoover made it clear that he wanted results. “The participation of each office is expected and necessary in order that the BPP organization is thoroughly disrupted.”
On December 4, 1969, in a FBI orchestrated pre-dawn in Chicago by a special police squad, Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were shot to death. Fourteen handpicked policemen, armed with twenty-seven firearms including a Thompson submachine and shotguns, converged on Hampton’s apartment at 4:45 a.m. The police fired a barrage into the quiet apartment killing the two Panther leaders and wounding all of the other occupants.
Four days later in Los Angeles forty men of the Special Weapons and Tactics squad, with more than a hundred regular police as backup, raided the Black Panther headquarters and other locations at 5:30 in the morning. The Panthers chose to defend themselves, and for four hours they fought off police, refusing to surrender until press and public were on the scene. Six of them were wounded. Thirteen were arrested.
Two days after the raid in Los Angeles, Hoover was unhappy with lack of action in Omaha and pumped up by the assassinations in Chicago and the Los Angeles gun battle, Hoover sent Paul Young a stern memorandum. Hoover demanded “imaginative” action and in the context of the shootings it is apparent what Hoover had in mind.
“While the activities appear to be limited in the Omaha area, it does not necessarily follow that effective counterintelligence measures cannot be taken. As long as there are BPP activities, you should be giving consideration to that type of counterintelligence measure which would best disrupt existing activities. It would appear some type of counterintelligence aimed at disruption of the publication and distribution of their literature is in order. It is also assumed that of the eight to twelve members, one or two must surely be in a position of leadership. You should give consideration to counterintelligence measures directed against these leaders in an effort to weaken or destroy their positions. Bureau has noted you have not submitted any concrete counterintelligence proposals in recent months. Evaluate your approach to this program and insure that it is given the imaginative attention necessary to produce effective results. Handle promptly and submit your proposals to the Bureau for approval.”
Young replied to Hoover about Ed Poindexter’s formation of the United Front Against Fascism. “In response to referenced Bureau letter [12/10/69], the identities of the leadership of the UFAF are known to the Omaha office. Omaha is presently giving consideration to some type of counter-intelligence activity aimed at disruption of the UFAF newsletter or its distribution and counter-intelligence measures directed against the leaders of this organization.”
At year’s end, Hoover responded to Young’s recommendation of Poindexter for inclusion on the Agitator Index. Young had not given Hoover sufficient reason to include Poindexter on the list. “In view of the fact that no information is reported which shows the subject possesses a propensity for fomenting violence, his name is not being included on the Agitator Index at this time. The subject’s membership in and his position as an officer of the United Front Against Fascism, the successor to the BPP in Omaha, could qualify him for inclusion on the Security Index.”
In January 1970, Young assured Hoover that he was participating in the COINTELPRO program and plotting against Poindexter and the UFAF. “Several counterintelligence measures aimed against this organization are presently under consideration and proposals for counterintelligence activities aimed at disruption of this organization or directed against its leaders will be submitted to the Bureau by separate communication in the very near future.”
One winter night, Ed Poindexter “let off some steam” and got drunk at a party. Poindexter’s girlfriend had too much of something and they ended up at the emergency room of the Douglas County Hospital. A fracas over the way the girlfriend was being treated led to Poindexter being clubbed by a policeman. Poindexter remembered regaining consciousness in a cell.
Word got out about Poindexter’s trouble at the hospital when bail money was collected from the community. The FBI made note of the incident and Paul Young had a new counterintelligence proposal for Hoover.
“Investigation by the Omaha Division has failed to find any records of Poindexter being in either the city or county jail during the month of February. It is believed that the money collected by Poindexter and the UFAF was done under false pretenses. It is felt by Omaha that the UFAF needed money and this was the ruse that they used in order to get donations from the Black Community.”
“Bureau authority is requested to write an anonymous letter to Black Panther Party Headquarters stating the above facts; also authority is requested to make anonymous phone calls to Negro militant [REDACTED] and local Negro publications and certain people in the Black Community stating the above facts.”
Although Young’s agents could find no record of Poindexter’s arrest, Poindexter clearly remembered waking up in jail and who bailed him out. “I even recall the community activist who bailed me out. It was Elroy Williams, Sr., one of the old school communists who was inactive at the time, but still supported the party in any way he could.”
Co-defendant David Rice (later Wopashitwe Mondo Eye we Langa) also remembered Poindexter’s arrest. “The Hoover gang faked up a letter to the Omaha Star, claiming the donations we asked for to get Ed out of jail were obtained falsely because Ed hadn’t been jailed. We didn’t know, at the time, who was behind that, but the fact was Ed had been arrested and jailed.”
After the anonymous letter finally gained Hoover’s approval he added several instructions. “Take the usual security precautions to insure this letter and mailing cannot be traced to the Bureau.”
“Advise the Bureau and San Francisco of any positive results obtained by means of this letter. You are also authorized to discreetly make anonymous local phone calls to the publishers of “Black Realities,” “Everyone Magazine.” and “The Omaha Star.”
“Advise of any positive results obtained by means of these anonymous calls.”
At the end of July a surprise came to Poindexter when a notice appeared in The Black Panther newspaper about Omaha. “The National headquarters of the Black Panther Party would like to inform the people that the National Committee to Combat Fascism in Omaha, Nebraska, is no longer functioning as an organizing bureau of the Black Panther Party.”
The notice provided Paul Young with another opportunity to please Hoover. The Omaha World-Herald published an article on the National Committee to Combat Fascism reporting that the Black Panther Party severed ties with the group. The article made reference to the suspension over a critical letter Ed Poindexter supposedly sent to Black Panther headquarters. The Omaha newspaper interviewed Poindexter about the matter who responded: “We had no knowledge of the letter until recently. Our organization had nothing to do with it.”
Young proposed an anonymous letter to David Hilliard at Black Panther headquarters in Oakland which accused Poindexter of cooperating with “Whiteys newspaper.” While that bogus letter was under review in Washington waiting approval an Omaha policeman was killed in a bombing. A decision was made the day of the murder, August 17, 1970, that Patrolman Larry Minard’s death would be blamed on someone other than the killer. J. Edgar Hoover would have a COINTELPRO proposal with a lethal outcome, Nebraska’s electric chair.
A call was made to FBI headquarters from the Omaha office hours after the bombing. Assistant Director Charles Brennan was informed by memorandum about the call concerning the death of Minard. “Omaha Office offered assistance in covering out-of-state leads and FBI Laboratory facilities offered. Omaha advised it had notified military and Secret Service, was following closely, and alerted its racial informants in pursuit of investigation.”
Brennan was also assured, “Pertinent parts will be included in teletype summary to the White House, Vice President, Attorney General, military and Secret Service.”
Young wasted no time in privately talking to Deputy Chief Glen Gates, who was in charge of the police while the police chief was out of town. According to a confidential FBI memorandum, Young and Gates discussed a piece of crucial evidence, the recorded voice of the anonymous caller captured by the 911 system. The search for truth was over.
Young wrote to J. Edgar Hoover. “Enclosed for the Laboratory is one copy of a tape recording obtained from the Omaha Police Department.”
“The enclosed tape was recorded from an existing tape recording used by the Omaha Police Department in their normal emergency telephone calls.”
“Deputy Chief [Gates] inquired into the possibility of voice analysis of the individual making the call by the FBI Laboratory. He was advised the matter would be considered and that if such analysis were made and if subsequent voice patterns were transmitted for comparison, such analysis would have to be strictly informal, as the FBI could not provide any testimony in the matter; also, only an oral report of the results of such examination would be made to the Police Department. [Gates] stated he understood these terms and stated the Police Department would be extremely appreciative of any assistance in this matter by the FBI and would not embarrass the FBI at a later date, but would use such information for lead purposes only.”
“It should be noted that the police community is extremely upset over this apparent racially motivated, vicious and unnecessary murder….Any assistance rendered along the lines mentioned above would greatly enhance the prestige of the FBI among law enforcement representatives in this area, and I thus strongly recommend that the request be favorably considered.”
At FBI headquarters, William Bradley, a supervisor, sent Ivan Willard Conrad at the FBI Laboratory a memorandum advancing Young’s proposal to withhold a written report on the 911caller’s identity.
“Omaha Office has advised that the Omaha Police Department has requested laboratory assistance in connection with a bombing which took place in Omaha 8/17/70. This bombing resulted in the death of one police officer and the injuring of six other officers and is apparently directly connected with a series of racial bombings which the Omaha Police have experienced. The Police were lured to the bomb site by a telephonic distress call from an unknown male.”
“The SAC, Omaha strongly recommends that the examination requested by the Omaha Police Department be conducted.”
“If approved, the results of any examinations will be orally furnished the Police on an informal basis through the SAC, Omaha.”
A handwritten, initialed notation by Conrad stated, “Dir advised telephonically & said OK to do.”
Hoover was still on vacation when Conrad called him by phone for instructions. Hoover conducted limited FBI business while on vacation and was only called on important matters, however Conrad understood the significance of letting a policeman’s killer get away with murder necessitated making the call.
Mondo’s view was that Young’s memorandum to Hoover on the day of the bombing and Bradley’s memo to Conrad two days later were evidence of the conspiracy against him and Ed Poindexter. “This is pretty clear indication of cloak and dagger stuff. We want you to do the analysis but we don’t want you to put the results in writing. Communicate to us this way. So I suspect that somewhere between that memo and the prior one, the decision was made that the tape would not be part of the trial. A vital issue, a critical issue.”
Hoover’s inner circle of Bureau top executives were on the distribution list and all knew of the misdeed to be done in Omaha and none dissented. Three days later, Bradley sent a second memorandum to Conrad at the FBI Laboratory about the Minard murder.
“In referenced memorandum [8/19/70], the Director approved a request to assist the Omaha Police Department in captioned case through the use of voice comparison examinations by the Laboratory.”
“By telephonic communication 8/21/70, the SAC, Omaha has requested that a Laboratory Supervisor travel to Omaha for the purpose of furnishing technical guidance to the Omaha Police concerning the correct techniques in obtaining known voice samples for comparison purposes and make recommendations as to what commercially available equipment can be used in making known voice recordings.”
“The SAC, Omaha, noted that he had been instructed by the Bureau to suggest steps of possible assistance to the Omaha Police in solving the bombings. He advised technical guidance of the type requested would provide maximum immediate assistance, particularly since the existing recording of the false “bait” complaint to the police is the most important present tangible evidence in the possession of the police, and he recommended the Bureau send a Laboratory representative.”
The FBI top directorate was aware and approved of the plan to conceal the identity of the 911 caller by withholding a formal laboratory report and instead sending a lab technician to Omaha to direct local police. J. Edgar Hoover put his own pen to paper and wrote “OK” on the memo followed with his distinctive “H” initial. The anonymous 911 caller that lured a policeman to his death would not be sought.
Edward Poindexter and David Rice (Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa) were convicted of murder at a controversial trial without the jury ever hearing the 911 recording. Mondo died March 2016 at the Nebraska State Penitentiary serving a life without parole sentence. Poindexter remains imprisoned, forty-nine years later, at the prison. Poindexter continues to maintain his innocence.
Excerpted from FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story, in print edition at Amazon and in ebook. Portions of the book may be read free online at NorthOmahaHistory.com. The book is also available to patrons of the Omaha Public Library.