Fifty years ago, the House Committee on Internal Security was the successor to the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities. In October 1970, an Internal Security Committee hearing opened that focused on “National Office Operations of the Black Panthers and activities in Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska.” Chief Committee investigator Robert Horner said there were twenty-seven active Black Panther and National Committee to Combat Fascism chapters which he considered virtually the same organization.
“Yes…the name can change from National Committee to Combat Fascism to Black Panther Party and back again, an example being here in Washington, D.C. where the group started out as the National Committee to Combat Fascism and then was upgraded to the status of a Black Panther Party group, which it is now. Whereas in Omaha, where there was a Black Panther Party group, it was downgraded for inactivity to the status of a National Committee to Combat Fascism and has since been ordered out of existence.”
On the other side of Congress there was a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing to “Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Assaults on Law Enforcement Officers” that called Captain Murdock Platner to testify about the August 17, 1970 bombing murder of Omaha Patrolman Larry Minard.
Senator Strom Thurmond advised Platner to “speak off the cuff” in the absence of a written statement. Platner said he was a twenty-five year veteran of the Omaha Police Department and oversaw the intelligence squad among other duties. Platner told of “hard- core militants” and an unexploded bomb at City Hall. “This was shortly after Eldridge Cleaver had been in Omaha and made a speech in which he advocated the doing away with police officers.”
According to Platner: “Wilfred Crutch Holliday, who was identified as a Black Panther from San Francisco….left Omaha shortly after this and returned to San Francisco, and has been arrested and convicted of assault on a police officer and is in the penitentiary at this time. An informant told us that Holliday appeared before 30 people and about 10 of these were Black Panthers and the rest were just people who were interested in hanging around socially, or something, and the meeting was not going very good. Nobody acted very interested, and he went outside to his car and took a shotgun out of the car and came back in and stood before these people, yelling and screaming and waving the shotgun, and saying “Let’s get whitey, let’s kill the pigs.” At this time, the term “off-the-pig” was introduced into Omaha. Prior to that, the Omaha police had not heard that.”
“It is known there were militants from Des Moines, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and San Francisco in Omaha.”
“Many militants from other cities came into Omaha during this time and attempted to start things. From informants, we learned that all types of assaults and ambushes were planned against officers. Some of the Black Panthers who had been in Omaha from California returned. There were others from other cities. A monitoring system was set up by the Black Panthers and they monitored all police calls, and every time a car was dispatched to an area on a call such as an accident or a fight in the street, or so on, several militants would show up. They would try to get the crowd around the people, around the officers, to do something. They started rumors.”
“This resulted in the police having to fight for their lives just to get out of the crowd or get their cars out. Violators were released, or else were taken away from the officers, and this resulted in quite a few cases having to be just forgotten about, because we were not able to find the parties again; we were not able to arrest on sight. My point is this type of operation against the police has occurred all over the United States, and this is the pattern that is followed, and it seems to me that it has to be a nationwide plan. It has been repeated, I know, in several other cities, from my conversations with other intelligence officers and from what I have read in the newspapers.”
“In March of 1970, the Black Panthers in San Francisco issued a statement to the press that they were denouncing the Omaha militants and that they would not have any connection with the Black Panthers anymore. This came up over a letter that was written by one of the men in the Black Panthers in Omaha to the San Francisco chapter. I do not recall offhand what it said. It had something to do with not doing what they wanted them to do. This group reorganized, then; almost all the same people, again, and they called themselves the National Committee to Combat Fascism. This is the name they use at this time. They became very active, and they met very frequently, traveled back almost weekly, Des Moines, Kansas City, and on occasion two of these people went to California to speak with members there. They started in, repeatedly, forcing confrontations with the police which then resulted in several misdemeanor arrests, which they made the most of, saying that we were persecuting these people. This was the type of thing where a Black Panther would be in a car driving alongside of a police car and point a gun at the officer and say, “You are going to die,” with a few slang words thrown in with it. We know that they were buying at this time quite a few pistols, rifles, shotguns, and ammunition. We had information, received from maybe not too confidential a source, that they possessed dynamite, that they possessed hand-grenades, and so far as we know they were trying to buy machine- guns.”
“A bomb was exploded in the North Assembly Area, which is an outlying police station….This occurred as rollcall was being held, around 11:30 that night. There were 20 police officers at this rollcall. This bomb was set off on the back side of the building, and if it had been set on the other side, it probably would have collapsed that whole part there, and no telling how many officers would have been injured. There was no officer actually severely injured, just their hearing, and some of the uniforms were dirty and what-not. This bomb was of such force that it cracked this building from end to end, clear from the back toward the front….which I heard, through informants, was done by the Black Panthers.”
Platner described the August 17, 1970 bombing murder of Larry Minard where police were lured to a vacant house by an anonymous 911 call.
“We have since arrested three black militants. They have been charged in this assault with murder. From testimony at the preliminary hearing, it is known that two of the suspects made this bomb, and it was made exactly as the one in the toolbox that was made in Des Moines. We know that these two men had been traveling back and forth to Des Moines and Kansas City and that one of them had, on occasion, been to San Francisco. This is all within 2 weeks to 2 months prior to this officer being killed.”
“All of the information we have indicates that these militants were taught in Des Moines or Kansas City or San Francisco about how to make an ambush, how to make the weapon, and then how to put it into practice. It is my opinion that the Omaha militants were pushed into doing something drastic in Omaha because they were trying to regain their standing in the national organization. There definitely are connections between militants in Omaha and many other cities in other States. All of the Omaha police officers have, I know, heard many times militants advocating the killing of police officers, off-the-pigs.”
Platner returned to Washington the following week for testimony before the House Committee on Internal Security. This time Platner would give a different version of the story about construction of the bomb but no one knew because neither hearing was reported in Omaha.
Representative William Scherle of Iowa was present. The Minard murder was big news back home and Scherle wanted to investigate the matter himself. Murdock Platner read a prepared statement this time that both elaborated on and contradicted his earlier testimony.
“I will outline for you the development of the militant actions in Omaha that led up to the murder of a police officer. Eldridge Cleaver came to Omaha and spoke to about 400 people in a city park. Several Black Panthers from California were in Omaha at this time.”
“Cleaver’s speech that he made in the park was mainly about the revolution and violence against police officers.”
“This was one of the first speeches that they had in Omaha by any known militants or especially any Black Panther. He mostly used a lot of four-letter words, cussing the Establishment and cussing the whole police department.”
Platner mentioned the 1969 shooting of fourteen year-old Vivian Strong. “The next night after the girl was killed rioting and burning started. Several businesses were burned out in the Negro area. This lasted for 3 days. During the entire week militants from other cities came to Omaha. This was established through informants and surveillance of autos with out-of-State plates that were spotted in the area….Cars from California, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado were in the area.”
Platner described the deadly blast in Omaha. “A 16-year-old Black Panther was arrested for the murder and implicated the deputy chairman, Edward Poindexter, and the deputy minister of information, David Rice, of the NCCF party, who were arrested and have been ordered to stand trial in district court for murder. Dynamite similar to that stolen from the Quick Supply in Des Moines was found in the home of one of the above. It is believed it is part of the supply from which the bombs were made.”
Representative Scherle then asked questions about Omaha’s anti-poverty agencies and their hiring practices. Platner replied the police had not been requested to run background checks. Scherle revealed he tried to influence the hiring policy of Omaha’s anti-poverty programs. “I have made numerous visits to Omaha concerning the poverty agencies, the Job Corps, and other areas that fell under the jurisdiction of our committee. I sent a letter to the OEO asking them about the hiring practices concerning these people a year in advance. They just didn’t do a thing about it.”
“I think the thing that concerns me so much is the great association of militancy with our poverty agencies. I am sure that if they were much more responsible in the people they hire I am sure there would be less damage, a better image as far as agencies are concerned.”
“I have a letter here concerning David Rice, who had written for underground newspapers, whose history was well known and he also was employed by GOCA, Greater Omaha Community Action. This had been called to their attention numerous times; nothing had been done. I had sent a letter to the OEO once again concerning this person, and finally Reverend Rudolph McNair, who is the head of the GOCA board, fired him for incompetence and being absent on the job and numerous other reasons.”
“I would like to read this letter in the record written to me by a United States attorney, District of Nebraska.”
“I bless you for your activities in turning the cold light of dawn upon those who would destroy our Country’s development. I am particularly distressed that some of these people are beneficiaries from a government that they would destroy.”
“Such a man is David L. Rice, who can be most easily identified by the enclosed clipping out of the Sun newspapers of Omaha, Nebraska, where this bum operates. As you notice, he sneers at the Constitution and its provisions but saw fit to take the Fifth Amendment when called before a Federal Grand Jury inquiring into the installation of a school designed to train young Blacks to bomb, kill and take over the Country, this using the Government he would destroy.”
“The most tragic thing is, this man is an employee of the Greater Omaha Community Action group, financed by O.E.O. money. It causes me to lose sleep to think that I am paying a portion of the salary of this American rat.”
Scherle asked Platner who were “two of the Omaha militants” traveling to Des Moines and Kansas City. Platner answered, “David Rice and Edward Poindexter.”
Platner went on to falsely describe Duane Peak’s testimony at the preliminary hearing and wrongly claimed that Rice supplied the suitcase and dynamite for the bomb instead of Raleigh House. “I can tell you this, that one of the suspects in this, Duane Peak, a 16-year-old boy who was arrested, testified in a preliminary hearing, he testified that David Rice brought a suitcase filled with dynamite to his house or to somebody’s house. I am not for sure just which place; that they removed all the dynamite from the suitcase except three sticks; made the bomb, the triggering device, and so on, and put it together; and then packed the suitcase with newspapers and that he left with this suitcase.”
“Now I am a little bit hesitant to go into the rest of this because there is a trial yet to be held. I don’t know what I should say.”
Scherle renewed his criticism of anti-poverty agency hiring practices, concluding that the Office of Economic Opportunity played a role in the murder of the Omaha policeman. “I guess Des Moines and Omaha are just as guilty as the rest of the country, that because we have not taken the time to screen and properly hire these people…we end up with a group of questionable characters, murderers in this instance, hired by tax dollars.”
“I can’t help but feel in my own mind that the OEO and the anti-poverty agencies played a very important part in the boobytrap murder of Larry Minard….I don’t know what it is going to take to force them to screen their employees more properly….Because it was not done in Omaha we have a widow.”
Platner replied. “Congressman, I for one, I would like to express my appreciation to you for having brought this out and I will say to put the heat on the people responsible and try to get something done about it. I appreciate it.”
Edward Poindexter and David Rice (later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa) were convicted of murder in April 1971 following a controversial trial marred by conflicting police testimony. Mondo died in March 2016 at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary serving a life sentence. Poindexter remains imprisoned a half-century after the bombing and continues to proclaim his innocence. Governor Pete Ricketts has refused to expedite Poindexter’s request for a commutation of sentence despite his high-risk status for the Covid virus. A commutation would make Poindexter eligible for parole or release.
Ed Poindexter gets the last word. “I honestly believe that I am going to get justice eventually.”
Excerpted from FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story, in print edition at Amazon and available 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.