This is Chapter 4 of FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO, and the Omaha Two story, a tale of injustice and two innocent men sentenced to life in prison because they were leaders of a Black Panthers affiliate chapter. George Wallace triggered rioting in Omaha. Hoover launched COINTELPRO against “Black Nationalist Hate Groups” in Omaha. This is the fourth weekly installment of FRAMED, free to the public.
It was Nebraska’s primary election season and George Wallace was running for president. The Alabama ex-governor came to Omaha to conduct a convention for a place on the ballot. Wallace spoke in the morning of March 4, 1968, to the Omaha Athletic Club denouncing “pseudo-intellectuals” and communists bent on the destruction of American society. Wallace then spoke to a political science class at Omaha University which attracted two hundred and fifty protesters who surrounded his car. The scene was on the evening television news and helped swell attendance at the rally downtown at the Civic Auditorium to form the American Independent Party.
Meanwhile, the third day of a “Racial Conference” convened at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Forty-one field offices were represented, including Special Agent in Charge Paul Young from Omaha. Led by George Moore and William Sullivan, the attending field office supervisors received counterintelligence directives from J. Edgar Hoover. Moore was head of the Racial Intelligence unit, and Sullivan, his boss, was in charge of the Domestic Intelligence Division.i
Five days earlier, in preparation for the conference, Moore had written to Sullivan urging an expanded counterintelligence effort against black nationalists. Moore warned of the “tremendous increase in black nationalist activity” and the approach of summer. Moore urged expanding the list of field offices from twenty-three to forty-one in the COINTELPRO program.ii
Copies of Hoover’s memorandum expanding the existing Black Nationalist counterintelligence program were distributed. The FBI had been conducting active clandestine operations, later dubbed COINTELPRO, against American citizens since 1956 when the Communist Party USA was the first target. In 1967, so-called Black Nationalists were added to the victim list. Paul Young now had new duties.
“The Counterintelligence Program is now being expanded to include 41 offices. Each of the offices added to this program should designate an Agent familiar with black nationalist activity, and interested in counterintelligence to coordinate this program.”iii
“For maximum effectiveness of the Counterintelligence Program, and to prevent wasted effort, long-range goals are being set:”
“1. Prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups…. An effective coalition of black nationalist groups might be the first step toward a real “Mau Mau” in America, the beginning of a true black revolution.”
“2. Prevent the rise of a “messiah” who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement.”
“3. Prevent violence on the part of black nationalist groups….Through counterintelligence it should be possible to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence.”
“4. Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability, by discrediting them.”iv
“5. A final goal should be to prevent the long-range growth of militant black nationalist organizations, especially among youth.”v
“Counterintelligence operations must be approved by the Bureau. 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.”vi
That night, a crowd of five hundred high school and university students gathered outside the Omaha Civic Auditorium to protest against George Wallace. A contingent led by John McCaslin of the Catholic Social Action Office arrived with a group of priests, nuns, and students from nearby Creighton University. McCaslin had been in Selma, Alabama in 1965 with civil rights marchers when they were attacked by police.vii [
Inside the auditorium, five thousand supporters gathered to place Wallace on the Nebraska ballot. Fifty black protesters were given delegate passes by Wallace’s security personnel and allowed onto the arena floor where they took up position standing in front of the podium, blocking the view of those seated in the front rows.
Wallace delayed his entrance for an hour while tension mounted between the protesters and the seated Wallace supporters. Jeers, shouts, and booing greeted Wallace from the protesters when he started to speak. Wallace snorted: “These are the free-speech folks you know. And these are the kind of folks the people in this country are sick and tired of.”viii
The crowd roared in agreement while the demonstrators began tearing up their protest signs and throwing the bits of cardboard and stick at the podium. Police moved in on the group while Wallace crowed, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to say that you ought to be thankful for the police of Omaha.”ix
Mondo was in front of the podium when the police assault began. Mondo was spotted by one of the policemen he regularly taunted. “We were up front sandwiched between the stage and the Wallace supporters. We were heckling, a good line of heckling. Then I saw Duane Pavel come out with a can of Mace and gets me right in the face. It knocked me out. Some people rushed me and picked me up and took me out of the auditorium. I could hear all hell breaking out but I didn’t know what was going on.”x
The Buffalo Chip, an Omaha alternative newspaper, described the frenzied scene. “The unarmed demonstrators turned to flee, and the police followed them, beating them on the back of the head as they ran. As the demonstrators tried to escape, people picked up folding chairs and beat them as they ran by, or threw chairs at them.”
“There was no attempt made by Wallace to calm the crowd or stop the police once it was clear that the demonstrators were leaving. Instead, his words incited the riot, and Mr. Wallace stood on the podium with a little smile on his face.”xi
The blood rage spilled out of the auditorium into the streets and turned to riot. Mayor A. V. Sorenson said in an interview that the police were quick to use their clubs. “Their procedure was to use their clubs at the slightest provocation.”xii
Reverend McCaslin was arrested for disorderly conduct. McCaslin later wrote about the police calling them “trigger-happy bigots” guilty of “petty police harassment and not so petty police brutality.”xiii
The next morning, activist Ernie Chambers prevented a disturbance by students at Horace Mann Junior High from escalating. Over fifty windows were smashed at the school before Chambers was able to calm the students. Central, Techincal, and North High Schools were at half-capacity as students boycotted classes. Police reported seventeen people were injured during rioting. Twenty-seven automobiles were vandalized, ten businesses looted, with six more vandalized. Central High School basketball star Dwaine Dillard was arrested with five others for possession of fire bombs and bricks.xiv
Mondo was out talking to angry black residents of the city. Mondo wrote an account of his own angst and the mood on the streets. “Outside, the police are cruising up and down streets and alleys. Some minutes ago I got back home from 24th Street….Many of us discussed the question of which area of the city should receive the bulk of our payment for “services” given us by the Omaha Police Department and their ignorant supporters Monday night. Others talked about looking forward to killing or beating hell out of whitey.”xv
“As I prepare to retire to the bed, I consider the animal activities of the Omaha Police Department, the unabashed lying of our news media, and the unlimited stupidity of Mayor Sorenson. And I hope that the metal Citizens’ Protection sticks, which I am passing out, will help the police get the kind of justice they have asked for.”xvi
J. Edgar Hoover updated the White House with a memorandum on the rioting in Omaha. “Inspector Monroe Coleman, Omaha, Nebraska, Police Department, advised yesterday that as an aftermath of the appearance of former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace at a political rally…several incidents of violence by Negroes took place in Omaha. Among these were the vandalizing of a pawnshop…and the subsequent fatal shooting of a 16-year-old Negro boy by an off-duty police officer during an attempt by the young Negro to loot the pawnshop. Several assaults by Negroes against white persons also occurred after the former Governor Wallace rally and two of the white persons reportedly were seriously injured. Public buses were stoned by Negroes as they passed through Omaha’s north side and yesterday morning Negro students of several Omaha high schools broke windows in business establishments while on their way to school. The students later caused minor damage in the schools by setting fires in wastebaskets in the restrooms and by throwing rocks through the windows of the schools.”xvii
Hoover soon after wrote to the architect of COINTELPRO, William Sullivan, about the annual inspection report of the Domestic Intelligence Division. “In no area am I more concerned than that involving racial matters. I note there has been a substantial increase in racial informants; however, there is a definite need for more coverage to assure that the Bureau is on top of developments in the racial field….You must provide effective personal leadership to assure that the Bureau fulfills its responsibility in the racial field.”xviii
Hoover followed with a memorandum to all FBI field offices on secret detention list investigations. Hoover reminded Special Agents in Charge 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.”xix
For decades Hoover maintained a detention list of citizens who would be summarily arrested and held without judicial review in the event of a national emergency. In the 1940’s, Attorney General Francis Biddle forbid Hoover from keeping the list. To thwart the command, Hoover changed the list name from the original Dangerous Index to Security Index. After repeal of the Internal Security Act the name of Hoover’s detention list was changed again to the Aministrative Index. The FBI continued to keep a detention list of citizens until after the death of Hoover.
Hoover also kept a list of high priority counterintelligence targets called the Agitator Index. Paul Young’s first COINTELPRO report to J. Edgar Hoover noted the list. “ [REDACTED] is the only militant Black Nationalist carried on the Agitator Index of the Omaha office.”
“Omaha has no suggestions to offer at the present time regarding the over all Counterintelligence Program or administration of this program. It is felt, however, that this program can be very beneficial to the Bureau in helping to prevent the coalition of militant Black Nationalist Groups and violence on their part.”xx
In July 1968, nearly a dozen people were arrested on loitering charges after police cleared the Safeway parking lot at Twenty-fourth and Lake Streets in Omaha. Eddie Bolden and Mondo were among those arrested after a large crowd had gathered in the parking lot.xxi
When Bolden was arrested he informed police he was a Black Panther and that he was at the parking lot “helping cool down” the crowd. Mondo was identified in the daily newspaper by his association with the Asterick and Buffalo Chip newspapers.xxii
Chief of Police Richard Anderson said police believed thirty to forty shots from automatic weapons were fired. Mayor A. V. Sorensen was quoted that police reports suggested four or five snipers were involved. Witnesses reported that most of the purported shots were firecrackers. Police “exchanged gunfire” with the supposed snipers. One man was wounded during the shooting. It was a tense scene with many people standing around during the night.xxiii
Anderson said thirty officers were used to quell the disturbance and although none were shot, the snipers presented a serious problem. Two police cars were vandalized, one by a fire bomb.
The trouble at Safeway followed a fight at the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center where a crowd of two hundred youth had gathered. Police fired eight to ten shots in the air to disperse the group.xxiv
At FBI headquarters, J. Edgar Hoover sent a memorandum to field offices warning about violent New Left activity. Hoover continued to press his Special Agents in Charge to crack down. “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.”xxv
“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.”
Back in Omaha, Municipal Judge D. E. Anderson dismissed loitering charges against ten people including Eddie Bolden and two other Black Panthers. Judge Anderson decided that police failed to adequately prove those arrested had failed to disperse. The charges stemmed from the Safeway parking lot incident.
Mondo, also arrested at the parking lot, did not fare as well in front of Municipal Judge John Clark. Mondo had pleaded not guilty to a charge of failure to disperse. Clark found Mondo guilty and charged him a twenty-five dollar fine.xxvi
In September, sixty people attended the Omaha City Council meeting to ask for the release of three reports on racial conditions in the city. Mayor Sorensen refused and said the reports were not very helpful. “Generally speaking, they add nothing to the reservoir of knowledge we already have about the problem. In substance, all three add up to the same thing: Omaha—like all other cities– has monumental problems in human relations.”xxvii
Before a week passed, a bomb was found against an outside wall of Omaha City Hall. The enamel paint on the hands of the alarm clock used to trigger the device prevented an electrical connection and the bomb did not explode. Police suspected the Black Panthers were responsible but no arrests were made. The unexploded time bomb was a like a metaphor for racial tensions in the city and foreshadowed lethal violence to come.xxviii
FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO, & the Omaha Two story is available at Amazon and in ebook. Portions of the book may be read free online at Northomahahistory.com. Patrons of the Omaha Public Library also enjoy free access.
i FBI Vault, Black Extremists, Sec. 1, p. 65, March 4, 1968
iiChurch Committee, Vol. 6, p. 386, February 29, 1968. George Moore’s unit was renamed at the conference from Internal Security to Racial Intelligence. Black militants replaced communists as the Bureau’s main enemy.
iii FBI Vault, Black Extremists, Sec. 1, p. 68, March 4, 1968
iv FBI Vault, Black Extremists, Sec. 1, p. 69, March 4, 1968
v FBI Vault, Black Extremists, Sec. 1, p. 70, March 4, 1968
vi FBI Vault, Black Extremists, Sec. 1, p. 72, March 4, 1968
vii The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central, Steve Marantz, University of Nebraska Press, p. 142, 2011
viii Author’s recollection from attendance at rally.
ix Author’s recollection from attendance at rally.
xMondo, prison interview, undated. Duane Pavel was an Omaha policeman that Mondo mocked on several occasions.
xi Buffalo Chip, March 1968
xii The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central, Steve Marantz, University of Nebraska Press, p. 165, 2011
xiii The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central, Steve Marantz, University of Nebraska Press, p. 166, 2011
xiv The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central, Steve Marantz, p. 161, University of Nebraska Press, 2011. Dwaine Dillard gave several versions of the story to various people so his guilt is in question. Charges were dropped against Dillard two weeks later for lack of evidence he knew about the firebombs.
xv Buffalo Chip, March 1968.
xvi Buffalo Chip, March 1968
xvii “Selected Racial Developments and Disturbances” Confidential FBI memo to the President, p. 1, March 6, 1968. Declassified August 13, 2002.
xviii Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 1, p. 5, March 7, 1968
xix Church Committee, Vol. 6, p. 667, April 2, 1968
xx FBI Vault, Black Extremists, Sec. 4, p. 37, April 3, 1968
xxi “Judge Frees 3 Panthers,” Omaha World-Herald, August 8, 1968
xxii “Mayor Says Shoot Down Snipers,” Omaha World-Herald, p. 2, July 8, 1968
xxiii “Mayor Says Shoot Sniper, Stop Murder,” Omaha World-Herald, p. 1, July 8, 1968
xxiv “Mayor Says Shoot Down Snipers,” Omaha World-Herald, p. 2, July 8, 1968
xxv Church Committee, Vol. 6, p. 684, July 23, 1964
xxvi “Judge Frees 3 Panthers,” Omaha World-Herald, August 8, 1968
xxvii David Thompson, “Mayor Says Two Reports Confidential,” Omaha World-Herald, September 11, 1968
xxviii U.S. House Committee on Internal Security, Proceedings, p. 4882, Oct. 14, 1970