As part of our ongoing investigation into the true story of the January 6 Capitol incident, Revolver shined a light on the federal government’s widespread use of informants and infiltrators within various extremist (and so-called “extremist”) groups. We explored how the FBI provokes and entraps suspects into participating in crimes that never would have happened without the Bureau’s instigation. And in our massive report earlier this week, we raised questions pointing to the possibility that Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes may be one of these informants and provocateurs.
Repeatedly, Rhodes has injected himself into disputes or ingratiated himself with public figures by deploying the Oath Keepers to provide private personal security, gratis. In 2018, Arizona Oath Keepers provided personal security for Sheriff Joe Arpaio during his Senate campaign.
While offering bodyguard services in and of itself does not suggest any ulterior motives, the role of bodyguard is more or less the perfect role for an informant. The informant is literally required to spend huge amounts of time with the target, and to travel with them. They are often present during private conversations. They have a ready-made excuse to walk around armed, or to obtain access to a person or group’s private correspondence.
It is important to note that the particular Oath Keepers assigned to protection details don’t even have to be informants themselves. In some cases, bodyguards may inadvertently pass information up to their superior. Or, they may be full blown patsies, deployed by a handler who hopes to “flip” or compromise them if or when they end up breaking the law.
As Revolver noted earlier this week, personal security and bodyguards have historically served as a vector for police surveillance. Today, we’ll look at some of these cases in more depth.
Fred Hampton and William O’Neal
As the civil rights era turned sour in the latter half of the 1960s, Fred Hampton was one of the most famous radicals in America. He led the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. A charismatic speaker and leader, Hampton negotiated a truce between Chicago’s street gangs and established a national “Rainbow Coalition” of various Marxist groups around the country. To diehard progressives, Hampton was the man who could turn black liberation politics into a truly revolutionary movement. In the words of a recent film about his life, Hampton was nothing less than a “black Messiah.”
Before Hampton had turned 20, the FBI had bugged his mother’s phone and placed him on its “Agitator Index” of the leading public safety threats to the country.
But the FBI did more than just monitor Hampton at a distance. The bureau got as close to him as it possibly could. In 1968, the bureau recruited car thief William O’Neal as an informant in return for dropping pending criminal charges against him. O’Neal himself described the process in an interview twenty years later:
I was with a guy one night, a friend of mine, one night and we were drinking beer and we decided to go joy riding, and we jumped in a car and stole it. And we were driving round the city of Chicago for, of, forty-five minutes and decided to leave the city, and go visit a relative in another state, and we had an accident out of state, and, prior to the accident, we had walked into a pool hall, and we were shooting pool. And at this, at the door, you had to register your phone number and address, and we wrote down our names and phone numbers then went and shot a game of pool, and then came out and had an accident. We fled the accident on, on foot, um, messed around in the city awhile and then caught a bus back to Chicago. And, oh, about three or four months later I got a call from this FBI agent by the name of Roy Mitchell. … [He said] “I know you did it, but it’s no big thing.” He said, “I’m sure we can work it out.” … One day I got a call and he told me that it was payback time. He said that, “I want you to go and see if you can join the Black Panther Party, and if you can, give me a call.” [WUSTL]
O’Neal, himself just a teenager, joined the Chicago Black Panthers and quickly became Hampton’s personal bodyguard. Getting the job was rather easy:
I think I was about the fifth member in the Chicago Party to join. They had this big office building on the, and up on the second floor they had about five or six offices and very little personnel to run things. So positions, it was easy to get a position. So they appointed me as, as the Security Captain. [WUSTL]
O’Neal wasn’t simply a spy. According to those who knew him, he was also a provocateur.
O’Neal didn’t talk politics. He proposed actions, frequently armed ones. This conflicted with my image of an informant as the silent, observant type, following orders from his control to remain inconspicuous. Looking back, he was clearly a provocateur, but I hadn’t realized then that this could be a good cover for an informant.
Like a lover who discovers betrayal, I reconsidered O’Neal’s behavior in light of the new disclosure. It fit uncomfortably well. He always had money; he was constantly offering to chauffeur Fred and [Bobby] Rush and Deborah [Johnson] in his big car; he never attended political education classes and pushed actions over thought and politics; he advocated the most militaristic line; he often carried a gun; he was constantly suggesting other Panthers engage in criminal activities; he was at Fred’s apartment the night before the raid when everyone else had dinner. Then he left. [Haas, The Assassination of Fred Hampton, p. 174]
At one point, O’Neal reportedly produced a satchel of explosives, and encouraged the Panthers to use them to rob a restaurant. Another time, he allegedly urged members to blow up an armory and steal its guns. Decades later, O’Neal denied the FBI ever encouraged him to act as a provocateur. It’s conceivable that he was genuinely provocative in a hamfisted attempt to blend in.
In December 1969, the infamous police shootout incident that made O’Neal famous went down. Three weeks beforehand, Black Panthers had killed two Chicago police officers and wounded seven more in a fierce gun battle. That incident generated a public outcry and enormous political pressure to suppress the group. Operating with intelligence and a floor plan supplied by O’Neal, Chicago police stormed Hampton’s apartment in a predawn raid on December 4, shooting him and another Black Panther dead.
It is unclear the exact sequence of events that occurred during the raid, but evidence suggests Hampton himself never fired on police and may have still been asleep when he was shot dead. The police appeared to have explicitly engineered the raid to provoke a shooting instead of an arrest and search for evidence. And the raid never would have occurred at all without the cooperation of O’Neal, the bodyguard, as the inside man.
Malcolm X and Gene RobertsFor decades, the New York Police Department monitored the city’s citizens through its Bureau of Special Services and Investigation, or BOSSI. The Bureau presided over a string of successes.
One of BOSSI’s officers, Gene Roberts, served on the security team of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the group founded by Malcolm X after he left the Nation of Islam. How close was Roberts to Malcolm X? So close that when Malcolm was shot, Roberts was the one who administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on his dying body.
Incredibly, police were so committed to maintaining Roberts’s identity that he did not even testify at the trials of the three men eventually convicted in the shooting. Instead, he was kept undercover four more years. Roberts finally revealed himself in 1969 to testify against a group of more than a dozen Black Panthers.
And there could be even more to the story. Earlier this year, the son of former NYPD officer Ray Wood released a letter, ostensibly by his father. Ray Wood was another undercover NYPD officer, and in the letter, purportedly written a decade ago and kept hidden until after his death, he confesses to helping the FBI set the stage for Malcolm X’s murder:
The 2011 letter by the now-dead officer, Raymond A. Wood, stated that Wood had been compelled by his supervisors at the New York Police Department to coax two members of Malcolm X’s security team into committing crimes, leading to their arrests just a few days before the assassination. They were then unable to secure the entry to New York’s Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X had been speaking when he was killed.
“I was a black New York City undercover police officer between May of 1964 through May of 1971,” Wood’s letter began. “I participated in actions that in hindsight were deplorable and detrimental to my own black people. … Under the direction of my handlers, I was told to encourage leaders and members of the civil rights groups to commit felonious acts.”
Wood said he was hired by the NYPD to infiltrate the civil rights groups “to find evidence of criminal activity, so the F.B.I. could discredit and arrest its leaders.” [WaPo]
Although Wood’s alleged activities certainly fit the profile of police entrapment and provocation, the Wood letter’s authenticity is strongly disputed by historians, and may just be the product of a cash-grab by Wood’s son.
Richard Butler and Rico Valentino
Largely forgotten today, Richard Butler is proof that the left has been stoking fears about “fascists” coming out of nowhere to seize power for a long time. Butler was the founder of the Aryan Nations, a church that fused an esoteric brand of Christianity with white supremacy. Butler ran the group from a 20-acre compound near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The group never commanded a large following. A “youth conference” to celebrate the birthday of Adolf Hitler, for instance, attracted no more than 130 attendees.
One day in the mid-80s, a former pro wrestler named Rico Valentino rolled into town, claiming to be a tax fugitive from Alaska hiding out from the IRS. For the next four years, Valentino gradually ingratiated himself with Butler’s strange cult. Soon, Valentino was Butler’s bodyguard, generously traveling with him to events and gatherings across the country. He also offered financial support to the group; in Butler’s words, “He always had a big roll of money and would peel off the hundreds whenever we needed it.”
You know where this is going. The man who spent four years at the heart of Butler’s sad little fascist LARP club turned out to be an informant. In the 1990s, federal agents swooped in to arrest three men for plotting to bomb a gay bar and other targets in the Seattle metro area. While Valentino denied instigating any criminal activity, the bomb plot was hatched in his living room. For his efforts, Valentino was paid $90,000 by the FBI.
After the arrests, Butler was so flabbergasted that he struggled to accept his close friend had been an agent all along.
Valentino wasn’t the only informant inside Butler’s tiny operation, either. In fact, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms had its own man, who claimed he was exposed by Valentino out of the latter’s desire to hog the glory (and possibly the reward money) for himself:
While attending subsequent Aryan Nations meetings, Fadeley said he met Rico Valentino, a 300-pound former professional wrestler who taught martial arts to neo-Nazi skinheads. Fadeley testified Valentino “was always a man with lots of money” who won the adoration the Aryans by paying $80 for a book supposedly autographed by Adolf Hitler.
Valentino, it turned out, was working for the FBI. Fadeley said neither informer knew about the other’s true identity.
“At the end of my experience, I wondered if it was not, in fact, Mr. Valentino who blew my cover,” Fadeley testified.
“Is it your impression that the FBI informant was willing to blow the cover of the ATF informant so the FBI informant could get the full glory?” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked.
“Unfortunately, yes, sir,” Fadeley replied. [The Spokesman-Review]
In a twist of fate, the outing of Fadeley as an informant led directly to the fiasco at Ruby Ridge. After Weaver declined entreaties to serve as an informant in Fadeley’s place, the FBI executed their infamous murderous raid of his compound.
Joe Miller and Bill Fulton
Just two weeks before the 2010 midterms, bodyguard Bill Fulton damaged and embarrassed Joe Miller’s upstart Republican Senate campaign when he handcuffed a reporter lobbing aggressive questions at Miller. Miller went on to lose the race by barely 10,000 votes to incumbent Lisa Murkowski.
But three years later, it turned out that Fulton’s stunt wasn’t just a blunder by a bodyguard. It was a deliberate tactic. In 2013, Fulton revealed that he was only pretending to be conservative. Fulton joined Miller’s campaign as a bodyguard and roughed up a reporter just so he could infiltrate a militia movement in Fairbanks on the FBI’s behalf:
Fulton, revealing he voted for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012, now calls Miller “paranoid” and says he was only feigning right-wing sympathies to boost his business and further embed himself in extremist circles. Handcuffing a journalist helped bolster that image.
“It completely solidified our position within the right wing, which was good, too,” Fulton said of the incident. “Because there’s nothing the right wing likes more than you roughing up the left-wing media and such.” [Huffington Post]
Jim Garrison and Gordon Novel
Not every informant has to be a plant. Some are simply just strange men and women with their own agenda.
New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison was America’s most energetic investigator into John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Unsatisfied with the Warren Commission’s report, from 1966 to 1969 Garrison conducted his own independent inquiry. Garrison’s work led to the release of the Zapruder film, the only video recording of Kennedy’s assassination, to the general public. Over the course of his three year investigation, Garrison came to believe that Kennedy’s murder was orchestrated by the CIA in order to keep Cold War tensions high.
Garrison’s theory is highly questionable, not the least because of just how many people he claimed were in on either the killing or the cover-up. But whether Garrison’s theory was true or a wild fantasy, the federal government couldn’t ignore it. And as part of monitoring Garrison’s efforts, the federal government ended up relying on a second unbalanced individual.
New Orleans businessman and private investigator Gordon Novel quickly attached himself to Garrison’s investigation as a security chief. What he did besides that is difficult to decipher beneath the flurry of lies, allegations, and subsequent denials. Novel claimed to be working for the CIA as well as for the White House, keeping them informed on Garrison’s investigative strategy and sabotaging the operation. There is no proof of a White House connection, and Novel’s claim to be a CIA operative is rejected by both the CIA and an internal FBI memo. Novel also made his own deeply eccentric claims about the JFK assassination, ultimately accusing the FBI of orchestrating both Kennedy’s murder and Garrison’s investigation (as a cover-up). Garrison, for his part, said the CIA did the killing and that Novel was informing on their behalf.
But whether Novel’s claims are partly true or nothing but a blizzard of fabrications from a compulsive liar, one thing is true: Novel was informing for the FBI. According to a CIA memo at the time, Novel made several calls to the FBI to supply them with details about Garrison’s investigation.
Tupac Shakur and Kevin Hackie
Being an aspiring hip-hop artist has always been a dangerous career choice, but in the early 1990s, being a hip-hop star was a particularly lethal occupation. The rivalry between East Coast and West Coast factions was as intense as it was stupid, so it was no surprise that the FBI injected itself into the beef.
From 1992 to 1996, Kevin Hackie was an employee of Death Row Records, the infamous gangsta rap label co-founded by Suge Knight, a member of the Bloods. For three years, he performed bodyguard work for Death Row superstar Tupac Shakur, who was murdered by an unknown gunman in September 1996 (at a time when Hackie was not protecting him). But at the same time, Hackie was also an undercover police officer sending information to the FBI.
Hackie initially admitted to being an FBI informant during his time guarding Shakur, but in 2007 he claimed to have been a full-blown FBI agent. Whether that claim is true is unclear. Intriguingly, the Las Vegas police investigation into Shakur’s death includes an appearance by an unnamed man, possibly Hackie, who claimed to be an FBI agent but gave no proof or even an ID. A Las Vegas police investigation also notes that this man was hindering effective treatment for Shakur.
Celebrity bodyguard Robert DiGiulio, who protected Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and others, was also an informant and helped the FBI build a tax evasion case against one of his charges, boxing star Larry Holmes. And when former Egyptian military officer Emad Salem infiltrated (according to some, entrapped) an Islamic New York City bomb ring, he managed to become the bodyguard for the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel Raman. We could go on and on for a while, but we suspect that you are starting to get the picture.
To be clear, Revolver recognizes the necessity for intelligence gathering and undercover work by law enforcement. But the pattern of abuse of authority is unmistakable and clear. Law enforcement has a clear history of using security and bodyguard work to get close to its targets. Sometimes, they cross the line into provocation or entrapment. And enthusiasts for that kind of work were crawling all over the 1/6 incident. Patriots would do well to be wary.
By all accounts and appearances, the FBI has stepped far outside of its mandate to keep Americans safe — it is now engaged in the business of keeping America’s corrupt ruling class safe from the legal and just opposition of the American people. The mechanism for doing this is the FBI and national security states’ absurd conflation of regular law abiding Trump supporters with so-called “dangerous domestic extremists.” We see this specifically in the agenda to take down Alex Jones, Roger Stone, and others whose sole “crime” was to object politically to America’s corrupt ruling class and be persuasive in doing so. The true danger to our national security is not the 70+ million Americans who voted for Trump or who otherwise object to the direction our great country has taken. Rather, the number one danger to our country is its corrupt and politically weaponized national security apparatus. If we truly intend to Make America Great Again, we must bring this security apparatus to heel where it is once again serving, rather than persecuting, the American people.
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