One of the stories raging across the internet since Monday, August 20, has been the accusation made by journalist Seth Rosenfeld that Richard Aoki, reknown Asian American radical, was an FBI informant. The articles can be read here (SFGate) and here (CIR) As shock waves initially rippled through the internet, more astute social movement activists stepped up to question the evidence, which consists of a single page FBI document dated 1967, which has “Richard Matsui Aoki” (his middle name is Masato) on it, and some taped interviews. Aoki’s biographer Diane C. Fujino, author of Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life, faced off with Seth Rosenfeld on “Democracy Now” this morning, to discuss the basis for Rosenfeld’s accusations. “Democracy Now’s” Amy Goodman raised the question that Fujino had about whether this could be a case of “snitch jacketing” by the FBI, whereby unsubstantiated rumors are floated out about a particular person being an FBI informant so that this person can no longer function with any credibility.
It is interesting to note the timing of these allegations against Aoki. Fujino’s book, which showcases Aoki’s own words through oral history transcription, was only just recently released a few months ago (University of Minnesota Press—May 2, 2012 ). And now, on the heels of her book comes Seth Rosenfeld’s Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power (Farrar, Straus and Giroux—August 21, 2012). Aoki’s role is of minor mention in Subversives, which makes the news of Aoki being an FBI informant suspiciously targeted at: 1) hyping up the release of Rosenfeld’s book the day after this story hit the wires, and 2) discredit Aoki’s voice, which was carefully left unadulterated by biographer Fujino.
The Center for Investigative Reporting and San Francisco Chronicle‘s SFGate website broke the story. Much of Rosenfeld’s and CIR’s “evidence” is based on a video interview with retired FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen, who never knew Aoki personally, and yet he worked on a squad that investigated the Black Panther Party. That in itself seems strange. The other “hard evidence” comes from FBI agent Burney Threadgill, who is now deceased.
With no conclusive evidence either way, this story continues to unfold. It is possible that there won’t be conclusive evidence on this in the immediate future, or possibly ever. We do, however, recognize Richard Aoki’s influence and contribution to the important social justice movements within our collective histories, as well as to the Asian American community as a whole, and we hope that his legacy will not be so quickly dismissed.
We would appreciate any of your comments or concerns to be posted on the Center’s Facebook page.
Below are links to some of the current commentary already presented on Richard Aoki and these accusations. If you have any other informative links you would like to share, please let us know.
Fred Ho: “Fred Ho refutes the claim that Aoki was an FBI informant” (via SF BayView)
Ben Wang & Mike Cheng: “Statement Regarding Allegations That Richard Aoki Was an FBI Informant by Ben Wang & Mike Cheng” (via AokiFilm.com)
Lee Lew Lee: “Lee Lew Lee on Richard Aoki“(via Moorbey’s Blog)
Scott Kurashige: “Each Generation Must Discover Its Own History: Some Thoughts on the Richard Aoki Debate” (Part 1) (via 8asians.com)
Amerasia Journal has a forthcoming review section (summer 2013) on Samurai Among Panthers by people who knew Richard Aoki from UC Berkeley’s Third World Strike in 1969 to the last years of his life.