Cointelpro and the Assassination of Malcolm X

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Counter Intelligence Program and the Assassination of Malcolm X

During the early 1950’s, Malcolm X was the top spokesman for the Black Nationalist Muslim group called the Nation of Islam (NOI). As the national representative of the NOI, Malcolm X attracted the media spotlight by speaking out against the injustices that were being inflicted upon black Americans in the United States (Haley 225). Malcolm later separated from the NOI due to accusations of immoral behavior he made against his leader, Elijah Muhammad, and went on to form his own group called Muslim Mosque Inc. (323). Malcolm was assassinated February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem New York, by black gunmen who were alleged to be members of the Nation of Islam (442-443). According to the book “The Assassination of Malcolm X by George Breitman, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover made Malcolm the subject of an intensive surveillance investigation by the Counter Intelligence Program known by its acronym “Cointelpro” (13). Malcolm, as a Muslim minister in the NOI, had become a powerful speaker equipped with the oratorical skills which provided him the ability to attract large followings of black people into his new organization. However, Hoover had labeled Malcolm a “subversive” and a radical black nationalist whom he felt needed to be “neutralized” (14). What did Hoover mean by “neutralize”? And did the Nation of Islam assassinate Malcolm X, or was this a government conspiracy? These two theories will be addressed in order to answer these questions and others that have been unanswered for 48 years.

Cointelpro was a FBI top secret and illegal political agency, the main agenda of which was to target specific individuals and organizations whose ideas Hoover did not agree with (Blackstock, preface vii). Even though the program was initially started in 1956 to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States, policies were secretly changed under the direction of its founder, Hoover in order to target other organizations (9). Even though the name “Counterintelligence” may imply opposition to anyone who threatens the security of the United States through espionage, the targets were not enemy spies (10). The FBI’s main objective under this program was to eliminate all "radical" political opposition inside the United States by any means necessary (10-11). When traditional methods such as harassment and prosecution failed, the Bureau resorted to illegal and unconstitutional methods by taking the law into its own hands (11). Methods such as intimidation, job loss, violence, and forging letters in order to frame members were just a few tactics used by FBI agents and police informants who had infiltrated targeted organizations (12-13). In instructions to his FBI field operatives, Hoover displayed the outright contempt that he held for the Civil Rights Movement and its black leaders (28). In one specific memo dated August 25, 1967, he explains that the purpose of the program was “to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” the Civil Rights Movement (30). Even though the memo was revealed by Hoover in 1967, two years after Malcolm’s death, tactics had been put into action long before it was distributed as a memo to his agents (30). On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X prepared to give a speech to a crowd of approximately 400 at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York (Evanzz xiv). As he approached the rostrum, a scuffle began in the rear of the ballroom (xv). One of the men yelled “Get your hand out of my pocket.” Malcolm responded by telling the two individuals who were scuffling to “cool it” and to not get excited (xv). As Malcolm tried to calm things down, a large explosion in the back was heard from a smoke bomb, and a man sitting in the front row pulled out a double barreled sawed-off shotgun from under his long coat and fired at Malcolm, striking him in the chest...