"COINTELPRO is still here," Bobby Seale told an audience at last weekends Black Panther reunion. "They still tap my phone to this day."
Clearly Seale still retains some of the paranoia of his Panther days. Much of the ideological baggage of the 1960s, however, hes left behind.
Seale, to the shock of some in the audience, declared, "Race is bullshit!" He ridiculed Nation of Islam theories that maintain that an evil scientist created whites in a laboratory. After the human genome project was complete, Seale remarked that he realized that humans are actually more than 99% alike. Seale labeled the preoccupation with Marxism by many radicals as an exercise in "intellectual masturbation." The revolution he now seeks, he proclaimed, has nothing to do with violence. Hes abandoned the Panthers past enthusiasm for guns as well. "I dont think you need guns," he remarked. "I dont see the relevance of guns."
The University of the District of Columbia audience witnessed Seale honestly address some of the lawbreaking committed by his fellow Party members. Seale declared, "I love Huey, but Huey used to do some crazy stuff." Seale recounted how Newton used to lurk for prey outside of the emergency room of an Oakland hospital. When patients were rushed into the emergency room from cars, Newton would steal from the abandoned vehicles. At another session, Seale candidly discussed the botched robbery of a gas station by a Panther.
Despite his willingness to reevaluate past Panther dogma and frankly confront misdeeds by individual Panthers, there are some aspects of the Black Panther Party that Seale clearly did not want to revisit.
"David Horowitz wants to paint all the Black Panther Party, as he puts it, as Black Panther murderers," Seale responded to this writers query about Panther crimes alleged by Horowitz. "He cant do it. Hes angry."
The specific allegations made by David Horowitz, and relayed to Seale last weekend, involve Black Panther leaders embezzling funds and murdering a potential whistleblower, Betty Van Patter. Seale didnt deny the allegations. In fact, everything that he saidother than obligatory condemnations of Horowitz as a liarsupported Horowitzs charge.
"Supposedly, Huey Newton, or Elaine Brown or somebody, had taken $100,000 And Huey Newton did serve six months in jail for personal use of $100,000," Seale admitted, adding, "Remember, this was all after I left the Party." Van Patter, who served the Party in an accounting capacity, uncovered severe financial improprieties by the Panthers. On December 13, 1974, Van Patter disappeared. Her dead body, head caved in, would later turn up in San Francisco Bay.
Seale allows that things were getting out of hand in the Party by the mid 70s. "I wanted to stop the Black Panther Party," the graying radical confessed. "I had stumbled on Huey Newton abusing cocaine at the timeviciously. I stumbled on him trying to take over the drug trade operation in Oakland, California." Seale admitted that Newton attempted to shake down pimps and drug dealers, and as a result, the neer-do-well population of Oakland took out a contract on Newtons life. "I was very, very pissed," Seale maintains. "If I stayed around, I probably would have killed Huey myself."
Later, Seale offered a tacit acknowledgement that the Panthers probably did indeed kill Van Patter. David Horowitz, he remarked, is "probably still feeling guilty because he left Betty Van Patter there." If the Panthers didnt kill Van Patter, what would Horowitz have to feel guilty about?
Despite offering no dispute to the substance of Horowitzs specific charge, Seale still felt compelled to deny that his old ideological comrade was right. "I got David Horowitz on a live radio show and balled his butt out about every lie he told in his books."
"David Horowitz cannot write us out of history like that," Seale proclaimed. "He can try all he wants." The Panthers, as Seale correctly recognizes, cannot be erased from our cultural memory. Yet its not David Horowitz, but the unflattering truth, that secures the Black Panthers a place of infamy in the annals of history.
Dan Flynn is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia and author of the forthcoming Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum). This Saturday, organizers of the Black Panther Reunion kicked him out of their conference.
No, no, no! Say it ain't so -oh, I feel so betrayed...