Dhoruba Bin Wahad:
”Drugs and Black Resistance”
Dhoruba Bin Wahad interviewed by Bill Weinberg
Dhoruba Bin Wahad : Veteran Black Panther and 19-year political prisoner
Dhoruba Bin Wahad (formerly Richard Moore) won his freedom in 1990 after a New York State judge found that the FBI had suppressed evidence that could have helped clear him of his 1971 attempted double-cop murder charge.
Since his release, he has returned to outspoken political activism, and has been particularly vocal against the War on Drugs. With his newly-organized Black Coalition on Drugs, he advocates decriminalization and "harm reduction" strategies. After 19 years in prison - seven of them in solitary confinement - Dhoruba Bin Wahad has no apologies and no regrets. He spoke to us a week after speaking at the Cures Not Wars rally against the Drug War in New York's Washington Square Park on May 6. Photographer John Penley also participated in the interview.
BW: Have you seen the flick Panther? What do you think of it?
DBW: Yeah, I saw Panther. I mean, everybody hates the movie who has some political consciousness. I see this movie in the context of my own experience, rather than in the context of where we're at now in 1995 in terms of the consciousness of African American people and people in general about radical alternatives. One of the things that people don't realize is how effectively radical analysis has been removed from the debate around issues that affect people's lives. There are very few radical or revolutionary alternatives presented in debates around issues. This is a direct consequence, of course, of the Counter-Intelligence Program. The FBI's Counter-Intelligence Program effectively changed the political landscape of this society. It delegitimized militancy, it delegitimized revolutionary consciousness. And the way it delegitimized that was by criminalizing revolutionaries and criminalizing the movement. And the criminalization process is continuing today in the African American community.
For instance, you can talk about the War on Drugs. The face of the War on Drugs in America is the face of African people, its the face of Latinos. Its the face of people of color - that's the face of the quote-unquote "criminals" who are the targets of this War on Drugs. And this image, this illusion, is perpetrated by the mass media, which plays upon people's emotions to gain support for the War on Drugs. For instance, we have this new term "narcoterrorist", which combines fear of a drug-ridden society with the image of people who hate America and just want to kill Americans. And the face of "terrorism" is usually Islamic fundamentalists, or foreign revolutionaries. And of course the ability of the state - and I think this is the bottom line - to control the democratization of technology is directly contingent upon its capacity to get the masses to subsidize and support their own repression through the creation of foreign or domestic enemies.
BW: What do you mean by the "democratization of technology"?
DBW: Because of the giant strides of technology, especially in the realm of organizing information through computers and electronic media, this technology is readily accessible to anyone. You can buy a PC and CD ROM system and tune in to some of the most sophisticated levels of organized information in the world. You can tap into mainframe information banks. This was unheard of as little as 20 years ago. As young people come up in a society that's increasingly dependent upon information, if they have this kind of access they could influence debates, they could begin to think for themselves, they could begin to search out other like-minded folks.
This you see in its most bizarre form in the right wing's use of the Internet. They were building bombs on the Internet! But this same technology means that people all over the world can exchange information and have access to the same type of information. Information is intelligence, the ability to make intelligent decisions.
BW: OK, so how is this process of the democratization of technology being controlled?
DBW: Its being controlled in a whole host of ways. You've noticed the recent brouhaha of the Clipper Chip? We know that technology is the modern means by which the rich utilize the labor of the poor to transfer wealth to themselves. Technology is now very important in criminal law enforcement. It is very important in the state's ability to control its own vast bureaucracy. So the state is completely dependant on technology, and of course the state is a creature of the rich. So, they are trying to control who has access to certain types of information. They say they have to write new laws to deal with freedom of speech in the electronic age. There's security concerns, where you might access someone's business files or bank account. They're moving away from cash to plastic, so they'll have to have a more efficient way of identifying people. They want one universal number, maybe your Social Security number. Look where we're moving. We're moving to restrict people's access to certain basic resources unless they go through a certain type of electronical processes.
And I don't want to sound like someone who's afraid of technology - I'm not. What I'm saying is that what people don't understand is that the organization of information is a revolutionary phenomenon that is happening right now as we speak. And as long as this organization of information is in the hands of a system which has had a history of utilizing its military, its police forces and any other tools at its disposal to control its people, to usurp people's rights, their lands, their lives - we should be very suspicious, at the minimum, of this process; we should question this process. And its happening on a multiplicity of levels under different guises.
For instance, you would not be able to create Robocop if you didn't have the justification for Robocop. The War on Drugs, the war against so-called terrorism, have managed to divert millions of dollars which would have gone into the defense industries of the United States and other European nation-states into the police and security apparatuses. Remember all the billions of dollars that were spent during the Cold War to develop the atomic bomb and the security apparatus to maintain it. Meanwhile, in all of the Third World nations, you have reactionary regimes tied to European nation-states like the United States, France and Britain, who are carrying out genocidal policies against their own people, who are depleting their own natural resources in order to maintain a certain economic level in the developed nations. So even between North and South, between haves and have-nots, this is being carried out. So, this is the point. Increasingly domestic policy is translated into US foreign policy, in culture, in terms of training military and police, in the development of infrastructure and institutions - they're all beginning to mimic the European nation-state model. And with that, of course, is this inherent ideology that the citizens of the state are potential subversives.
BW: What has all this to do with movie Panther?
DBW: The movie Panther - even though it is not an accurate portrayal of the Black Panther Party - shows how the police were very brutal and racist and functioned in a way that was above the law because they had a mandate to terrorize the African American community. And it shows that the way that we dealt with that was to organize in our communities around those issues that related to people's lives. And we showed that we were ready to stand fast against that type of repression, and indeed, if necessary, kill in our defense of these ideals. And three, that drugs - hard drugs, heroin - were introduced into the African American community for political reasons, to control, to misdirect and ultimately to defuse the development of revolutionary consciousness. These three messages come across clear in the movie. And it is for those reasons that I appreciate the movie.
What it didn't show was that the consequence of developing a revolutionary consciousness would inevitably mean that you were going to become the targets of the state. And once you became the targets of the state, there were no holds barred. And the way they went about doing that, of course, was to first demonize the Black Panther Party in the minds of white people, so the police would be seen as having a difficult time at best, and therefore you couldn't be too critical of how they act. And that plays, of course, off of the racist mentality that underlies this society, especially among white males, in relationship to black people and black males.
For instance, when we something like Rodney King happen, the jury can come back and acquit these individuals because they rationalize, "Well, this was a big, black dude, you know, he just wouldn't lay down, they had a hard job, so they had to do what they did, how else were they gonna survive in that ghetto, so what?" So once you realize that we are going to struggle against these conditions by any means necessary, that means that there are going to be those of you who are going to be framed, who are going to be murdered, who are going to be forced into exile.
BW: That's what happened to you.
DBW: That's what happened to me, and that's what happened to Mumia Abu Jamal. That's why Mumia Abu Jamal is on death row. Which of course brings us to another issue - the death penalty in this country. And if we really deal with the death penalty in this country, and its administration and its purpose, we can only conclude that the death penalty does not protect its citizens. In fact, it legalizes the murder of citizens under the guise of protection and law enforcement. In those states which have the death penalty, homicide is not appreciably deteriorated. But the new Omnibus Criminal statute significantly increases the crimes that are punishable by death. And they make struggle by the oppressed - when defined as terrorism - punishable by death as a means of intimidating those who would stand up against tyranny. This is what happens, you get electrocuted, you get a lethal injection.
People are beginning to participate in this frenzy. With the new election of Congress, you had this right-wing upsurge in the United States, with the Newt Gingrich gang. This is an indication that people in this country, especially white people, are completely baffled by the machinations of the national security state. They are creating a society that will have nothing to do any more with democracy, if it ever did. Just yesterday in the newspaper, Giuliani was praising Mussolini!
BW: Yeah, I saw that. He met with some Italian neo-fascist legislator who is openly nostalgic for Mussolini, and he defended him to the press.
DBW: Now could you imagine if Mayor Dinkins had praised Idi Amin? If he has said that at least under Idi Amin, Africans ran their own resources because he ran all the non-Africans out... I mean, can you imagine what would have happened? You see, what I'm saying is that nobody sees these things as a contradiction no more.
BW: You did 19 years in prison for attempted murder of two New York City police. And in the interim, new evidence came to light indicating that you had been framed. How did that new evidence come to light, and what is your current legal status?
DBW: It came to light as a consequence of a long struggle to prove my innocence. In 1975, four years after I was captured. I filed a suit in federal court, in the Southern District in New York. At that time they had the Church Committee hearings on government excess as a consequence of Watergate and all that stuff, and it was revealed that the FBI had carried out this massive Counter-Intelligence Program in the African American community and especially against the Black Panther Party. So when I heard this - knowing that I was innocent, of course - I knew that the FBI must have information about my case and I filed my suit. They danced around for five years, and then in 1980, the federal judge ordered the FBI to turn over all of their documents that they had on me and the Black Panther Party in New York. And they turned over 300,000 pages. And when we went over these documents we found material that indicated that they were working with the New York City Police Department every step of the way and that at major junctures in the investigation into the shooting, they had been present, and that they had taken in the same information. But, unlike the New York City Police Department, they didn't make like they had lost theirs. Because they needed their information to be accurate. So I got some of these documents. They were heavily excised, heavily deleted. But after fighting over each deletion, we got enough evidence to go back into state court and overturn my conviction. That was another three-year process.
So in 1990, I was released as a consequence of this. I was the first and only member of the Black Panther Party leadership to overturn a conviction based on evidence received from the Counter-Intelligence Program.
BW: Is there going to be a retrial?
DBW: No, they surrendered.
BW: How's your case going? Are you still suing the FBI and the New York State prison service?
DBW: Well, yes. They're starting to surrender too.
BW: You think they're going to settle?
DBW: Yes, I do.
BW: How did you survive 19 years in prison?
DBW: Shawshank Redemption! [Laughs]
BW: I didn't see that one.
DBW: Its actually quite a good movie. How did I survive? Doing chin-ups, man. "Drink plenty of water and walk slow" - that's what they say inside. Don't let it get you. I survived by focussing my attention on the struggle, on the outside.
BW: There's a scene in Panther where the Panthers raid a heroin warehouse. You were involved in similar incidents.
DBW: Yeah, there was a place that the police let operate in Harlem; it operated with their knowledge, and their pay-offs. We, the Black Liberation Army, the underground in the black community, had a policy of anti-heroin interdiction. A lot of these guys who I grew up with in the South Bronx who were selling heroin - they knew that what they were doing was having a debilitating effect on the black community. They knew it wasn't right, but they were just in it for the money. So the only way that you could deal with these individuals was to deal with them on a level that they could understand. They understood violence. They understood intimidation. They understood controlling territory. So we had to wage that type of struggle with them. Of course, they had the police on their side.
So we would try to identify where they hung out, where their processing places were, and we would knock them off. The most heinous drug dealers, of course, we would have to try to make an example out of. I can't go into that.
But the police used the drug dealers as their network against the black underground. They would tell them, look, you're not dealing any drugs here unless you give us what we want. So they would use their network of drug dealers and informants in order to get information on the Black Liberation Army.
This is not inconsistent with the government's relationship to hard drugs and to heroin historically. We can look at the Vietnam war, look at the secret wars in Cambodia and Laos, where the US subsidized the northern war lords, many of whom were renegades from the Koumintang who were run out of China. They brought their opium to the processing labs in Hong Kong and trans-shipped that heroin to the United States and the African community. And this was subsequent to the initial contacts with Lucky Luciano and the Italian Mafia in World War II, in which Luciano, in exchange for his freedom and carte blanche to reorganize the Sicilian Mafia, promised the US they would have no labor problems with the longshoremen and that they would have in place an underground network when they invaded Italy and Sicily. And after the war, of course we all know that the mob got lots of war surplus goods, they got fat off the Marshall Plan in Italy, just like the old Nazi-collaborationist industrialists did in Germany, the Krupps and the Farbens. So its not inconsistent that the police worked hand-in-hand in the black community with the heroin dealers.
BW: So these actions against heroin dealers were carried out in 1971 by the Black Liberation Army. Did the BLA develop from elements within the Black Panther Party here in New York City?
DBW: This is true. It developed that way as a consequence of a split within the Black Panther Party. It was an ideological split, but it was also a split that was manufactured by the Counter-Intelligence Program, and in certain respects by the cocaine addiction of people like Huey Newton and David Hilliard. The Counter-Intelligence Program was able to focus in on these weaknesses in the leadership, and that led to a split in the Party which, absent the government's involvement and absent a certain amount of paranoia on the part of the leadership, could have been resolved. But because these forces were there to make sure these contradictions were never resolved, the Party was split. And then the government really went after the most militant faction, the so-called Eldridge Cleaver faction which was mainly in the eastern United States. And this was the beginning of the Black Liberation Army.
On the other hand, the West Coast faction of the party went more into electoral politics and, not ironically, into gangsterism. When they went into straight electoral politics without the revolutionary nationalist perspective that we had on the East Coast, they resorted to gangsterism. Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown ran for office, and that really set the stage for the first election of a black mayor in Oakland. I'm not saying that their involvement in electoral politics in the Bay Area didn't have a significant empowering impact on the black community there. I don't think that was ever the criticism. But its not coincidental that at the same time that they did that, they were into gangsterism. The Party lost all relationship to the organization that I had joined - politically, ideologically, morally.
BW: Tell us about the work you're currently doing in Africa.
DBW: I'm trying to set up a Database Institute for the Development of Pan-African Policy. Which basically hopes to embody Kwame Nkrumah's axiom that before Africa could achieve economic unity it first must achieve political unity. And I think that one of the keys to organizing the African American community here is to organize Africans everywhere, internationally, around a common vision and a common perception of the African condition. So I'm trying to set up an institute that will develop policies, programs, and ideas, and bring together people from the African diaspora around the world.
We have NGO status in Africa. We are trying to train Africans in the diaspora and Africans on the continent into a common language and a common organizational network, and organizing information through the Internet. It'll be a database institute much like the RAND Institute, much like any other institution that studies problems and presents solutions and analyses to heads of governments and people in positions to make these policies into viable programs. For instance, we have a center that studies the contemporary political, social and geographical problems of Africa, and presents its findings to the various governments in the Organization of African Unity.
BW: Tell us about your current work here in the US.
DBW: I work with the Campaign to Free Black and New Afrikan Political Prisoners in the US. One of the things we are doing now is raising petitions for Mumia. Right now we have about 2,000 signatures. We're going to present those names not only to the governor of Pennsylvania, but also to the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who we have a relationship with, and hopefully encourage him to speak out against the death penalty in general and against Mumia' s execution in particular.
We also are currently starting to develop a mobilization of young people around an independent political movement in this city. Its still in its infant stages at this point. But there's a considerable amount of potential. We think the time is right in this city for an independent black political party. At the same time, we feel the time is right for a coalition in this city that transcends class and caste and gender. People in this city are sorely oppressed, whether they're black, white, male, female, gay, straight. We are all subjected to the Giuliani and Pataki economic program, which is subsidies for the rich and subjection for the poor. So I think that this city is ripe for a grassroots political movement, ripe for an insurgency within rank-and-file of organized labor. I think that all of these potentialities are here, but many of us who claim to be activists are not willing to come together and deal with them in any type of coherent fashion.
BW: What would be the stance of this party towards the left wing of the Democratic machine, Dennis Rivera, Ruth Messinger, et cetera?
DBW: Well, of course an independent political tendency in this city would have to see the Democratic Party and the Republican Party as part-and-parcel of the same thing. However, we realize that there are progressive people in the Democratic Party who are black, and who are white and who are Latino. And there may be progressive people who have gotten into the Republican Party as a means of organizing from within. That may well be. But we think that if they are truly progressive, that they will support within their own party the same kind of agenda that we support. So the presence of an independent political party can only strengthen their hand inside the Democratic or Republican party, it can only enhance their position. So we don't see them as being mutually exclusive.
I think that black folks and poor people want results. And they can't get results inside an institution that's ultimately controlled by people like Stanley Hill and other opportunists who pull $100,000 salaries, who have no relationship to the masses of people. I don't think that the communities want that kind of political representation anymore.
BW: You've spoken against the militarization in the name of the War on Drugs. What kind of solutions do you see to the drug crisis? Do you support legalization?
DBW: I support decriminalization, because I think that decriminalization is in the interests of poor people in the African American community. I think its very important for people to understand what a political pretext for repression the War on Drugs is, and how the War on Drugs has translated into a war on black America. Its important for us to understand that the entire militarization of the police department in our community has gone on in the past ten years under the rubric of the War on Drugs. The erosion of our civil rights has occurred to a significant degree as a consequence of the War on Drugs. We have to understand that 80 to 85 percent of the people in prisons, especially state prisons, are in prison for so-called drug-related crimes. So we have to take the criminal justice system out of the drug problem. We need to see the drug problem for what it is.
We need to see people who are addicted to hard drugs, first of all, as people who should have help. They don't exist in a social vacuum. The largest segment of people who are addicted to drugs are addicted to legal drugs. They are the Stepford Wives, you know, the everyday office worker who's under pressure. So the use of drugs to relieve the pressure and cope with the quality of life in the developed societies has to be seen as a consequence of the alienating process, a wholistic alienating process that we have to begin to address.
I think decrim has shown that it works in places like the Netherlands. Its true, these places tend to be more homogeneous. But at the same time, the Netherlands is no longer quite so homogeneous as it used to be; especially in the cities, its quite cosmopolitan. I think the breakdown of traditional borders in Europe and the creation of a new superstate is going to increasingly lead to an understanding that drug problems cannot be solved purely by law-enforcement, that its much more complex than that. I think that the United States needs to get with that program. I think there's a developing consensus within the African American community for decriminalization. The US government remains involved with the importation of cocaine and heroin. But decrim would undercut the profits.
W: What's your take on Ibogaine, the African psychoactive plant that purportedly interrupts addiction?
DBW: I've been one of the foremost advocates in the African American community of a coherent policy towards the development of Ibogaine. I think if Ibogaine can do what people say it can do, and what some preliminary studies indicate it can do, then it can be of enormous benefit in a wholistic approach to drug addiction. Again, we're talking about decrim, we're talking about use of Ibogaine in a community-based setting in which the community determines the agenda and the program.
It now costs between 7 and 10,000 dollars to detox a heroin addict, just to clean them up before they can even enter a recovery program. Now if Ibogaine could interrupt this addiction in one or two treatments, and enormously reduce the time and money spent, that means we could take hardcore heroin addicts in off the streets, subject them to perhaps a one-week detoxification program that's safe, that's community-based, and get them into a program immediately.
I think the idea of treatment on demand is an essential component of decriminalization. I think clean needles is an essential component. All of these things go into a certain mindset that is saying, here's an individual who is strung out on these drugs, and this is what the community can do for him; if you want to get rid of this physical addiction, we can do that. You don't have to be a state dope-fiend maintained on methadone for the rest of your life, OK? If, however, you can't make that transition now, you aren't ready yet, you are not going to be busted just because you're a user. You know? You can have access to some type of treatment, you can get clean needles. I think these things are important.
JP: What's your take on groups like the Partnership for A Drug-Free America, which, now that there's an upsurge in the use of heroin, are pushing an anti-marijuana campaign on America?
DBW: Yeah, that's a political campaign. It has to do with the consolidation of the right in this country. Because marijuana use is one of the most social uses of drugs, it occurs in a very social milieu. It's also the drug of choice of an entire younger generation of urban youth who are not into so much alcohol and are not into the harder drugs.
You have to understand that hard drugs were pushed in the black community in a number of ways. There was first, of course, the heroin. Then there was the PCP, "Angel Dust", which just drove people crazy. And then cocaine, which in its original form had this glamour and glitter attached to it. It was associated with movie stars and rock musicians, because you had to have a lot of money in order to sniff coke.
BW: Until 1986, when crack came along...
DBW: Yeah, until they managed to break it down into a cheap derivative and make it accessible to poor folks, just like they did heroin. But unlike heroin, it didn't put you in a stupor. Heroin took you out of the political realm and put you in a stupor, but you weren't no threat that would justify a police army. But crackheads were likely to go out in blaze of gunfire. It became more of a justification for the police militarization.
So now going after marijuana is a way of going after a certain level of society that tends to be more conscious and rebellious and more social and participatory. Of course, abuse of any substance can lead to dysfunction. When I talk about decrim, I'm talking about understanding addiction as an illness that has its social and familial roots. And you really have to deal with it that way, as opposed to a crime. Then there are the medicinal aspects of marijuana and certain drugs, which are valid if you look at it in that context. But that's not the social context now. I think people's attitudes have to change. If the person smoking marijuana is considered a social pariah, he's not going to have the attitude to use the drug medicinally and wisely. Its a different attitude.
JP: Can you tell us about your recent meeting with the Drug Policy Foundation?
DBW: I think the DPF is beginning to realize that this struggle has to have a strong leadership and vocal component coming from the African American community, coming from the communities that are impacted by this War on Drugs. And I think that component is absent in their current struggle, because they have no relationship to the African American community. That's why we think the Black Coalition on Drugs is a very important ingredient in the whole political mix.
The Black Coalition on Drugs is still trying to struggle out of relative obscurity. We're still looking for funds. But basically the idea is to put into practice some of the things I've been discussing, putting on forums and debates in our communities so we can better understand issues around drugs and law enforcement and Ibogaine. That's the first mission of the Coalition, to educate people. Once that education occurs, then we have to have some kind of vehicle to translate that education into political utility and mobilization. This has to occur in the context of what's happening in the African American community and the poor communities in this society, in this city. We have to bring together activists and professionals in the African American community who are looking for a vehicle to express these ideas.
The sentiment for decrim becomes deeper as it becomes clearer and clearer that the War on Drugs is a sham and is not working.
JP: ...while building prisons has become one of the biggest industries in America...
DBW: ...as people realize that there is a war on them, especially on youth. I think black people are confused by the current crop of political leaders, who are still trying to deal with making the transition from an old-style black leadership to the new-style black leadership. In the old style, your relationship to white folks was very important. In the new style, you can't have that relationship anymore, not upfront.
Now our Coalition's only relationship to white people is an equal relationship with white radicals. We don't hide our relationship to Cures Not Wars, or to the white supporters in the struggle for Mumia Abu Jamal...
JP: A lot of black nationalists don't want to have anything to do with white organizations.
DBW: I understand that. But that's because of the old-style "Negro" leadership. I mean, look at Jesse Jackson - this is why he has no credibility. It is clear that he derives his capacity to even be seen as a national leader from his relationship with white folks. But the Black Panther Party were the first ones to come up with the idea of a Rainbow Coalition. The original Rainbow Coalition was of Chicanos, white radicals and the Puerto Rican Young Lords Party, and Asian radicals. We always realized that we had natural allies in communities that had the same issues with the state that we had, in communities that didn't look that much different from ours in terms of services, in terms of economic infrastructure, in terms of how the police reacted and dealt with them. So, we've always had the position that we should have a face-to-face relationship with our allies and enter into coalitions with them. We didn't believe in back-room politics, you see? Plantation politics, where secret deals are made behind closed doors. We felt that leadership should come from the grassroots up, that people should be able to mobilize themselves, empower themselves. I mean, what the fuck are we talking about? Empowerment - that's what we're talking about, right? Not so much organizing people from the top down.
The black bourgeoisie have always done that - organized from the top down. There was a time when black clergy organized from the bottom up, because they were always outside of the mainstream of white institutions. But that has changed. Increasingly, black clergy are beginning to have a top-down mentality. So the masses are basically left to shift for themselves. They are adrift in the information age with no modem.
BW: In 1995, the most well-armed, radical, uncompromising movement in America is on the right. What's your take on the militia movement?
DBW: Two weeks before the bombing in Oklahoma, who was on the cover of Soldier of Fortune? The Michigan Militia. Saying they "defend America." OK, Soldier of Fortune isn't your mainstream, you know, Life magazine.
But if you look at the current militia system, much of it was instigated and organized under the Federal Emergency Management Agency's direction. These militias grew out of the United States government. You notice that Clinton was reluctant to condemn the militia even after the Oklahoma bombing. He said, well of course they have a right to march around on the weekends in uniform and of course they have a right to bear arms, and we shouldn't paint everybody with the same brush as these two evil individuals. Now could you imagine the president of the United States saying that about the Black Panther Party?
BW: Well, do you think the militia has the right to bear arms and march around on the weekends?
DBW: I don't think that's the issue. I think the issue is that the climate that was created by the traditional right, by so-called conservatives in government, and by big business, has engendered these attitudes on the part of white males. They define these people as "angry white males with apocalyptic visions." I mean they're just making excuses for that shit.
Their vision of the US government isn't all that crazy, you understand. Its just that they go to extremes, with talk of Russian troops on the borders and all that. But their vision of government, and how government treats the small person and relates to the people, is not all that different from ours. Which gets back to my point about the development of the European nation-state into a national security model that sees all of its citizens as potential subversives.
BW: So where do you see the militia fitting into this?
DBW: They fit in just like the Ku Klux Klan fit in during Reconstruction. If you recall, during Reconstruction in this country, they used the veterans who had lost the war on the Confederate side, with the complicity of certain Union elements, to organize the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize black people away from the polls, to terrorize the newly-freed slaves back into submission and back onto the plantation under share-cropping. That was their role. And they marched on Washington a hundred thousand strong.
BW: So how do you see the analogy to the militia in 1995?
DBW: Just like law enforcement was involved in the Ku Klux Klan; law enforcement is involved with these militias. The military belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, and trained them; the military is involved in these militias - many of them from covert ops, many of them special teams, like SEALS and special commando units that are indoctrinated with the anti-terrorist theology of the state. OK? So the relationship is that whenever they needed to terrorize the African community or terrorize poor people, they have given rein to the right wing - and then used the reining-in of the right wing as a justification for repression on the left, and against poor people all over again! And that's exactly what they're doing now!
JP: And there are public figures who were part of the Ku Klux Klan who are now involved in these militias.
DBW: Right. And this phenomenon is rapidly occurring throughout the spectrum of the European nation-state. Its happening in France, its happening in Italy...
BW: With Jean-Marie LePen and the Mussolini nostalgia people...
DBW: Yeah! I mean look what happened with LePen in France, he got almost 20 percent of the vote! And what's his platform? Anti-immigration. And what's the platform of the right-wing militia here? That people of color and slime-balls from the Third World are diluting America. What's LePen's position on France? That France has to reassert itself as nation with a great mission, which is the same fascistic vision that Hitler had for Germany. What's the right in the United States talking about? About reasserting the old values that made them great. OK? These aren't coincidences. These are things that are happening in a way that accrues to the benefit of a particular elite in this society. Why are working white folks, so-called "white trash", attracted to the extreme right? What was the greatest element in support of slavery in the antebellum south? "White trash." They didn't even own slaves. But the existence of slavery was the only thing that made them special. Otherwise they would have been slaves.
Now one of the things that the militia talks about is how the government has bent over backward to deal with poor people, with people of color, to give things to black workers, to Latino workers, to the exclusion of white males. That's the same rationale that poor white trash used in the antebellum south about slavery - if you freed the slaves, where would that leave a self-respecting white man? That's why the Ku Klux Klan became necessary - to terrorize them back into submission.
The bombing of the federal building can be looked at from a number of perspectives. If we believe in conspiracy theories, we can say that its really a fantastic "black op" on the part of US intelligence. Or perhaps we can say that it was something that was set into motion that got out of control. Or we can say that the government had absolutely nothing to do with it because they never suspected that they would need a justification from the right in order to do what they are going to do to the American people. I think it might be a combination of all three.
Look at how the new legislation is being pushed through. They're saying, if you don't push this legislation through, you're soft on terrorism. But look at states like Israel, which is a completely militarized national security state - and they can't stop attacks on their civilians. So what makes the United States think they can?
BW: To simultaneously oppose the militia and oppose the anti-terrorist measures which are being taken to ostensibly crack down on the militia seems to put us in a difficult position...
DBW: I don't think it puts us in an awkward position at all once we understand the role of the extreme right wing in curtailing the rights of progressive movements in this country. We know that the United States is able to do what it does abroad by stealing the rhetoric of liberation struggles. They defined the Contras as "freedom fighters." They'll steal the rhetoric of liberation and they'll use the culture of the oppressed and portray it as American culture. So why should we be in a dilemma to define the right wing as part and parcel of the entire white male support apparatus of the national security state?
These rural white males see the US government as the personification of all the frustration in their lives. And the fact of the matter is that the US government is in their lives, and is in our lives, to the detriment of our interests. That's the fact.
BW: What do you think of the Zapatista revolutionaries in Mexico?
DBW: Look at Mexico's relationship to the United States. Here's a full-blown peasant revolutionary movement that came out of nowhere, nobody even knew about it. That shows you how in touch they were with the rural Indian population.
Increasingly in the Third World, and particularly in Latin America, we see the browning of the population. The population is browning again after the first wave of the European conquistadors. Every state in Latin America is a European settler state. Every one. Just like South Africa, just like the state of Israel. And almost throughout the history of Latin America, only those who resembled the light-skinned conquistadors were in positions of power, up to the point where some of them even have German names. But with the browning of the population, these light-skinned descendents of the conquistadors are becoming increasingly isolated. They are depleting their resources at a phenomenal rate to maintain their position, while the descendents of Indians and of African slaves are reasserting themselves and reasserting their rights and reasserting their majority status.
The United States talks about democracy. But what kind of democracy is there for the black kids in the shanty-towns in Brazil? What kind of democracy was there for those who "disappeared" in Chile and Argentina? And we can even see it here. Increasingly, the immigrants from Latin America are looking more and more Indian.
BW: And whites are going to be the minority here in the US in another 25 years or so if demographic trends continue...
DBW Exactly. So the only way white males can continue to control everything is if they have in place the entire apparatus of the European nation-state as a mechanism for the transfer of wealth and power to themselves at the same time that it's being subsidized by the masses of people because they believe it's there to protect them from some type of enemy.
BW: What do you have to say about so-called "gangsta rap," and people like Tupac Shakur, whose mother was a Panther but who has obviously embraced a certain kind of nihilism?
DBW: We have to understand that the reason rap is so controversial is that it reflects the reality of lower-class black youth. And this reality has come into conflict with the black bourgeoisie, the black middle-class professionals who want to portray themselves as the success story of African America. Culture is a legitimate arena of the struggle for liberation. Just like rock in its initial form was a music of rebellion, a music that expressed the nihilism of white youth who were fed up with this white mom-and-pop picket-fence reality that didn't reflect the terror that was going on behind the picket fence...you know? The rape and brutalization of youth behind the picket fence.
So look at rap music and look at where it came from. It came from out of the South Bronx. It came out of Brownsville, it came out of Harlem. These were kids who had no place to go, who had no movement to go to, because the Panthers were destroyed, to whom a hero was nothing but a fish sandwich. So they would gather together in the park or in the basement of vacant building and they would play tapes and rap over the music, or they would go get their mom's and pop's old records and scratch on them, and they created a whole genre of music that was first attacked as being transitory, irrelevant. But it was white males who controlled the music industry that made gangsta rap - the 2 Live Crew genre of rap, the misogynist rap, the homophobic rap - the type of rap that was popular. They didn't gravitate towards the positive rap, because most of the positive rap was black nationalist, that reflected the ideology of organizations like the Black Panther Party. You see? This genre of rap was completely ignored.
But at the same time it enjoyed a considerable amount of credibility in the African American community, among the youth. A lot of the DJs came from this scene. They were taken out of the clubs and put on the streets overnight, like Red Alert, Dr. Dre. Some of them came out of the black bourgeoisie and had street affectations, but many of them came up out of that milieu.
And it was activists who had a problem with misogynist rap, it was activists - myself and others - who had a problem with homophobic rap, that had a problem with reactionary rap, and criticized the rappers for this. And it was only after the rappers began to respond to us in a positive way, to search out images of Malcolm and the Black Panther Party, that the black bourgeoisie came up and started talking about how they weren't gonna take it no more. Black clergy led demonstrations against rap, and some of the major black stations like 107.5 WBLS in this city - owned by Inner City Broadcasting of Percy Sutton, who was Malcolm's lawyer and is also a big businessman in this city - started playing what they called "classic soul." Now, classic soul was the music of my generation, OK? But the "classic soul" that they played was classic soul that didn't have no political message either - I mean the love songs, ballads and so forth.
BW: What's your message today to the kids in Bed Stuy and the South Bronx?
DBW: The same message that the Black Panther Party called forth. That they organize to defend the integrity of the African American community on all levels, and that they understand that because violence is as American as apple pie, they have to organize the community's capacity to carry out revolutionary violence in its own self-interest. I say that with the proviso that as long as we don't have control over law enforcement agencies that brutalize and murder us, then we have to deal with racist attack on that level.
BW: And what's your message to white folks who are going to be reading this?
DBW: They have to really understand that the European nation-state that they live in sees all of its citizens as its enemy, and unless they stop the consolidation of those forces of the rich who are in control of this state, that are determining the parameters of debate, that are increasingly encroaching on our democratic rights - unless they wake up and deal with this, then all of us are going to be subjected to the same type of repression and control. Fascism isn't just a word. It's the organization of state power and finance capital into a system that controls everybody.
Source: The Shadow - Issue 36 June/Aug. 1995.