Phantom arrest and bogus letter by FBI in 'Omaha Two' case targeted Black Panther leader Ed Poindexter
By Michael Richardson
A secret and illegal war against domestic political activists was waged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1960's and 1970's called Operation COINTELPRO. The 'no holds barred' tactics of COINTELPRO were designed to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize" the Black Panthers.
In Omaha, Nebraska the chief targets of the FBI clandestine operation were Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) who headed the Omaha chapter. J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director, personally monitored COINTELPRO actions and expressed his dissatisfaction with the Omaha FBI office in a December 10, 1969 memorandum for inactivity against the group.
Hoover ordered the Omaha Special-Agent-in-Charge to "give consideration to counterintelligence measures directed against these leaders to weaken or destroy their positions." Hoover told Omaha agents to make up a plan. "Evaluate your approach to this program and insure that it is given the imaginative attention necessary to produce effective results."
Political Research Associates maintain an archive of COINTELPRO documents, obtained under Freedom of Information requests. The PRA archives tell part of the story through heavily redacted COINTELPRO memos censored by FBI personnel.
The Omaha FBI office responded to Hoover's order to be "imaginative" and devised a plan to interfere with delivery of the Black Panther newspaper after chapter members picked it up from United Airlines Air Freight at Omaha's Eppley Airport.
On March 5, 1970, a new plan to harass the Panthers was devised targeting party chairman Ed Poindexter. In February the group's newsletter, edited by Mondo we Langa, had an article which said in part, "Our department Chairman, Ed Poindexter, wishes to extend his sincere thanks to the people in the Black Colony for their generous donations to get him out of jail on Wednesday."
Poindexter tells the story of his arrest. "I was arrested for drunk and disorderly. We had a little party one night to try to de-stress and let our hair down and have some fun for a change. I had a little bit too much to drink and my girlfriend had some kind of reaction, she just had a fit so we rushed her to the hospital. I was standing at the door of the emergency room and the firemen and the people in the emergency room had her strapped down on the table. She was hysterical. A fireman started smacking her back and forth, 'Snap to girl'. And I snapped. I went in and busted him and knocked him down and then I lost consciousness."
"The next thing I remember there was like four or five police officers on my back pulling me away from the door handle. Apparently, they had got me out of there but I was hanging on to the door handle trying to get back in. I can remember an officer started clubbing over my wrist to try and break my hold on the door….The next thing I remember I was in jail the next morning waking up."
"I had party members to raise bail to get me out of jail. It was just a simple assault, disorderly conduct….We posted some flyers around the community trying to raise $100 for bail. Later on a notice had been sent, a letter sent to the community that I wasn't arrested that night. That it never happened and that we defrauded the community of $100. I had Jim Carey, an attorney, look into that and he said man there is no record of an arrest, no record of my girlfriend having been taken into the emergency room. The whole thing was just erased from the record. Now that is no accident. It smacks of COINTELPRO. That is part of that Richard Nixon dirty tricks campaign to try and discredit us in the eyes of the community."
"But I've got the records in my room, they showed up 30 years later. I got a couple papers in my room of the arrest. I received a $50 fine for disorderly conduct."
The COINTELPRO memos of the incident suggest that the Omaha Police may have cooperated with the FBI and suppressed reports of the hospital altercation. It is equally possible the FBI memos are fraudulent since deception was at the heart of COINTELPRO tactics.
On March 5th the Omaha FBI office asked Hoover's permission to author an anonymous letter about the incident.
"Bureau authority is requested to write an anonymous letter to Black Panther Party Headquarters stating the above facts; also authority is requested to make anonymous phone calls to Negro militant [NAME REDACTED] and local Negro politicians and certain people in the Black Community stating the above facts."
On March 17, 1970, J. Edgar Hoover requested a copy of the anonymous letter. Further, Hoover ordered, "Furnish full identities of all local publications and other individuals whom you request to make anonymous phone calls to regarding this matter. Advise if calls to individuals are to be made to a residence or place of employment."
On March 25th the Omaha FBI office submitted the proposed anonymous letter and requested permission to send it to Black Realities, "a local Negro publication", and Everyone Magazine, "a monthly Negro publication published on Omaha's North Side", and the Omaha Star, "a weekly Negro newspaper."
The anonymous letter, penned by FBI agents in Omaha against Ed Poindexter, is located in the PRA archive of COINTELPRO documents.
"I wish to report a violation against the people by the leader of the United Front against Fascism in Omaha, Nebraska. Ed Poindexter claimed he was put in jail by the Pigs on Feb. 11 and he got donations from the people to get him out of jail. I gave two bucks. Last week while in the Pig Department i overheard a Pig laughing and telling another Pig (Black) how the Black Panther chief Poindexter screwed the people on the North side. The Pig said Poindexter was not in jail and he snowed the people getting donations for his bail money. If thats the kind of leaders you want in the panthers I don’t want to join. Power to the Pigs if thats how you treat us fellow brothers and sister. Right On. Former supporter of the BPP."
On April 3, 1970, Hoover authorized sending the bogus letter. "Take the usual security precautions to insure this letter and mailing cannot be traced to the Bureau."
"Advise the Bureau and San Francisco of any positive results obtained by means of this letter. You are also authorized to discreetly make anonymous local phone calls to the publishers of 'Black Realities,' 'Everyone magazine, and 'The Omaha Star,'….Use discretion in making these calls in insure that they cannot be traced to the bureau."
FBI dirty tricks escalated and when Omaha police officer Larry Minard was murdered on August 17, 1970 by an ambush bomb, Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa were targeted to take the blame for the crime. On August 19th Hoover ordered Ivan Willard Conrad, FBI Crime Laboratory director, to withhold a formal report on a voice analysis of the 911 recording of the Minard's killer luring police to a vacant house where the lethal trap waited.
The two Panther leaders were convicted in April 1971 by a jury that never heard the withheld 911 tape or knew anything about the FBI duplicity and targeting of the pair under the clandestine COINTELPRO operation.
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa were sentenced to life imprisonment are held at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary where they both continue to deny any involvement in Minard's death. Poindexter has a new trial request pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court. No date for a decision has been announced.
Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.