December 2018

"People might not get all that they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all that they get." 
Frederick Douglass


U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat
of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t 
Know How to Stop It.

By Janet Reitman
The first indication to Lt. Dan Stout that law enforcement’s handling of white supremacy was broken came in September 2017, as he was sitting in an emergency-operations center in Gainesville, Fla., preparing for the onslaught of Hurricane Irma and watching what felt like his thousandth YouTube video of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va. Jesus Christ, he thought, studying the footage in which crowds of angry men, who had gathered to attend or protest the Unite the Right rally, set upon one another with sticks and flagpole spears and flame throwers and God knows what else. A black man held an aerosol can, igniting the spray, and in retaliation, a white man picked up his gun, pointed it toward the black man and fired it at the ground. The Virginia state troopers, inexplicably, stood by and watched. Stout fixated on this image, wondering what kind of organizational failure had led to the debacle. He had one month to ensure that the same thing didn’t happen in Gainesville.

Before that August, Stout, a 24-year veteran of the Gainesville police force, had never heard of Richard Spencer and knew next to nothing about his self-declared alt-right movement, or of their “anti-fascist” archnemesis known as Antifa. Then, on the Monday after deadly violence in Charlottesville, in which a protester was killed when a driver plowed his car into the crowd, Stout learned to his horror that Spencer was planning a speech at the University of Florida. He spent weeks frantically trying to get up to speed, scouring far-right and anti-fascist websites and videos, each click driving him further into despair. Aside from the few white nationalists who had been identified by the media or on Twitter, Stout had no clue who most of these people were, and neither, it seemed, did anyone else in law enforcement.

There were no current intelligence reports he could find on the alt-right, the sometimes-violent fringe movement that embraces white nationalism and a range of racist positions. The state police couldn’t offer much insight. Things were equally bleak at the federal level. Whatever the F.B.I. knew (which wasn’t a lot, Stout suspected), they weren’t sharing. The Department of Homeland Security, which produced regular intelligence and threat assessments for local law enforcement, had only scant material on white supremacists, all of it vague and ultimately not much help. Local politicians, including the governor, were also in the dark. This is like a Bermuda Triangle of intelligence, Stout thought, incredulous. He reached out to their state partners. “So you’re telling us that there’s nothing? No names we can plug into the automatic license-plate readers? No players with a propensity for violence? No one you have in the system? Nothing?’’

One of those coming to Gainesville was William Fears, a 31-year-old from Houston. Fears, who online went by variations of the handle Antagonizer, was one of the most dedicated foot soldiers of the alt-right. Countless YouTube videos had captured his progress over the past year as he made his way from protest to protest across several states, flinging Nazi salutes, setting off smoke bombs and, from time to time, attacking people. Fears was also a felon. He had spent six years in prison for aggravated kidnapping in a case involving his ex-girlfriend, and now he had an active warrant for his arrest, after his new girlfriend accused him of assault less than two weeks earlier. On Oct. 18, the night before the event, Fears and a few others from Houston’s white-nationalist scene got in Fears’s silver Jeep Patriot for the 14-hour drive. Fears’s friend Tyler TenBrink, who pleaded guilty to assault in 2014, posted video from their trip on his Facebook page. There were four men, two of them felons, and two nine-millimeter handguns. “Texans always carry,” Fears said later. Read more here.

Thousands told to vacate North Carolina apartments in second wave of people displaced by Florence

One day after the deadline to move out, the final stragglers were solemnly packing up their cars, filling them with whatever belongings could fit inside. The rest — couches, microwaves, carpets, and other furniture — were left abandoned in piles outside rows of red brick, single-story homes.

Some 700 tenants of the Market North affordable housing apartment complex in Wilmington, North Carolina were given one week’s notice to vacate after black mold was discovered in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

They are part of a second wave of displaced people, who are finding themselves newly homeless months after Florence barreled through the state.

Corporate Influence and the Legacy of Black Power

By E. James West

My recent piece for Black Perspectives examined the relationship between Nike and Spike Lee in the wake of the company’s collaboration with Colin Kaepernick. Since writing it, I have spent more time reflecting on how major American businesses have attempted to fuse the idea—if not necessarily the practice—of Black radical activism with corporate social responsibility. This piece explores the trajectory of Black Power activist Bobby Seale, who appeared to shift from a denunciation of racialized capitalism in the 1960s to an embrace of corporate America by the 1990s.

Seale established the Black Panther Party with Huey P. Newton in Oakland, California. Initially focused on police brutality in Oakland, the Panthers rapidly expanded their organizational remit and base of support, becoming one of the era’s most dynamic forces for anti-racism, anti-imperialism, and anti-capitalism. Seale’s lurid rhetorical style played a central role in establishing the Panthers combative public image, with his incendiary use of the term “pig” referring to “the people who systematically violate the peoples’ constitutional rights—whether they be monopoly capitalists or police.” However, intensive federal efforts to sabotage the Party, coupled with internal disputes and the incarceration and exile of key spokesmen, led to a demise in popular support. Seale was among the many Panther leaders to be targeted, and would be sentenced to four years in prison on contempt charges relating to the “Chicago Eight” trial in 1969, although his conviction would later be overturned.

During Seale’s time in prison many local Party chapters disbanded or spiraled into permanent decline. Despite such problems, Panther-led voting drives and grassroots political activism helped lay the groundwork for subsequent Black political victories such as the election of Lionel Wilson, who became Oakland’s first Black mayor in 1977. Seale himself ran for the position in 1973 after leaving prison, eventually losing a run-off to Republican incumbent John Reading. However, after his brief foray into politics Seale appeared to distance himself from the Panthers to rehabilitate his public image. Following the publication of his 1978 autobiography A Lonely Rage, leading media outlets reported that Seale had “mellowed” and was carefully promoting his book “like any good capitalist.”1 By the 1980s Seale had secured a twice-weekly radio show in Colorado and had reinvented himself as a food connoisseur. In a 1987 interview with the New York Times, titled “Bobby Seale and the Pigs, 1980’s Style”, the activist declared his desire to become “the barbecue kingpin of America.”

In the same year that A Lonely Rage hit bookstores across the country, childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened a small ice cream parlor in downtown Burlington, Vermont. Three years later, the first Ben & Jerry’s franchise opened in a Burlington suburb, and the company rapidly expanded across the northeast. From its early days, Ben and Jerry stressed a grassroots and ‘values-driven’ approach to marketing, contending that they “didn’t want to be a traditional business” but “a force for progressive social change.” This included the creation of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation in 1985, which channeled 7.5% of the company’s annual pre-tax profits into community projects. Its appeal was also based on an offbeat, anti-establishment platform, with new flavors being named after Grateful Dead guitarists (Cherry Garcia) and personalities from the Woodstock Festivals of the 1960s (Wavy Gravy). Such practices appeared to be working; in 1988 its founders were jointly named “U.S Small Business Persons of the Year” by President Ronald Reagan at a White House ceremony. The next step was to establish Ben & Jerry’s as the nation’s choice.

In 1994 the company unveiled its most radical ice-cream line to date; a new range of “smooth, no chunks” flavors in an explicit attempt to establish dominance over rival companies as part of what would come to be known as the “ice cream wars.” In an accompanying marketing campaign, Ben & Jerry’s assembled an eclectic cast of social and political activists to stump for their dairy-heavy treats, including folk singer Pete Seeger, labor activist Dolores Huerte, and indigenous rights campaigner Buffy Sainte-Marie. Spike Lee directed the campaign and featured in its television and magazine advertising. Bobby Seale also featured prominently in the campaign, clad in a beret and turtleneck and throwing a Black Power fist with one hand while holding a tub of vanilla Ben & Jerry’s in the other. Cohen delighted in the participation of Lee and Seale, celebrating their role as evidence that “you can make a great product, create progressive social momentum and have fun doing it,” and positioning Ben & Jerry’s as “the keepers of the 1960s flame.” In the Wall Street Journal, Kevin Goldman reported that the reward for “selling out to the establishment” was enrollment in the company’s “Free Ice Cream for Life Club.”

As Seale posed with his carton of Ben & Jerry’s, I wonder if he thought of fellow Panther Fred Hampton, who twenty-five years earlier had received a two-to-five-year prison sentence on charges of robbing $71 worth of ice cream from a Chicago vendor. Despite Hampton’s claims that he wasn’t even in the neighborhood at the time of the alleged incident, and that while “I may be a pretty big mother…I can’t eat no 710 ice-cream bars”, a unanimous decision was handed down by circuit court Judge Sidney A. Jones. Just over a week later, Hampton was gunned down by the FBI and Chicago police officials as he slept alongside pregnant fiancée Deborah Johnson in their small apartment on West Monroe Street; a brutal resolution to a months-long intimidation campaign and one of the most flagrant examples of federal efforts to destroy the Panthers. I wonder what Seale’s response was to Cohen’s rose-tinted assertion that Ben & Jerry’s were now the “keepers of 60’s values. Ice cream is fun. It’s happy. The 60’s were a wonderful time.” I wonder what Hampton might have made of Ben & Jerry’s “radical” new flavors if he had been alive to taste them.

It is easy to criticize Seale for his apparent willingness to sell out, and perhaps we should, but he was not the only Black radical whose ideas and allegiances shifted during the post-movement years. Seale’s embrace of capitalism and the American political system was mirrored by other Panthers such as James Young (who ran as a Republican candidate for State Representative in Boston), Jerry Rubin (who enjoyed success as a stockbroker), and Eldridge Cleaver (whose range of enthusiastic business ventures included a pair of virility pants he designed to help men “assert their masculinity”). As scholars such as Tom Adam Davies and Jakobi Williams have noted, Black radical activists had to adapt to survive in the increasingly conservative and business-oriented culture of the 1970s and 1980s, and this lead to often uneasy alliances and compromises with individuals, organisations and entities they had previously placed themselves in opposition to. It is tempting to think about Black Power ahistorically—to reflect on the era’s triumphs and tragedies without considering the post-movement trajectories of its icons, or the ways in which their understanding of and relationship to capitalism and American society shifted. However, the reality is often more complicated.

In turn, this static portrayal of Black Power is connected to a broader rehabilitation and mediation of Black radical activism which occurred during the decades following the 1960s. Seale’s rehabilitation from firebrand to brand ambassador paralleled the evolving public image of figures such as Muhammad Ali, whose association with the Nation of Islam during the 1960s made many American advertisers and politicians wary, but whose appearance at the opening ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 (and subsequent role as a global brand ambassador for Coca-Cola) cemented his status as a national hero. On reflection, Seale’s collaboration with Ben & Jerry’s campaign is one of the most striking examples of how, by the 1990s, Black radicalism had been made palatable through a politics of nostalgia, and a reminder of the key role corporate America played in facilitating this transition.


Community Calendar of Events

7th-9th, Friday-Sunday; 12th Bi-Annual US Human Rights Organizers’ Conference – Return to the Source: Advancing a Radical Human Rights Culture as a Weapon of Liberation. Register at

19th, Wednesday 6:00pm; FINANCIAL HEALTH WORK SHOP SERIES Session #2

19th, Wednesday 7:00pm; Wine & Cheese Networking Social; Free, but donations are welcome

28th, Friday 11:00am-5:00pm; Town of Cary in partnership with the Ujima Group, Inc. presents Kwanzaa at Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Avenue, Cary NC 27511. For more,
Kwanzaa or (919) 469-4069.  

30th, Sunday 3:00pm -6:00pm; Annual Community Kwanzaa Celebration at FOLWCC; Singing, Dancing, Story-telling, Arts and Crafts for sale, Community Good News, Trivia, and bring a dish for our community Karamu (feast).  
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Community Calendar of Events
Need a special place for your special event?

The newly renovated Fruit of Labor World Cultural Center and the World Cultural Café are your place. The 2000 sq. ft. World Cultural Center, with its big screen and surround sound theater, is the ideal intimate setting for:

• Parties & Game Nights
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• Small Concerts & Fundraisers

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