Congressman Cohen Hosts Forum on FBI's COINTELPRO Program

May 10, 2021


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Bobby L. Rush (IL-01) and Barbara Lee (CA-13) held a virtual forum on May 10, 2021 on J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI Counterintelligence Programs (COINTELPRO), recently featured in the Academy Award-winning film “Judas and the Black Messiah” which dramatizes the FBI-orchestrated assassination of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in 1969. The forum focused on the stories of those affected, contemporary impacts, policy changes made in response to the revelations of the abuses of COINTELPRO, and the work that remains to be done. The forum included witnesses such as Fred Hampton Jr., Akua Njeri, Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins, Betty Medsger, and others who have deep knowledge of the COINTELPRO Programs.

“COINTELPRO was not just violent and illegal. What made it so pernicious is it undermined our Constitution and democracy. The United States was born of dissent, and alternative perspectives should be welcomed, not ‘neutralized,’” said Congressman Cohen. “We may disagree, but every American has the right and freedom to speak their mind, to petition their government, to protest, to be engaged and active in civic life, and to contribute their energy and efforts in pursuit of our ‘more perfect union.’ The FBI, attempted to snuff out minorities and minority viewpoints.  COINTELPRO was government-sponsored harassment and violence, not law enforcement. The FBI then exported these tactics to police departments across the country.

“COINTELPRO, as such, may no longer exist, but its impacts are still here.  There are people still imprisoned who were targets of the program. Following the revelation of these programs, Congress examined these programs, most notably with the Church Committee, and policy changes were enacted.  But that doesn’t mean all the problems were fixed.  We must reform our law enforcement practices and how we address real domestic threats.  We must rebuild our criminal justice system so that it is genuinely focused on justice and not, as Michelle Alexander aptly and famously characterized it, ‘The New Jim Crow.’” 

“The dark legacy of COINTELPRO remains a stain on our nation, and it is incumbent on those of us in positions of power to get the truth about this program out to the American people. It is also vital to the future of civil rights in our nation,” said Congressman Rush, the co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. “We must pull back the curtain on the FBI’s racially and politically motivated espionage on its own citizens. That is why last week I introduced the COINTELPRO Full Disclosure Act, which will require federal government agencies to publicly release all counterintelligence files related to COINTELPRO. My bill would also remove the name of J. Edgar Hoover, who was the number one assailant on America’s constitutional guarantees for its citizens, from the FBI building in Washington, D.C.”

“I know the damages of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO first hand. I was put in the middle of their aggressive surveillance and counterintelligence activities after becoming involved with the Black Panther Party as a community worker,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “As a community worker, I used my organizational and fundraising skills to help implement the Ten Point Program, which made programs like Free Breakfast for Children possible and paved the way for our own government’s free breakfast plan for low income children.”

“The Ten-Point program embodied many of the progressive goals we are still fighting to achieve today, including equity in education and healthcare; criminal justice reform and ending police brutality; and eliminating food and housing insecurity for the Black community. We cannot allow harmful legacy of COINTELPRO to manifest ever again, nor can it ever be forgotten. I’m grateful to partner with Congressman Cohen and Congressman Rush, another affiliate of the Black Panther Party, to bring much needed attention to this issue.”

To watch the full video recording of the forum, click here.

The full list of testifying witnesses can be found below:

  • Akua Njeri (partner of the late Fred Hampton Sr., mother of Jr.)
  • Fred Hampton Jr. (Chairman, Prisoners of Conscience Committee/Black Panther Party Cubs; son of Fred Hampton Sr.)
  • Nkechi Taifa (Civil Rights activist and author)
  • Mike German (Former FBI Special Agent now with the Brennan Center for Justice)
  • Ericka Huggins (Human Rights activist and former Black Panther)
  • Bobby Seale (Political activist, author and co-founder of the Black Panther Party)
  • Betty Medsger (Reporter for The Washington Post who helped break the story of the existence of COINTELPRO programs)