Rosenfeld’s Richard Aoki allegation: “Don’t Believe The Hype”

22 08 2012

Richard Aoki buttonUPDATE 9/26/12:  “Connecting The Past And The Present: Harvey Dong’s Insights On The Allegations Against Richard Aoki,” by Tala Khanmalek, Racialicious, 9/26/12.  Speaks to Rosenfeld’s “sloppy academic research,” “bad analysis,” and “conservative summation” of protest movements of the ’60s and ’70s.

UPDATE 9/11/12:  “Richard Aoki : Oakland town hall discussion defends controversial activist’s legacy (Review),” by Eric Arnold, Oakland Local, 9/11/12.  Great write-up of important gathering, featuring Aoki biographer Diane Fujino, and former Black Panthers Tarika Lewis (first female panther), Emory Douglas (Minister of Culture), and co-founder Bobby Seale, at EastSide Cultural Center.

UPDATE 9/10/12:  “Distorting the legacy of Richard Aoki,” by Ward Churchill, Kathleen Cleaver, and Natsu Taylor Saito, San Francisco Bayview, 9/9/12.

UPDATE 9/1/12:  “Scholars Challenge Author’s Assertion That 1960s Activist Worked for FBI,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/31/12.  Also, I attended a presentation by Prof. Harvey Dong at UC Berkeley this week, who showed how Rosenfeld’s “evidence” is inconclusive at best and likely doubtful, and questioned Rosenfeld’s motive.

UPDATED 8/24/12:  KPFA’s Apex Express with scholar, activist and close friend of Aoki’s, Harvey Dong

and SF BayView:  Fred Ho refutes the claim that Richard Aoki was an FBI informant

UPDATED 8/23/12:  Democracy Now! hosts Fujino, Rosenfeld

While many were shocked by Seth Rosenfeld’s damning allegation that activist Richard Aoki was an FBI informant, the evidence appears to be far from conclusive, and a growing number of voices are calling it into question.

Here are a few:

  • Don’t Believe the Hype.  On KPFA’s Hard Knock Radio, Davey D hosted a conversation with Emory Douglas, former minister of culture of the Black Panther Party, and Billy X. Jennings, archived at KPFA.org until Sept. 4. (~24 min.), 8/21/12.
  • Oakland Local:  Snitch Jacketing 2.0?, Carlos A. Rivera-Jones, 8/20/12.
  • Colorlines:  Historian Calls for More Evidence, Jamilah King, 8/21/12.
  • Said Historian Scott Kurashige’s Initial Thoughts: “Rosenfeld has not provided any evidence that Aoki was actively working to undermine the Panthers on behalf of the FBI.”
  • Statement by Aoki documentarians, Mike Cheng and Ben Wang, 8/21/12.  “However, as the discourse and investigation of these claims commence, we feel it is important to remind people that the burden of proof must fall on those that make the accusation…  Accusing anyone of being an informant is extremely inflammatory and any allegations must be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated for evidence….  After reviewing Rosenfeld’s article, video, and book, there is no solid evidence presented that Richard was as an FBI informant.”  (more)
Rosenfeld

“What’s my motive?” Seth Rosenfeld timed his damning, inflammatory yet inconclusive allegation with the release of his new book.

What strikes us as particularly questionable is Rosenfeld’s ethics in deliberately choosing to time his public allegation with the day his new book went on sale, knowing full well both the inflammatory nature of the allegation and the lack of conclusive evidence about the role Aoki actually played.

Diane Fugino and her book Diane Fujino, academic and author of Aoki’s recently published biography, Samurai among Panthers, responded in the San Francisco Chronicle, 8/22/12.  Excerpts below:

“As a scholar, I insist on seeing evidence before concluding any “truth.” But as I read Rosenfeld’s work and cross-checked sources from my biography on Aoki, I realized Rosenfeld had not met the burden of proof. He made definitive conclusions based on inconclusive evidence…

“I also questioned Rosenfeld’s motives. Rosenfeld’s piece, published the day before the release of his own book, gained him widespread media and public attention that surely will augment sales…

“So why did Rosenfeld magnify Aoki when his book focuses more on Mario Savio, Clark Kerrand the Free Speech Movement? What responsibility does an author have to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt before broadcasting disparaging accusations? Rosenfeld’s article, video and book raise many questions, but fail to meet the burden of proof.”  Read more


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9 responses

22 08 2012
asiansart

My Initial Thoughts on the Richard Aoki Controversy, by Scott Kurashige, 8/20/12.
http://le-kif-kif.tumblr.com/post/29850970629/my-initial-thoughts-on-the-richard-aoki-controversy-by

“The story of Richard Aoki being an FBI informant is all over the web. The published stories are drawing simple conclusions that need to be questioned and scrutinized…

“What we can say is that Rosenfeld has not provided any evidence that Aoki was actively working to undermine the Panthers on behalf of the FBI…

“But let’s remember that Rosenfeld is probably some kind of liberal, so let’s conclude by bringing the scrutiny back where it belongs in this case. White liberals don’t want to believe that there was an organic drive toward militancy and armed resistance in the age of Third World liberation: the spirit of the Tet Offensive was in the air and the rebellion was against not only the right-wing ruling class but also against liberalism and the “revisionist” Old Left. Richard Aoki clearly had a soldier’s mentality—Geronimo Pratt fought for the US government and switched sides. Aoki seemingly did the same though allegedly under far more controversial circumstances. Perhaps that was the symbol he left when laying his US army uniform alongside his Black Panther Party uniform before he died. If this is the case, then Aoki’s story is part of a long line of people of color drafted to fight American wars (in the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and yes, US cities) but forced by their own experience to question the whole enterprise of US imperialism…

“We need a general rethinking of the role of militancy and armed self-defense in movement building, and I always say we need to read more MLK. But the fact that we are even discussing Aoki under these questionable circumstances demonstrates how much more Asian Americans are a subject of US history than we were not long ago, so we might as well use this as a teachable moment. At the same time, it’s probably true that we rush too quickly to create icons rather than embrace internal contradiction as the source of true knowledge and change….”

Scott Kurashige is an associate professor of American culture and history, and director of the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program at the University of Michigan.

22 08 2012
asiansart

UPDATE: Diane Fujino asks “Where’s the evidence Aoki was FBI informant?”
, 8/22/12.
http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Where-s-the-evidence-Aoki-was-FBI-informant-3808396.php

“As a scholar, I insist on seeing evidence before concluding any “truth.” But as I read Rosenfeld’s work and cross-checked sources from my biography on Aoki, I realized Rosenfeld had not met the burden of proof. He made definitive conclusions based on inconclusive evidence…

“I also questioned Rosenfeld’s motives. Rosenfeld’s piece, published the day before the release of his own book, gained him widespread media and public attention that surely will augment sales…

“So why did Rosenfeld magnify Aoki when his book focuses more on Mario Savio, Clark Kerr and the Free Speech Movement? What responsibility does an author have to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt before broadcasting disparaging accusations? Rosenfeld’s article, video and book raise many questions, but fail to meet the burden of proof.”

Diane C. Fujino is a professor and chair of Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara and author of “Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life” (University of Minnesota Press, April 2012).

Read more
http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Where-s-the-evidence-Aoki-was-FBI-informant-3808396.php

23 08 2012
asiansart

Democracy Now hosts Diane Fujino and Seth Rosenfeld to debate Richard Aoki controversy
http://www.democracynow.org/2012/8/23/was_bay_area_radical_black_panther

24 08 2012
asiansart

KPFA’s Apex Express has an exclusive interview with activist and scholar Harvey Dong, close friend of Aoki, to add perspective to the diverse responses. 8/23/12
https://apexexpress.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/82312-on-richard-aoki-ramadan-and-maui-water-rights/

And in SF Bayview
Fred Ho refutes the claim that Richard Aoki was an FBI informant
August 21, 2012
http://sfbayview.com/2012/fred-ho-refutes-the-claim-that-richard-aoki-was-an-fbi-informant/

1 09 2012
asiansart

The Chronicle of Higher Education
August 31, 2012

Scholars Challenge Author’s Assertion That 1960s Activist Worked for FBI

http://chronicle.com/article/Scholars-Challenge-Authors/134040/?key=HWJ6JAFlbXBDY3Fla2tLZDlRbnQ7Zkl7N3cZPXIubl9WFA%3D%3D

10 09 2012
asiansart

“Distorting the legacy of Richard Aoki,” by Ward Churchill, Kathleen Cleaver, and Natsu Taylor Saito, San Francisco Bayview, 9/9/12.
http://sfbayview.com/2012/distorting-the-legacy-of-richard-aoki/

10 09 2012
asiansart

There was a great event on this yesterday at EastSide Cultural Center in Oakland, with Diane Fujino, Emory Douglas, Tarika Lewis, and Bobby Seale. Great to get community-based activist perspectives to reframe the debate and keep things real. It was recorded by KPFA’s Apex Express and Freedom Archives, so audio will hopefully be available soon.

Diane Fujino is also speaking tomorrow at Oakland Public Library’s Temescal Branch at 6:30 p.m, 5205 Telegraph Ave.

http://rafu.com/news/2012/09/author-fujino-to-speak-at-oakland-library/

11 09 2012
asiansart

UPDATE 9/11/12: “Richard Aoki : Oakland town hall discussion defends controversial activist’s legacy (Review),” by Eric Arnold, Oakland Local, 9/11/12. Great write-up of important gathering mentioned above, featuring Aoki biographer Diane Fujino, and former Black Panthers Tarika Lewis (first female panther), Emory Douglas (Minister of Culture), and co-founder Bobby Seale, at EastSide Cultural Center.

26 09 2012
asiansart

UPDATE 9/26/12: “Connecting The Past And The Present: Harvey Dong’s Insights On The Allegations Against Richard Aoki,” by Tala Khanmalek, Racialicious.
http://www.racialicious.com/2012/09/26/connecting-the-past-and-the-present-harvey-dongs-insights-on-the-allegations-against-richard-aoki/

“In terms of the author, Seth Rosenfeld, was this something that he had misread, did sloppy work and, from there, set off a hailstorm? That’s possible. One person’s sloppy academic research…I mean, that’s possible, too, that there was a misreading and bad analysis, bad historical research and documentation on Seth Rosenfeld’s part, which is actually what a lot of the academics in the Chronicle of Higher Education who were interviewed for that essay were saying. But one thing though that made me kind of angry about Rosenfeld was that he seemed to have a certain conspiracy theory in his mind, to the point where any bits and pieces that he could pull together he would use to draw his own conclusions. He doesn’t seem to be that thorough…

“I would say that by latching onto this issue, the conservative media is helping promote a certain summation of the 60s and 70s. I think Rosenfeld himself is part of that conservative media and he has that summation also. If you look at his book he makes a sharp dichotomy between the politics of the Free Speech Movement, which actually happened in 1964, and the politics of the Third World Liberation Front, which took place in 1968 at SF State and continued on the UC Berkeley campus in 1969. Whole different time period, whole different move in terms of the nation, whole different move in terms how politicians and how the government viewed social movements…”

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