Earl Anthony and the Black Panther Party

Black Panthers mural, Crenshaw Blvd, Los Angeles. (Library of Congress)

The Black Panther Party was founded on October 15, 1966, with Earl Anthony joining the following April. His 1990 book, entitled Spitting in the Wind: The True Story Behind the Violent Legacy of the Black Panther Party, reveals that Anthony was an early informant for the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a drug dealer, drug abuser, womanizer, and abuser of women. Writing in the late 1980s while battling his addiction to crack cocaine, Anthony states in the Author’s Preface, “I came to the realization that taking to the streets to fight social revolution in this country is like ‘spitting in the wind; it will fly back into your face.’” Essentially, he uses his second book to argue social revolution is fruitless and a waste of time. Anthony was writing in pain; grief stricken and hurt by the pain he saw and caused during the Black Power era. 

Anthony attended and graduated from Los Angeles City College and the University of Southern California in the early 1960s. By fall 1963, he relocated to San Francisco to attend Golden Gate College of Law. There, Anthony led rent strikes in San Francisco as part of the Independent Action Movement (I AM). He also took part in a week-long commemoration of Malcolm X’s martyrdom in 1967, where he joined dozens of speakers for the event including Huey P. NewtonBobby SealeMaulana Karenga, and Eldridge Cleaver. Betty Shabazz, Minister Malcolm’s widow, gave the keynote address. Anthony chronicles this celebration and its significance in his first book, Picking Up the Gun: A Report on the Black Panthers, published in 1970. However, it would not be until Spitting in the Wind that Anthony explained“The Malcolm X Commemoration was to be financed by chapters of white San Francisco Communist Party members, and while most of those participating in honoring Malcolm X were ignorant of that fact, I was not.” He added, “I had been contacted by two old ‘friends’ by the names of Ron Kizenski and Robert O’Connor and briefed as to what was coming down politically.”

According to Anthony, he knew Kizenski and O’Connor from school activities but not as FBI agents. The FBI was interested in the Communists in general and Beverly Axelrod in particular; she was the white Communist attorney who got Cleaver released from prison and assisted him with his best-selling 1968 book Soul on Ice. Because Anthony was a law student, a member of the “Young Republicans” at the University of Southern California, and from a middle-class background, the FBI contacted him, according to Anthony, to warn him that they believed Axelrod was trying to recruit him to be part of the Communists’ plan to guide and lead the Black movement.  

Later, after joining Newton and Seale’s Black Panther Party, Anthony left law school resulting in a change of his draft status for the Vietnam War. Anthony refused the draft and was soon visited by O’Connor and Kizenski who were much sterner and more forceful. They told him that he was under investigation for the bombing of the Van Nuys draft board building. Anthony, not knowing anything about the bombing, recalls, “They would not charge me if I would become an informant for the FBI inside the Black Panther Party” to which Anthony laughed “and instantly O’Conner threw a right fist upside my jaw, knocking me against the wall. Kizenski grabbed me, and O’Conner threw a series of rights and lefts, knocking me unconscious.” Anthony regained consciousness only to see O’Connor and Kizenski’s guns pointed at him as they restated that they wanted him to be an informant. Anthony states, “I agreed and as far as I know, became the first of dozens of Black Panthers who were to accept the same type of deal from the FBI’s COINTELPRO division.”  

Anthony was elevated in Party leadership after Seale was put in jail for entering onto the floor of the California State Capitol building with other Panthers carrying guns on May 2, 1967, to protest the changing gun laws. Newton was also in jail after a shootout with two policemen on October 28, 1967. As a result, Cleaver led the Panthers, and Anthony was his right hand. Anthony would immediately have two major disruptive and deadly COINTELPRO assignments that would gravely impact the Black Power Movement. First, he was to “hype up Cleaver and get him to go into warfare against other Black nationalists who had been protesting in front of Ramparts magazine against the Black Panther Party because it was supported financially and ideologically by the Communist Party of America.” Attempting to carry out his informant duties, Anthony said that Cleaver wanted to use guns to suppress Black nationalist opposition, but Anthony convinced him to beat up and pistol-whip members of other organizations. He recalls, “This campaign of terror continued for the next few months, running many of the black extremists who supported revolution out of the San Francisco Bay area.” When the feud between the Black Panther Party and Black nationalist organizations in the Bay Area did not result in open warfare, the FBI devised a second plan for Anthony. 

In Picking up the Gun, Anthony details the particulars and explains the significance of working with white radicals and its impact on the Black struggle. According to Anthony, “The Party had the manpower but the white radicals had the administrative machinery. Without the machinery provided by the committee, we would not have been able to begin to build and sustain the thousands of supporters of Huey with information and political propaganda.”  

Here, the Black Panthers would increase their visibility and membership due to the “Free Huey” campaign. This momentum, built upon white Leftists’ support, would contribute to the Panthers’ further expansion. Kizenski and O’Connor told Anthony to have Cleaver dispatch him to Los Angeles, start a Los Angeles chapter of the Party where he could be an independent leader, and encourage an ideological war with Maulana Karenga’s cultural nationalist Organization US, founded on September 7, 1965. Karenga asserts, “US has said and continues to say that the battle we must fight now and always is the battle for the minds of black people, and if we lose that battle, we cannot hope to win any other battle.” Arguing that Black people in the United States have been conditioned with the same racist ideas and anti-Black ideas as white people, Karenga insists that Black people reconnect culturally with their African heritage, reorient themselves in their own sense of self and purpose, and engage in political struggle.  

Anthony knew Karenga from L.A. City College when they were both students and did not want conflict with him or US, but Kizenski and O’Connor applied pressure to Anthony to get Los Angeles Black Panther leader Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter—former leader of the Los Angeles street organization the Slauson’s—to recruit members into the Party and start a war in the streets with US. Unable to run Organization US out of Los Angeles, tension grew, and violence followed. 

The presence and influence of white radicals, according to Anthony, directly related to the growing tensions with other Black organizations. He explains

Adding fuel to these political fires was the white radical press, which seemed to use every opportunity to make distinctions between the ideology, strategy, and tactics of the Panthers as opposed to those of other black organizations- most of who were dubbed cultural nationalists, which has become a synonym for reactionary. It seemed that the white radicals were consciously building the image of the Party, and the price the Party was paying for these newly won allies was that it was becoming the enemy of other black organizations and political personalities.  

Here, the white radicals presented the Black Panther Party as the vanguard of the Black movement, while the Panthers would attack other Black organizations and defend their white allies. Anthony recalls thinking, “Once a political decision is made to uncompromisingly defend one’s allies it naturally follows that you have also accepted their political reality, thereby giving these allies at the least a modicum of influence.” Kwame Ture, then Stokely Carmichael, also critiqued the Party calling them “dogmatic,” condemning their alliances with white radicals, and calling their tactics “dishonest and vicious.”1Karenga’s 1976 The Roots of the US-Panther Conflict: The Perverse and Deadly Games Police Play also recognized the ideological tension that COINTELPRO exploited. Anthony’s Spitting in the Wind reveals COINTELPRO’s “invisible hand” in the conflict and his involvement. 

Anthony would go on to sell drugs in San Francisco for COINTELPRO and work with CIA-supported revolutionary organizations in Africa. He also made futile attempts to end his informant status with the FBI that seemed to result in further drug abuse, womanizing, and the abuse of women. Anthony’s account reminds us not to romanticize the Black freedom struggles past or present. The task is to understand and learn from the movement in all its complexities. After the movement and its victories, many activists bore invisible scars, and they hurt long after the movement.

  1. C. Gerald Fraser, “Carmichael Quits the Black Panthers,” New York Times, July 4, 1969, Historical New York Times, Proquest Historical Newspapers: New York Times, pg. 1
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M. Keith Claybrook, Jr.

M. Keith Claybrook, Jr. is an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach where he teaches classes on history, the social sciences, and critical thinking. His research interests include the history of Black Los Angeles, the Black Freedom Movement, the Black Student Movement, 21st Century Black student activism, 21st Century Pan Africanism, Reparations, and Hip Hop. He is the author of Building the Basics: A Handbook for Pursuing Academic Excellence in Africana Studies. He is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Beyond the Spectacle: The Intellectual Work of the Black Power Era in Los Angeles, 1965-1975.