(Mondo we Langa today. Photo by Michael Richardson)
COINTELPRO and the Omaha Two
--An interview with Michael Richardson
By Angola 3 News
In 2007, veteran journalist Michael Richardson began writing a series of articles for OpEdNews.com about Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, who are two Black Panther political prisoners known as the Omaha Two. Richardson argues that they were framed for the 1970 murder of a policeman as part of the FBI’s notorious counterintelligence program, dubbed “COINTELPRO.” This top-secret and illegal operation was a dirty war on the entire US Left, including the civil rights & Black liberation movements.
Illustrating this program’s intent, a March 3, 1968 COINTELPRO memo discussed the need to stop "the beginning of a true black revolution," and to "prevent the rise of a 'messiah' who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement… Through counterintelligence it should be possible to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them." Another stated goal was "to prevent the long-range growth of militant black nationalist organizations, especially among youth. Specific tactics to prevent these groups from converting young people must be developed." One specific tactical approach was expressed in an April 3, 1968 communiqué arguing that "The Negro youth and moderates must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries."
In terms of scale, the FBI's war of repression against the Black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s was greatest against the Black Panthers. Many Panthers, like Chicago leader Fred Hampton, were assassinated outright, while others were framed for murders they did not commit. A few of these Panthers, like Geronimo Ji Jaga and Dhoruba Bin Wahad, had their convictions overturned and were released, but many of the COINTELPRO survivors remain in prison today.
In addressing why the Panthers were targeted so intensely by COINTELPRO, Noam Chomsky wrote in 1973: "A top secret Special Report for the president in June 1970 gives some insight into the motivations for the actions undertaken by the government to destroy the Black Panther Party. The report describes the party as 'the most active and dangerous black extremist group in the United States.' Its 'hard core members' were estimated at 800, but 'a recent poll indicates that approximately 25 percent of the black population has a great respect for the BPP, including 43 percent of blacks under 21 years of age.' On the basis of such estimates of the potential of the party, the repressive apparatus of the state proceeded against it to ensure that it did not succeed in organizing as a substantial social or political force."
Michael Richardson is now working on a book about the Omaha Two and this year, he began a new series of articles at Examiner.com, exploring the broader history of COINTELPRO, along with a continued focus on the Omaha Two.
Angola 3 News: Please tell us about who the Omaha Two are.
Michael Richardson: Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) were two leaders of the Black Panther affiliate chapter in Omaha, Nebraska and targets of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under Operation COINTELPRO. Both men are serving life sentences at the Nebraska State Penitentiary for the 1970 bombing murder of an Omaha policeman and have been imprisoned forty years. The former Panther leaders have come to be known as the Omaha Two.
A3N: As a journalist at the time, how did you first react to news of their arrests?
MR: I didn’t know Poindexter, but Mondo, then called David, was a friend of mine I met at Omaha City Council meetings. I knew Mondo was the sharpest critic of Omaha police around and that he was constantly being harassed, so I wasn’t surprised he became a prime suspect. I didn’t think he did it though and I followed the case in the news and attended part of his trial the next year. I never got to speak to Mondo after his arrest and I moved from Nebraska within a year of his trial.
My first published article was a report on the trial that appeared in the Omaha Star, but it only reported the surface story as the true facts of the case remained hidden.
Over the years I have wondered if Mondo was guilty, as there seemed to be so much evidence of his involvement. Finally, after over 35 years of doubt I began corresponding with Mondo and started research on the case. I reviewed portions of the voluminous court file, interviewed people familiar with the case including the two current attorneys, read old newspaper accounts, studied formerly secret COINTELPRO files, and visited with both men at the prison where they are held.
I am now convinced Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa did not get a fair trial and were framed by overzealous police and prosecutors who ended up letting the real killers get away to put the Panther leaders in jail.
A3N: Can you briefly explain the charges against the Omaha Two, and what evidence was used to convict them?
MR: On August 17, 1970, an anonymous 911 caller reported a woman screaming at a vacant house. Police arrived to an ambush instead, in which 29 year-old Officer Larry Minard was killed. A recording of the killer’s voice was sent to the FBI crime laboratory for analysis but before Minard was even buried, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had ordered the crime lab to withhold a report on the tape.
A 15 year-old, Duane Peak, was soon charged with the murder and after six different versions of the crime, he implicated Ed and Mondo in exchange for his own freedom.
Dynamite was allegedly found in Mondo’s basement only to have two different detectives both claim they were each the one that found the explosives.
The 911 tape was withheld from the jury. The conflicting police dynamite testimony was also unknown to the jury, as was the deal that allowed Peak his freedom. The jury was never informed that the defendants were COINTELPRO targets.
After five days of deliberation, the jury convicted Ed and Mondo of murder but spared their lives from the electric chair. The two men have been in prison ever since.
A3N: Can you please explain what COINTELPRO was? How do the Omaha 2 fit into the story of COINTELPRO?
MR: Operation COINTELRO was a vast, illegal campaign by the FBI in the 60’s and 70’s to “disrupt” domestic political activity that J. Edgar Hoover deemed dangerous. The clandestine program was national in scope, targeted thousands of individuals and groups and broke a number of laws dwarfing Watergate in magnitude.
The Black Panthers were the primary target of Hoover’s law enforcement conspiracy. Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa had been COINTELPRO targets for at least a year prior to their arrests. Hoover had sent several memos to the Omaha FBI office complaining about a lack of results and urged the Omaha agents to be “imaginative” with counterintelligence actions.
Poindexter had been the subject of a secret FBI smear campaign with forged letters and anonymous phone calls while Mondo was targeted for an ambush while distributing Black Panther newspapers. It was the death of Minard, however, that gave the FBI an opportunity to put the Omaha Two behind bars.
At the time of the trial, the jury had no idea that COINTELPRO manipulation of evidence had occurred. The secret program was officially disbanded a week after the trial ended making Ed and Mondo the last COINTELPRO victims.
The COINTELPRO withholding of evidence did not surface until years later following Freedom of Information requests for COINTELPRO documents.
A3N: Have all the COINTELPRO documents been released?
MR: No. Key documents identifying informants and providing evidentiary details have been destroyed, withheld, or remain heavily redacted.
In the mid 70’s when the Church Committee of the U.S. Senate investigated COINTELPRO, much of the Omaha case remained hidden and so the full story of the FBI duplicity in Omaha remains unknown and will likely never be fully disclosed.
Five different members of the Omaha Police Department ended up making perjured or false statements about the case in court proceedings, to the media, and in congressional testimony.
No official or agent of the FBI ever was publicly disciplined for the COINTELPRO misconduct in the Omaha case.
A3N: What are the Omaha Two doing today to challenge the convictions and imprisonment?
MR: Both Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa have habeas corpus petitions pending in the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and petitions for hearings pending in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska.
Both appeals address the conflicting police testimony on dynamite and new scientific testing of the 911 tape that establishes Duane Peak did not make the deadly phone call as he had claimed.
Poindexter asked the Nebraska courts for review and in 2008 was told by the Douglas County District Court that it didn’t matter where the dynamite was found or who found it. Last year the Nebraska Supreme Court told Ed that it didn’t matter who made the 911 call.
A3N: How has the mainstream media done with reporting on the Omaha Two?
MR: Poorly. The national media has largely ignored the case and the regional media has failed to explore the COINTELPRO aspect of the prosecution. Almost all Nebraska media accounts of the Omaha Two contain factual errors of some sort and glaring omissions of relevant facts. Anyone relying on the mainstream media about this COINTELPRO case is sadly both misinformed and under-informed.
Racism and the stigma against the Black Panthers is partially to blame, while COINTELPRO media manipulation was another factor in early reporting on the case. Why the media continues to ignore this important case today is a mystery to me.
A3N: What upcoming articles are you working on?
MR: Now that internet newspaper Examiner.com has named me the COINTELPRO Examiner, the opportunity to report on the Omaha Two is part of my beat. I intend on revisiting, in serial form, the long convoluted history of the case as well as report on current developments.
My research on the FBI and COINTELPRO has led me to understand that Ed and Mondo are not alone and that each COINTELPRO conviction needs a fresh new look. COINTELPRO was the largest, most systematic attack on our legal system in U.S. history. It is our responsibility today to carefully review the cases of remaining COINTELPRO targets because of the strong possibility of tampering with evidence.
A3N: Having written about the Angola 3, why do you think their case is important?
MR: Any case coming out of the 1970’s involving the Black Panthers is important because of the COINTELPRO abuses. The Angola 3 case is somewhat different than others since its genesis is inside a Louisiana prison. It may have not been technically a J.-Edgar-Hoover-authorized COINTELPRO prosecution but some of the trial tactics, including deals with informers, are the same.
The severity of the punishment, decades in solitary confinement, calls out for review and is itself an injustice.
A3N: Any closing thoughts?
MR: Larry Minard, the father of five young children, was buried on what would have been his 30th birthday. He was a police officer responding to the call of a woman screaming. Larry Minard’s killers walk free today.
The named supplier of the dynamite, a suspected police informant, was never charged with the crime and only spent one night in jail.
The anonymous 911 caller was not properly identified and has never been charged in the case.
Duane Peak, the confessed bomber, was released after less then 3 years in juvenile detention.
J. Edgar Hoover let the killer of Larry Minard, the 911 caller, go free to make a case against the Omaha Two.
Justice has not been done in Nebraska.
--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is http://www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.
Photo by Michael Richardson