Bobby Rush (left) and Fred Hampton at the Illinois Black Panther Party headquarters at 2350 W. Madison St. | Sun-Times file photo
Rush, a co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party, filed a bill mandating disclosure of secret FBI files. He also asked AG Merrick Garland to release unredacted documents.
WASHINGTON — Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., an Illinois Black Panther Party co-founder, on Tuesday stepped up his drive to force the release of FBI domestic spying files, searching for new documents dealing with the FBI-related murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969 on Chicago’s West Side.
On Tuesday, Rush, a close friend of Hampton, filed a bill mandating disclosure of secret FBI files.
Before that, on March 31, Rush led a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting “that you release unclassified and unredacted versions of any files or papers in the possession of the U.S. Department of Justice or the FBI pertaining to this assassination.”
Hampton and another man, Mark Clark, were assassinated Dec. 4, 1969, in a predawn raid with agents from the Cook County state’s attorney office, Chicago Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The story of the 1969 raid on the party’s West Side headquarters killing Hampton — and the police brutality coverup — was told in the film “Judas and the Black Messiah,” where actor Daniel Kaluuya won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar last month for his depiction of Hampton. The movie revived interest in the case for new generations of Americans.
Said Rush in the Garland letter, “We believe that it is past time that our country fully knows and understands its dark past and the release, and study, of this information is an important step on this journey.”
Rush said in a Tuesday statement about his bill, “It is high time that the American people know about the odious and inhumane legacy of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO operation and its assault on our nation’s civil liberties,” Rush said in a statement.
“…COINTELPRO was spying on American citizens. Anyone who took a political position against the status quo, anyone who wanted to make America better was subject to being penalized, investigated — and in the case of my friend Fred Hampton, assassinated — by the official legal arm of the federal government.”
The Rush bill requires government agencies to disclose all files relating to the FBI’s now disbanded counterintelligence programs, which took aim at the Black Panther Party and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., among others.
That the FBI operated the counterintelligence program — known as COINTELPRO — is no secret.
As the FBI states on its website, the COINTELPRO operation was started in 1956 “to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States. In the 1960s, it was expanded to include a number of other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party.
“All COINTELPRO operations were ended in 1971. Although limited in scope (about two-tenths of one percent of the FBI’s workload over a 15-year period), COINTELPRO was later rightfully criticized by Congress and the American people for abridging first amendment rights and for other reasons.”
Rush’s measure, if it became law, would, the bill states, “require the public disclosure of COINTELPRO records, to establish a COINTELPRO Records Collection, and to establish the COINTELPRO Records Review Board.”
Rush has no co-sponsors yet on his legislation.
The bill also would strip the name of controversial FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover — who launched COINTELPRO — from the FBI headquarters building in Washington.
“As a victim of COINTELPRO, I want to know, with honesty, with clarity, and with no redactions, the full extent of the FBI’s nefarious operations. I want to know the breadth and depth of the conspiracy to assassinate Fred Hampton and how taxpayer dollars were spent on his assassination. I want to know why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a focus of the FBI, why Billie Holiday was a focus of the FBI — I want to know why so many young activists were harassed by the FBI. What was the justification for the impact that it had on their lives?
“Finally, it is beyond time for J. Edgar Hoover, who has a clear legacy as the number one assailant on America’s constitutional guarantees for its citizens,” to have his name removed from FBI headquarters, Rush said in his statement.
Garland has not yet replied to the Rush letter. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., whose district takes in Chicago’s West Side, was among the co-signers.