One year ago, on Feb. 25, 2006, a neo-Nazi rally was held in Orlando, Fla. It was a rally of only 22 neo-Nazis, but it was protected by over 300 police who surrounded the fascists to assure their “freedom of speech.”
More than 500 people—African American and white—came out to demonstrate vigorously against the fascists, who
But the police support for the neo-Nazis in Orlando went beyond their security mobilization to protect them.
On Feb. 14, 2007, a prosecutor in an Orlando courtroom inadvertently exposed the fact that the organizer of that 2006 rally was an FBI informant. His name is David Gletty. According to the FBI, he was paid $20,000 for two years. Gletty did more than inform: He secured the permits and spearheaded the racist rally, which was organized with obvious approval from the police, city officials and the FBI.
The reaction to the news of the FBI’s involvement is one of anger in the African American community of this central Florida town. Leaders of the state’s NAACP and local organizations are demanding a more complete investigation into the role of the FBI and police.
Without the 300 heavily armed SWAT police, the neo-Nazis’ targeting of Orlando’s African American community—with a minuscule number of 22 fascists—would never have been possible given the mass opposition from the people of Orlando.
Time and again, in every region of the United States, when small bands of Nazis or the Klan announce a rally, they invariably receive a permit and massive police protection from the justifiable wrath of the people. Without such police protection, the fascists would not be able to hold a public action.
But the revelation of FBI involvement in Orlando exposes a much closer collaboration between the government, police agencies, and Klan and Nazi groups than most people are aware of.
The FBI’s deadly hostility to the Black community and its leaders is sometimes explained as a thing of the past because of the 50-year dictatorial rule of J. Edgar Hoover.
As FBI director for 50 years, Hoover was a virulent racist and anti-communist who oversaw the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO program and secretly declared war on African American leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and many others. COINTELPRO targeted revolutionary and progressive organizations, including African American organizations struggling for civil rights. It also targeted radical organizations that emphasized Black power and the right to self-defense.
The nurturing and protection of the paramilitary racist organizations by the state—police and courts—goes back even further than Hoover’s rise to police power in the 1920s. And the government’s hand-in-hand relationship continues to the present.
Orlando’s deputy police chief Pete Gauntlett, in an interview with the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, made that relationship clear, “We let them express their free speech and let them do what they’re allowed to do, but we wanted to have control.”
Freedom of speech as a cover
Sam Marcy, a Marxist leader in the United States, wrote in the book “The Klan and the Government, Foes or Allies” about the links between the capitalist state and fascist organizations.
“The far more important problem is the reciprocal relations between the capitalist government and the Klan. More often than not, the former is made to appear rather hostile to the Klan. The public impression conveyed is that the government is forced under the law (the First or “Free Speech” amendment to the constitution) to defend and secure the Klan’s rights.
“In reality, however, the capitalist government has covertly encouraged and promoted the Klan over many decades. It is often completely overlooked in current discussions and in the press and media reports that the durability of the Klan rests on solid long-term bonds to the state, and that the two share a common political ideology, for the most part.”
Just as the right of speech does not extend to acts harmful to people, like shouting “fire” in a theater, Klan and Nazi rallies are terrorist acts whose objective is only to rally their forces to carry out racist terror and must be vigorously opposed. However, relying on the state to stop them is a dangerous illusion.
One of the most blatant examples of the government’s links to the Klan was the brutal massacre on Nov. 3, 1979, in
The five were members of the former Communist Workers Party, which had been leading mass union-organizing struggles in the area’s textile factories and hospitals. A people’s rally and conference against the Klan was called for that day in the Black community of Greensboro, to meet at 10 a.m. at Carver and Everett streets.
Ominously, the Greensboro police prohibited the anti-Klan-march organizers from carrying guns for their personal protection, although that had always been the practice. The police promised to provide protection.
But the police never showed up until just after the massacre. Instead, a nine-car caravan carrying 35 Klansmen drove up at 11:18 a.m., got out of their cars and methodically began shooting the people gathered.
The whole mass murder was filmed on four TV cameras, as the fascists calmly walked back to their cars, reloaded and kept shooting. It was a horrifying bloodbath. Five people lay dead, nine were wounded.
Instead of arresting the Klan, the police immediately drove up in their vehicles after the killing and began arresting and beating the anti-racist activists, including the injured. They allowed eight of the Klan vehicles to drive away.
In the investigations and trials that followed, the direct role of the local police, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) was exposed. In particular, BATF agent Bernard Butkovich helped procure weapons and train Nazi and Klan groups in the area.
He participated in a Sept. 1979 meeting where rival fascist groups formed a coalition to attack the CWP members.
With the full knowledge and approval of the FBI, informer and agent Edward Dawson rallied Klansmen in North Carolina to come to Greensboro on Nov. 3. From start to finish, Dawson was fully involved in the planning of the massacre, while in constant communication with the FBI.
Dawson was given the anti-racist rally march permit showing the entire route, even before it was given to the rally organizers. The gathering spot of Carver and Everett streets was not known to the public, only to the police and the Klan. That intersection became the killing field. Dawson even helped load the guns into the cars.
In the days after the massacre, there was national outrage. The following week, tens of thousands marched in Greensboro demanding justice. But despite two criminal trials—one state, the other federal—and despite proof of the perpetrators’ murderous actions on four TV cameras, the Klan defendants were acquitted of all charges.
Only in a subsequent civil suit was there some justice. The trial exposed an extensive network of FBI and police ties with the Nazis and Klan in North Carolina. Finally in 1985, five Klansmen and Nazis, Edward Dawson, officer Jerry Rooster Cooper and police tactical squad leader lieutenant P.W. Spoon were found liable for the wrongful death of Dr. Michael Nathan, a pediatrician and one of the five people murdered. With funds from the damages awarded, the Greensboro Justice Fund was established to continue the fight for equality and social justice.
Today, when activists in the Orlando community and the NAACP demand a complete, independent investigation into the role of the FBI and police inside the Ku Klux Klan, it comes with the full weight of history behind it.