"The Lowest Circle of Hell Is Reserved for Those Who Betray Their Comrades": Treason and Counterintelligence in the Black Panther Party and Irish Republican Army, 1968–73

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 2:30 PM
Continental A (Hilton Chicago)
Rachel Oppenheimer, Carnegie Mellon University
In 1969 J. Edgar Hoover alleged that the Black Panther Party was “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Three years later, the British government would come to the same conclusion about the Irish Republican Army’s role in Northern Ireland. These were organizations to be feared and undermined in order to keep the loyal citizens of the United States and Northern Ireland safe. Conversely, the IRA and BPP maintained that their actions, up to and including violence, were justified because of historic abuses of the State toward minority communities.

Indeed, issues of loyalty, treason, and legitimacy are inherently bound to the discussion of groups that oppose a particular State and conceive of alternate socio-political structures in its place. Organizations with anti-State platforms are often cast as traitorous, by definition. This paper, however, explores the ways in which established governments attempted to use the issue of treason to undermine anti-State actors via informants and agent provocateurs. Case studies of the Irish Republican Army and Black Panther Party will be examined to determine how the British and US governments caused BPP and IRA leaders to fear treason in their ranks. Through analysis of memoirs, interviews, and organizational documents, the BPP and IRA’s reaction to members they believed to be treasonous will be explored. This study will, subsequently, demonstrate that while attempting to undermine the Irish Republican Army and Black Panther Party, the governments of Great Britain and the United States moved beyond their own laws and created increased violence of the type they purported to be committed to stopping. Thus, the strategy of stopping treason with treason, effectively, created a macabre race to the bottom, blurring the lines of legality, placing pro-government and anti-government forces alike, outside the bounds of the law.

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