This Sunday’s Super Bowl made history. Not because it was Peyton Manning’s last game or because of running back Jonathan Stewart’s stylish touchdown leap. But because this most American of games honored a group that ranks among the most anti-American.
In the midst of Coldplay’s colorful halftime show, Beyoncé appeared with a group of backup dancers who were wearing distinctive black leather suits and black berets, in memory of none other than the revolutionary group the Black Panthers.
Their outfits would have probably gone unnoticed if it weren’t for pictures the dancers took moments before the show. In the photos, more than two dozen dancers from the group Dream Defenders posed with their fists raised up in the air in the Black Power salute, a gesture famously employed at another major sporting event when Tommie Smith and John Carlos displayed it at the 1968 Olympics. In case the reference went unnoticed, the photo’s caption reads “paying homage to the Black Panthers 50 years after their formation in ‘66.”
The organization, originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP), was founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale 50 years ago in Oakland, California, less than 40 miles from where this year’s Super Bowl took place. The group was originally established to monitor police brutality against African-Americans, but quickly evolved into a movement based on Marxism-Leninism, Black Nationalism, and opposition to purported American Imperialism. The Black Panthers sought guidance in the figures of Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Kim Il-sung, and Ho Chi Minh, and aimed to establish a proletarian utopia in the United States.
Active from 1966 to 1982, the Black Panther Party was one of the most violent groups in the United States at the time. They constantly called for rallies, provoked shootings, and killed police officers. J Edgar Hoover called it “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and in 1969 the FBI declared the movement an enemy of the US government because of its communist actions.
Revolution in the USA
While some doubt their ties to communism, the Panthers themselves stated that they fought to “establish revolutionary socialism through mass organizing and community based programs.” They called for an armed revolution by African-Americans to abolish capitalism and reach social justice. Founder Huey Newton said there were two things the Black Panthers had to fight—capitalism and racism. In his biography, Bob Seale wrote, “we fight capitalism… we fight imperialism with proletarian internationalism.”
Ties with the Communists
Criminal gangs are nothing new, but few have direct organizational links to international communism. As a revolutionary movement that rejected the legitimacy of the US government and its “imperialist” foreign policy, the Black Panthers established contact with communist regimes around the world, including North Vietnam, Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Algeria. In fact, Algeria even invited the Panthers to set up an embassy in their country in 1969, a point at which the country had no official diplomatic relations with the US government.
Tear up the Constitution, Keep the Second Amendment
On May 1967, members of the Black Panther Party stormed into the California State Assembly carrying weapons. Why? The Committee on Criminal Procedure had convened to discuss the Mulford Act, a bill that would make the public carrying of loaded firearms illegal. The Panthers believed the legislation was an attempt to sabotage the organization’s efforts to combat police brutality. Presumably, few minds were changed that day.
Inspiration from the World’s Worst Country
Out of all of the communist countries they had relations with, the Black Panthers were closest with North Korea. Incredible as it may seem, the BPP looked towards North Korea for ideological influence and as a model country. The Panther’s described Kim Il-sung’s Juche ideology as the most effective application of Marxism-Leninism. Eldrige Cleaver, one of the BPP’s leaders, said that “the DPRK was an earthly paradise” and sent his wife there to give birth to their daughter Jojuyounghi. For his part, Great Leader Kim Il-sung said he admired the party’s “struggle to abolish the cursed system of racial discrimination of the US imperialists.”
Mao’s Little Red Book
For their education, the Black Panthers turned to Chairman Mao. Widely used in the Party’s rules and speeches, Mao was quoted as one of their main influences. In the early years of the Black Panther Party, Newton and Seale sold copies of Mao’s Little Red Book to university students in order to collect funds, which mostly went to buying weapons. And as the party grew, every member of the BPP had to read and study Mao’s Little Red Book.