Political Murder Klan/Nazi Style: The Greensboro Massacre, the FBI's COINTELPRO, CIA Abuses (1982)
Published on Sep 7, 2022
The Greensboro massacre was a deadly confrontation which occurred on November 3, 1979, in Greensboro, North Carolina, US, when members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party (ANP) shot and killed five participants of a "Death to the Klan" march organized by the Communist Workers Party (CWP). The killed included four members of the CWP, who had originally come to Greensboro to support workers' rights activism among mostly black textile industry workers in the area. The Greensboro city police department had an informant within the KKK and ANP group who notified them that the Klan was prepared for armed violence.
The event had been preceded by inflammatory rhetoric from both sides. As the two opposing groups came in contact at the onset of the march, both sides exchanged gunfire. The CWP and supporters had one or more handguns, while members of the KKK and the ANP were shown in a video taking rifles from their cars. In addition to the five deaths, ten demonstrators and a Klansman were wounded.
Two criminal trials of several of the Klan and ANP members were conducted by state and federal prosecutors. In the first trial, conducted by the state, five were charged with first-degree murder and felony riot. All of the defendants were acquitted. A second, federal criminal civil rights trial in 1984, was held against nine defendants. Again, all of the defendants were acquitted by a jury that accepted their claims of self-defense, despite the fact that the contemporary New York Times opinion page described newsreel film footage of the massacre as "vivid newsreel film to the contrary". News outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the News & Record in Raleigh, NC have remarked on the all-white juries which tried both cases.
In 1980, the surviving protesters, led by the Christic Institute, filed a separate civil suit against 87 defendants, seeking $48 million in damages. The defendants included the city of Greensboro, the state of North Carolina, the Justice Department and the FBI. The suit alleged civil rights violations, failure to protect demonstrators, and wrongful death. Eight defendants were found liable for the wrongful death of the one protester who was not a member of the CWP. The city settled with the plaintiffs for $351,000.
In 2004, 25 years after the event, a private organization formed the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modeled after commissions in South Africa, Canada and elsewhere with the intention to investigate the events of 1979. The private organization failed to secure authority or local sanction, when the mayor and most of the members of the City Council voted against the endorsement of the undertaking. The commission lacked the subpoena power to compel testimony, and it also lacked the ability to invoke perjury for false testimony. When it issued its Final Report, the commission concluded that both sides had engaged in inflammatory rhetoric, but the Klan and ANP members had intended to inflict injury on protesters, and the police department had colluded with the Klan by allowing anticipated violence to take place.
In 2009, the Greensboro City Council passed a resolution expressing regret for the deaths in the march. In 2015, the city unveiled a marker to memorialize the Greensboro Massacre. Three hundred people attended the ceremony.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark recorded "88 Seconds in Greensboro" about the massacre.
Pop Will Eat Itself recorded “88 Seconds... & Still Counting” on the album Cure For Sanity also about the incident.
Saturday Night Live aired a sketch the following year titled "Commie Hunting Season" that made specific reference to the incident.
By the late 1970s, most police departments had become familiar with handling demonstrations, especially in cities such as Greensboro where numerous civil rights events had taken place since 1960. CWP march organizers had filed their plans for this march with the police and gained permission to hold it. Police generally covered such formal events in order to prevent outbreaks of violence; few officers were present during this march. A police photographer and a detective followed the Klan and neo-Nazi caravan to the site, but they did not attempt to intervene in events.
Edward Dawson, a Klansman-turned FBI/police informant was riding in the lead car of the caravan. He had been an FBI informant since 1969 as part of the agency's COINTELPRO program. He was among the founders of the North Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan when the North Carolina chapter of the United Klans of America split. By 1979 he was working as an informant for the Greensboro Police Department. He was given a copy of the march route by the police and informed them of the potential for violence. Because the police were absent, the attackers escaped with relative ease.
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