Revealed: how UK targeted American civil rights leader in covert campaign

The British government targeted the American civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael and sought to weaken the Black Power movement with covert disinformation campaigns, recently declassified documents have revealed. The effort was the work of a secret unit known as the Information Research Department, based in London and part of the Foreign Office, which created and distributed literature from fake sources as part of a broader effort to destabilise cold war enemies. The effort against Carmichael, a firebrand orator who travelled to west Africa in part to escape harassment by US law enforcement agencies, aimed to portray the prominent Black Power leader as a foreign interloper in Africa who was contemptuous of the inhabitants of the continent. Based mainly in Guinea from July 1969, the 28-year-old activist had became a vocal advocate of socialist, pan-Africanist ideologies, which worried British officials. The IRD was particularly worried by the movement’s potential influence in the Caribbean. In 1969, the IRD also created a new fake group: The Organisation of African Students for African Power. This was supposedly based in East Germany and adopted contemporary radical New Left ideas, “proclaiming a plague on both” the capitalist west and the Soviet bloc. The IRD felt this provided a better platform to “damage opponents” than the dated nationalist approach, while being difficult to trace back to Britain because many similar groups had genuinely sprung up in the late 1960s.

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