by Naba’a Muhammad, Daleel Jabir Muhammad and Starla Muhammad
NEW YORK—A confession by an undercover NYPD officer and infiltrator of Black organizations cast additional light on the government’s hand in the killing of Malcolm X in the Audubon Ballroom in 1965 and prompted renewed demands that all files related to the killing of the Black Nationalist leader—especially the full FBI files—be made public now.
It’s been 56 years since that fateful day in New York when the late Ray Wood says a federal agent directed him to go to the ballroom for a speech by Malcolm X and observe something that would happen. He said he watched as the fatal shooting took place and the FBI and the NYPD were involved.
A week before the shooting, Mr. Wood, working undercover as an informant and infiltrator of the New York chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality and other organizations, had setup the two top security people for Malcolm X. The men were arrested in a plot Mr. Wood hatched and incited to bomb the Statue of Liberty.
Their removal was part of the plot to kill Malcolm X, said Mr. Wood, who also said he did not know anything about the plot at the time. The entrapment of the two men was simply part of his work to assist in government campaigns to disrupt, discredit and destroy Black leaders and Black organizations.
Ray Wood also said Thomas 15X Johnson, later known as Khalil Islam and who spent 20 years in jail for the killing Malcolm X, was arrested to protect “the secrets of the FBI and NYPD,” and protect Mr. Wood’s cover. Mr. Islam was innocent, said Mr. Wood.
His words given in what he thought was a deathbed confession as he suffered from stomach cancer in 2011 were made public by his cousin, Reggie Wood, during a Feb. 21 press conference with civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, others and three daughters of the late Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz.
Mr. Wood’s stomach cancer went into remission but he died last November, according to Reggie Wood. Ray Wood also lived a somewhat reclusive life and feared discovery, asking that his account only be delivered after his death, said Reggie Wood.
Ray Wood’s admission now puts two, self-admitted law enforcement agents working for NYPD at the scene of the death of Malcolm X. The second agent was Gene Roberts, who was supposed to be working security but was also a police infiltrator and agent against Black liberation organizations. He is shown onstage after fatal bullets struck Malcolm X, supposedly administering CPR.
Missing are unredacted FBI files five decades after this painful episode in Black history.
Abdul Arif Muhammad, Student General Counsel for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, and the Nation of Islam, called the Wood confession confirmation of what was known about U.S. government plots against Black leaders, organizations and the Nation of Islam.
He noted that in 1979, Vol 1, No. 2, of The Final Call newspaper, Min. Farrakhan lays out the government attacks on the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation, Malcolm X, and other Black leaders and groups.
“The subject of the entire paper, almost 20 pages took up the history of the government’s Counter-Intelligence plan through J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI to destroy, disrupt, neutralize and prevent a rise of a Black Messiah who could unify and electrify the masses,” said Atty. Arif Muhammad.
Min. Farrakhan talked about the enemy’s plot against the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam using agents provocateurs as well as the infiltrators placed inside the Nation to separate Malcolm X from the Nation—and separate Blacks from the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, he noted.
The same plots have been used since the Minister’s divine rise into influence with lies seeking to link him to the death of Malcolm X though nothing at the time even mentions him, said Atty. Arif Muhammad.
Since the early 1990s and beyond, the Minister has called for the release of all government files about the death of Malcolm X, he continued.
“The letter written by Mr. Ray Wood is just confirmation of what we already knew. … His letter, in my opinion, simply gives more credence to the claim that we should open the files to know the truth of what the government has really been trying to hide. Because as it relates to the Nation of Islam is not just local, or state level police but the U.S. government itself, that hand is involved deeply in attempting to destroy generally Black leaders and organizations.
“And in particular the leadership today of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam,” he said.
Demetric Muhammad, researcher and author of “Didn’t You Kill Malcolm: The Propaganda Against the Nation of Islam,” agreed that the Wood revelation echoes and supports Min. Farrakhan’s calls for public release of all government files related to the death of Malcolm X.
There is a need to know everything about the efforts to destroy Black groups and leaders, Demetric Muhammad stressed. Mr. Wood plainly states that as a police officer he was ordered to encourage members of Black groups to commit felonies, he said.
We need to unite Black academics, celebrities, and organizations to demand the release of FBI files about their efforts to destroy Black America, Demetric Muhammad said.
And, he added, while the Wood revelations may be “anti-climactic” to Malcolm X researchers, there are important aspects to them. One is confirmation NYPD, like other agencies, hired Blacks to encourage Blacks to commit felony crimes, leading to arrests and discrediting and destroying Black movements, he said.
The memoir offers confirmation that Mr. Wood was told by government handlers not to get involved if any “s–t goes down today,” noted Demetric Muhammad. So people in the NYPD knew Malcolm X would be killed and told Mr. Wood to do nothing, but as a police officer he had a duty to protect lives and serve the public, said the author and student minister.
And, said Demetric Muhammad, while other groups are named as damaged by the Wood and government activity, the Nation of Islam is not mentioned in the memoir as an injured party that should be made whole. Yet the Nation has suffered because of these false charges and must not be omitted or ignored, he said.
Lastly, he observed that Thomas 15X Johnson, wrongly jailed for the Malcolm X killing, was only referred to as Thomas Johnson and not identified as an innocent Muslim during the press conference.
Secrets revealed by NYPD agent
During the media event at the Malcolm and Betty Shabazz Center, the letter from the onetime agent of the NYPD Bureau of Special Services and Investigation, or BOSSI, which rests on the former site of the Audubon Ballroom, was released. The letter by Ray Wood shares how he was assigned to infiltrate Black organizations throughout New York City.
The confession and release of the letter were delivered to exonerate a man falsely accused in the killing, make amends with the Shabazz family, and offer further details contained in a memoir, “The Ray Wood Story, Confessions of a Black NYPD Cop on the Assassination of Malcolm X.” Reggie Wood wrote about his cousin based on conversations and some research.
Atty. Benjamin Crump said “restorative justice” is required, which should include compensation to the Shabazz family, a federal commission to examine the killing of Malcolm X supported by the Congressional Black Caucus and turning over the letter to the state attorney general of New York, who is investigating the wrongful convictions of innocent Muslims jailed for the Malcolm X killing.
A Final Call reporter asked Atty. Crump if the Nation of Islam, maligned and accused in the death of Malcolm X, was mentioned in the call for restorative justice in the book or any documents? “I don’t think that’s in there but I do think that it is clear that the FBI and the New York Police Department was using Black people and Black organizations as pawns to destroy the civil rights movement,” said Atty. Crump.
Nation of Islam Student Minister Dr. Wesley Muhammad has extensively researched the life of Malcolm X and circumstances surrounding his death. Two years ago, he presented a detailed four hour presentation which included identifying Mr. Wood as the second man several witnesses identified as being arrested and taken from the scene in handcuffs. For years, law enforcement agencies and others insisted only one man was arrested at the scene.
Student Minister Wesley Muhammad said the letter by Mr. Wood was among one of the most important events in the aftermath of the February 21, 1965 assassination.
“We now know Roy Woods’ deathbed confession confirms absolutely what the witnesses have said since then that there was a second ‘shooter’ caught at the scene of the crime,” he said.
The description at the time of the shooter was that he was light-skinned and this is important because descriptions of other shooters were all brown-skinned or dark-skinned men, he explained.
The confession of Ray Wood to his role in the assassination also confirms and proves the reality of the role of Eugene Roberts who was Malcolm X’s security personal and was later revealed to be an undercover NYPD special agent who had infiltrated his movement.
Agents Woods and Roberts had the same White law enforcement “handlers” at BOSSI and received their jobs at the same time, April 17, 1964, said Student Minister Wesley Muhammad.
Though some FBI information was released under the Freedom of Information Act, Reggie Wood said, “the information was so redacted we could barely read or understand the contents.”
Qubilah Shabazz, one of the daughters of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz, told The Final Call, “The government owes my family a whole lot. They just didn’t assassinate my father; they destroyed my family and, in the process, they destroyed my mother.” She went on to say that “this will most definitely be further pursued without a doubt.”
In 1995, the federal government went after Qubilah Shabazz, using White Jewish informant Michael Fitzpatrick in what many called government entrapment and charging her in a plot to kill Min. Farrakhan.
The federal government had paid Michael Fitzpatrick $34,000 plus expenses to record conversations with the young woman.
The federal indictment included eight counts of use of an interstate commerce facility—in this case, the telephone—in the course of a murder for hire scheme. The eight conversations referenced were in July and August of 1994, said the federal authorities. She faced potentially $2.5 million in fines and 90 years in prison if convicted.
The Minister’s condemnation of the FBI, previous plots against Black leaders and organizations and demands that the Shabazz family be protected destroyed the government case. Essentially the government ceased the prosecution and a process of reconciliation between Dr. Shabazz and the Nation of Islam started. Some of her daughters would attend and she would later speak at the historic Million Man March on October 16, 1995.
Prior to that in May 1995, the Apollo Theater in New York was packed and the program was beamed via satellite to locations around the country and outside of America. Dr. Shabazz and Min. Farrakhan would come together in a special moment. What was planned as a legal fundraiser for Qubilah Shabazz became an evening of unity as the government charges had been dispensed with.
Minister Farrakhan, in a Jan. 17, 1995 press conference at Mosque Maryam, called for a letter-writing campaign demanding that the charges be dropped and her unconditional release. The charges against Qubilah shortly thereafter were dropped.
Mr. Fitzpatrick also under investigation for coin fraud was financially bankrupt and suffered drug addiction, according to court records and media reports at that time.
The reconciliation effort between Minister Farrakhan and Betty Shabazz continued during the build-up toward the Million Man March whose themes were atonement and reconciliation.
Government operations and the destruction of Black lives
The day of the murder, New York police were ordered to pull back the usual contingent of officers that would monitor such events. The late attorney William Kunstler, who represented the Shabazz family over the years, took an affidavit from Talmadge Hayer, the one admitted shooter, in which Mr. Hayer described in detail who killed Malcolm X and named the murderers.
Muhammad Abd Al-Aziz, formerly known as Norman 3X Butler, served 20 years for a murder he did not commit, as did Khalil Islam, formerly Thomas 15X Johnson.
The well-documented history of the wicked actions of the U.S. government and law enforcement agencies targeted infiltration of revolutionary Black movements through underhanded and treacherous tactics must be fully exposed, argued Black activists and scholars. The tremendous damage done to individuals, families, movements, and the Black nation is undeniable.
This latest development involving Ray Woods is just further proof, argue social justice experts and historians.
“ITS ABOUT TIME what we have ALWAYS KNOWN is now coming to full light,” Attorney and activist Nkechi Taifa told The Final Call via text.
“There has never been an official reckoning for the vile destruction that COINTELPRO has wrought. This was a gross and deliberate human rights violation of which there is no statute of limitations. The system must be indicted. The casket is opened. Justice now, for Malcolm and all others who were and are victims of illegal and nefarious U.S. governmental actions against the Black Liberation Movement,” she added.
“This letter speaks to the absolute wickedness and evil that emulates from the U.S. government officials all the way up to the president at the time Lyndon B. Johnson because Malcolm X was a true social, economic spokesperson for our community. His impact could have had a great influence with our people if he was allowed to continue his work,” noted Zaki Baruti, of UAPO (Universal African People’s Organization).
“So, with him not being able to keep going, his life could have affected many generations after him. This type of set up goes all the way back to the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and leading into what they did to the Black Panther Party. So, again this letter is a great exposure for showing the government for what it is; a conspirator to keep Black people oppressed,” noted the longtime St. Louis activist.
Dr. Greg Kimanthi Carr is chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. He said the revelation by Mr. Wood is not surprising based on the history of the U.S. government using Blacks as agents, infiltrators, and tools to destroy Black conscious movements.
This is just the “latest battle in the war on African life that began when our ancestors were drug here in chains,” he told The Final Call.
“Against the larger context it will be illogical to trust any institution that has been set up to police us, to monitor us and to control us, to do anything on our behalf, except that we resist. It’s interesting that this is a Black man whose job came because as a result of the fact that they couldn’t send White people to do their job. I mean there’s a long tradition of Black people ‘infiltrating’ Black institutions and Black organizations that are attempting to uplift our people and so that doesn’t come as any surprise,” added Dr. Carr. He explained it was a Black agent that was sent to spy on Mr. Garvey’s UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association).
As early as September 1918, Mr. Garvey’s name appeared on a report to the Bureau of Investigation (a precursor to the FBI) describing the police department’s use of a “confidential employee” to listen to the leader’s speeches, reported the Washington Post. The same year the U.S. Postal Censorship Committee in New Orleans intercepted a parcel with UNIA material in it that was to be delivered to Mr. Garvey. The committee reported the package interception to the U.S. War Department’s Military Intelligence Division “noting that Garvey made: ‘ … an appeal to the racial instinct of the Negroes, calculated to incite hatred for the white race by urging them to do like the Irish, the Jews, the East Indians and all other oppressed peoples who are getting together to demand from their oppressors liberty, justice, equality,’ ” noted the Washington Post in a 1997 article, “Black Moses, Red Scare.” Mr. Garvey’s movement was infiltrated, and he was also spied on. Maj. Walter H. Loving, a retired Army officer and a member of the Military Intelligence Division, dispatched Black informants to UNIA meetings.
Mr. Garvey was eventually charged with federal crimes related to mail fraud, was found guilty and eventually deported to his home country of Jamaica and his movement was destroyed.
While declassifying the records of the FBI, CIA, BOSSI and other agencies would fill in blanks and expose more details on their nefarious activities, these institutions can’t be trusted to be truthful, noted Dr. Carr.
“It would be illogical to look to these institutions to incriminate themselves,” said Dr. Carr. One of the excuses for keeping the files sealed is to hide the actions of people involved who are still alive, he pointed out. “Whenever they declassify them I would not at all expect that all of the documents that were generated at the time of the deed survive. Even if they do, even if we have a full minute by minute account, all it does is fill in some gaps from things that we perhaps didn’t know. But we know who these people are,” he added.
“In this specific case the call for restorative justice Ben Crump called for yesterday; we have to find better language. There is no justice. There is no justice for a Counterintelligence program that identified and targeted leadership in Black revolutionary movements like the Panthers, New York 21—that targeted Black leadership that might potentially link to those type of movements like the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or Martin Luther King or others—and have had our people under surveillance since the beginnings of those organizations whether it’s the Garvey movement, whether it’s the Nation of Islam, the Republic of New Africa and so on,” explained Dr. Carr.
At the end of the day, this government targeting is not about one individual such as Malcolm X, Huey Newton or Fred Hampton but about Black organizations, he continued.
“What these organizations were built to do was keep watch on Black people struggling for our collective liberation and prevent any attempt to inspire, tap into, organize our people that seemed to be making some progress. In the Panthers case I think it was clearly the threat was that there would be an energizing of young, Black people, the poor, the dispossessed and organizing them.
In the case of the Nation (of Islam), the same thing. In the case of Malcolm and the Organization of Afro American Unity or Muslim Mosque Incorporated, the same thing. So you try to cut off the head and create chaos and disorganization, sow tension between our people, so that you can continue to manage the great masses of our people.”
Longtime talk radio host and social justice advocate Bob Law agreed that Black people have known the government interfered in Black progress. “The community is street wise and have always had more than one level of consciousness in the Black community. It’s the same consciousness Malcolm had. We have always known and believed that there was much more on the government level of involvement in Malcolm’s assassination. We always suspected it, but we still supported the Nation of Islam all these years and never bought into the lies,” observed Mr. Law.
“This letter confirms what we knew and the people will exhale, ‘now y’all know the lies that were told about the Nation’(of Islam). “We were never of the notion that the Nation killed Malcolm. Look at those of us that continue to work with the Minister all these years,” he said, referring to Minister Farrakhan.
“Yes, we understood there was internal tensions within the Nation. But those with a higher level of consciousness, like Maulana Karenga, Haki Madhubuti, myself, Sonia Sanchez and even Jesse Jackson; we saw beyond the frame up of the Nation. The letter only validates on our behalf, because the Nation didn’t need to be validated. Their works have been consistent, and they have continued to grow, regardless of the lies told about them,” said Mr. Law.
Tory Russell, co-founder of the International Black Freedom Alliance and also a Ferguson activist, told The Final Call any Black person working for law enforcement against the liberation of Black people under duress and the threat of death like Mr. Wood is working for the U.S government out of fear of imprisonment.
“Remember, America is an open-air prison for Black people and until we can live our fullest lives without fear of oppression then we have not started living. We must know that this revelation today is as a cautionary tale to this current movement and generations to come,” continued the young activist.
“No matter the internal problems or contradictions we find amongst us, we must always handle them in house and never allow our frustrations to create the conditions for our enemies to use us to do his dirty work.”
(J.A. Salaam contributed to this report.)