White Panther Party
|White Panther Party|
|Politics of the United States
The White Panthers were a far-left, anti-racist, white American political collective founded in 1968 by Lawrence Plamondon, Leni Sinclair, and John Sinclair. It was started in response to an interview where Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, was asked what white people could do to support the Black Panthers. Newton replied that they could form a White Panther Party. The counterculture era group took the name and dedicated its energies to "cultural revolution." Sinclair made every effort to ensure that the White Panthers were not mistaken for a white supremacist group, responding to such claims with "quite the contrary." The party worked with many ethnic minority rights groups in the Rainbow Coalition.
The group was most active in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan and included the proto-punk band MC5 which Sinclair managed for several years before he was incarcerated. From a general ideological perspective, Plamondon and Sinclair defined the White Panthers as "fighting for a clean planet and the freeing of political prisoners." The White Panthers added other elements such as advocating "rock 'n roll, dope, sex in the streets and the abolishing of capitalism." Abbie Hoffman praised the WPP in Steal This Book and "Woodstock Nation". The group emerged from the Detroit Artists Workshop, a radical arts collective founded in 1964 near Wayne State University. Among its concerns was the legalization of marijuana; Sinclair had several arrests for possession. It aligned itself with radical politics, claiming the 12th Street Riot was justifiable under political and economic conditions in Detroit.
Plamondon was indicted with Sinclair in connection to the bombing of a Central Intelligence Agency office in Ann Arbor on September 29, 1968, a year after the founding of the group. Upon hearing on the left-wing alternative radio station WABX that he had been indicted, he fled the U.S. for Europe and Africa, spending time in Algeria with exiled Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. After secretly re-entering the country, and on his way to a safe house in northern Michigan, he was arrested in a routine traffic stop, joining Sinclair, who had been sentenced to nine and half years in jail for violating Michigan's marijuana possession laws, in prison. Plamondon was convicted and was in prison when Sinclair was released on bond in 1971 while appeals were being heard on his case. Sinclair's unexpected release came two days after a large "Free John" benefit concert, with performances from John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Bob Seger, and Stevie Wonder, was held at the University of Michigan's Crisler Arena.
The group had a direct role in two important legal decisions. A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1972 quashed Plamondon's conviction and destroyed the case against Sinclair. The court ruled warrantless wiretapping was unlawful under the U.S. Constitution, even in the case where national security, as defined by the executive branch, was in danger. The White Panthers had been charged with conspiring to destroy government property and evidence used to convict Plamondon was acquired through wiretaps not submitted to judicial approval. The case U.S. vs. U.S. District Court (Plamondon et al.), 407 U.S. 297, commonly known as the Keith Case, held that the Fourth Amendment shielded private speech from surveillance unless a warrant had been granted, and that the “warrant procedure would not frustrate the legitimate purposes of domestic security searches.” The judgment freed Plamondon, yet Sinclair was free only on bond fighting his possession conviction. In 1972, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in the People v. Sinclair, 387 Mich. 91, 194 N.W.2d 878 (1972) that Michigan's classification of marijuana was unconstitutional, in effect decriminalizing possession until a new law conforming to the ruling was passed by the Michigan Legislature a week later. Sinclair was freed but the cumulative effects of the imprisonment had marked the end of the White Panther Party in Michigan, which renamed itself the Rainbow People's Party while Sinclair and Plamondon were in prison. The Rainbow People's Party, headquartered in Ann Arbor, disbanded in 1973.
The headquarters of the White Panthers in Portland, Oregon were raided by the FBI on December 5, 1970. Two members of the group were arrested and accused of throwing a molotov cocktail through the window of a local Selective Service office.
White Panther Party chapters in San Francisco and Berkeley remained active into the 1980s. The WPP ran a successful 'Food Conspiracy' that provided groceries to about 5,000 Bay Area residents at low cost, due to bulk buying and minimum markup. In 1984, angry because then-Mayor of San Francisco Dianne Feinstein proposed to ban handguns in the city, the San Francisco White Panthers mounted a successful petition drive that forced Feinstein into a recall election, which she won. Within the next year, a WPP house in the Haight Ashbury district was burned down by the San Francisco Police, and the leaders of the local chapter (Tom Stevens and Terry Phillips) had been jailed after their commune was raided without a warrant, effectively destroying the chapter.
The White Panther Statement
- Full endorsement and support of the Black Panther Party's 10-point program and platform.
- Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets.
- Free exchange of energy and materials—we demand the end of money!
- Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care—everything free for every body!
- Free access to information media—free the technology from the greed creeps!
- Free time & space for all humans—dissolve all unnatural boundaries!
- Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule—turn the buildings over to the people at once!
- Free all prisoners everywhere—they are our comrades!
- Free all soldiers at once—no more conscripted armies!
- Free the people from their phony "leaders"—everyone must be a leader—freedom means free every one! All Power to the People!
- Kaya Burgess (January 21, 2009). "Obama's inauguration hailed by White Panther founder John Sinclair". The Times (London). Retrieved 2009-01-21.
- Zbrozek, C (2006-10-24). "The bombing of the A2 CIA office". Michigan Daily. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- Salpukas, Agis (1971-01-17). "DETROIT RADICALS FACE BOMB TRIAL; Defense Challenges Jury System and Wiretapping". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- John Sinclair, "White Panther State/meant", Guitar Army, p. 105.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (February 2008)|
- The documentary film MC5: A True Testimonial (2002) features comments by Sinclair and MC5 on the party.
- Essay: The Political Economy of the White Panthers
- "60s radical takes long trip back to his roots," Marsha Low, Detroit Free Press, October 27. 2004, Sec B.
- "White Panther Manifesto," John Sinclair, 1968, accessed November 17, 2004 
- Adapted from the Wikinfo article, White Panther Party , used under the GNU Free Documentation License
- The documentary film The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006) assesses the FBI's investigation into John Lennon and Yoko Ono attending several White Panther Party meetings.
- Carson, David. Grit, Noise, and Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock 'n' Roll. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2005.
- Hale, Jeff A.. "The White Panthers' 'Total Assault on the Culture.'" In Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s. Eds. Peter Braunstein and Michael William Doyle. New York: Routledge, 2002: pp. 125–156.
- JohnSinclair.us The Official John Sinclair Website
- The John and Leni Sinclair Papers, 1957–1999
- John Sinclair Interview by Jarrod Dicker
- Pun Plamondon Interview by Jarrod Dicker