Colston Westbrook

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Colston Westbrook
Colston Richard Westbrook

September 14, 1937
DiedAugust 3, 1989 (aged 51)
Alma materContra Costa College

Colston Richard Westbrook (1937–1989) was a teacher and linguist who worked in the fields of minority education and literacy, after government service in various capacities.

Early life[edit]

Westbrook was born on September 14, 1937 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.[1] He also grew up in this area. His father was Sgt. Edward Cody Westbrook, who died in Germany while serving in World War II. His mother, Virginia Ruth Colston, was a housewife who held various jobs to raise their five children.

Westbrook attended Chambersburg Primary and High schools, graduating with Honors in 1955. After graduation he and his elder brother, Cody, traveled from Pennsylvania to Richmond, California to live with their maternal grandmother. Colston attended Contra Costa College, in San Pablo, California where he excelled, particularly at languages, and was an honors student.[2] He was selected to travel to Rome, Italy to represent Contra Costa College based on President Eisenhower's People to People Student Ambassador Program.

Military and government contracting career[edit]

In a somewhat unusual path of military service, Westbrook served in the Army, then Air Force. After an assignment in South Korea, he was assigned to Travis Air Force Base in California in 1960.[3] Upon completion of military service he taught English at the International Christian University in Tokyo.[2] While in Tokyo he was recruited for a civilian position with Pacific Architects and Engineers, a US government contractor, in South Vietnam. He stayed with PAE five years. When a journalist later asked why he went to Vietnam, Westbrook answered, "Money, why else? I was told by the American Embassy in Tokyo I could make $10,000 working in Vietnam. They said it pays to be black in Nam".[4] PAE was a contractor for the Central Intelligence Agency's Phoenix Program, providing services including civilian cover for CIA operatives and constructing 44 Province Detention Centers. Westbrook later denied working for the CIA.[4][5][6] In 1968 Westbrook returned to the United States, then began a stint working with the Los Angeles Police Department's Criminal Conspiracy Section and the State of California's Criminal Identification and Investigation Unit. During that time radical black militant organizations were a top target of those units, and that circumstantial evidence suggests that Westbrook could have begun a working relationship with Donald DeFreeze, an alleged informant for LAPD, that would carry over to their later contact through Westbrook's academic outreach to the Black Cultural Association, an organization of black prisoners at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.[7]

Academic career[edit]

Westbrook enrolled in the Linguistics department at the University of California, Berkeley in September 1970.[3] By this time, he had mastered several foreign languages — Korean, Japanese, Italian, German, and French. He also studied Swahili at Berkeley with Bwana Kaaya, from Tanzania. He understood and had a working knowledge of Bakweri[citation needed].

He worked in the fields of minority education and literacy.[2] He traveled to Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Sorbonne while a student at Berkeley. In 1975, he completed his master's thesis on the dual linguistic heritage of African-Americans,[2] or "Black English dialectology,"[4] focusing on the need of many African-American students to code-switch between the General American dialect and their own dialect of English, which has some roots in West African languages.[2] He told a journalist, "It's a brand new field, my own field. I made it up".[4] As a teaching assistant, he taught African-American Linguistics in Berkeley's Department of Afro-American Studies. He continued to teach the class after graduating.[8]

He established his own educational consulting company, Minority Consultants, located on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley. Its services were to assist African immigrants and African Americans with resources, to educate mainstream society about how African Americans learn, and to assist immigrants in adjusting to American society.

He was Dean of Students at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California from 1978 until 1989.[2]

Student activism and prison outreach[edit]

The Black Cultural Association was formed in 1968 at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville and became officially recognized by the prison system in 1971. At that time Westbrook became the group's "outside visitors coordinator" for educational outreach from students at Bay Area colleges and universities. It was reported that he was asked to work with this group (but unclear who asked).[4] On Friday nights there were cultural meetings, which several hundred outsiders attended.[4] They opened with a pan African flag and black power salutes. Meeting programs included speeches, poetry readings, plays and debates.[4] The program attracted radical students who saw militant black nationalism as a force that could launch a revolution. Westbrook's purported prior relationship with the inmate Donald DeFreeze in Los Angeles has driven the contention that DeFreeze was recruited by Westbrook as an informant to keep tabs on black inmates with radical political sympathies, and on interactions with radical students in the outreach program.

Willie Wolfe, Russell Little and Mary Alice Siem, who attended his African-American Linguistics class, joined the BCA outreach program.[3] In 1972, DeFreeze invited that group to join his separate study group, Unisight. An inmate by the name of Thero Wheeler, a former Black Panther, was also in this group.[9] This group would coalesce in 1973 as founders of the Symbionese Liberation Army after Wheeler's and DeFreeze's escapes from prison.

Westbrook was involved in student politics on campus. He was President of the Pan African Student Union at UC Berkeley for two consecutive terms. In 1979 he hosted a question-answer session with the author James Baldwin on campus.[8] His views on equity and justice often created controversy.

Symbionese Liberation Army[edit]

Questions about Westbrook's relationship to the Symbionese Liberation Army arise from his relationships with its key players including DeFreeze and participants in the BCA educational outreach project. Suspicion that the escape of DeFreeze was arranged to launch intelligence-gathering and sting operations against Bay Area radicals was heightened by favorable treatment received by DeFreeze while at Vacaville and Soledad prisons, including the circumstances leading to his escape,[10][11] and his behavior between his escape and founding of the SLA. Upon meeting radicals after his escape, DeFreeze was known for his eagerness to sell firearms, explosives, and related items, raising suspicions that he was trying to set up sting operations. His means of acquiring weaponry has remained unexplained (it was theorized that the weapons cache was provided by law enforcement handlers).[12] None of this logically leads to Westbrook supervising or foreseeing his BCA/educational outreach contacts' role in founding the SLA, however, it does allow the possibility that he had a role facilitating undercover operations with DeFreeze, in line with his purported earlier role facilitating LAPD undercover operations against black radicals.

After the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the SLA placed Westbrook on their death list, claiming he was a CIA agent,[10] and had worked as a "torturer" for the CIA in Vietnam,[4] marked as "an enemy to be shot on sight". They also claimed he was an FBI informer.[13] Westbrook soon went into hiding, in fear for his life.[13] Westbrook contended that he had fallen on the bad side of the SLA's founders because "lesbians" among them objected to his approval of miniskirt-clad black women attending BCA events, and bringing provocative images of women for BCA-affiliated inmates, "Because if you want to dangle a carrot in front of the inmates to get 'em to learn and come to meetings, you don't dangle Communism. You dangle fine‐looking chicks they'll think maybe they can get next to."[4]

BCA founder David Inua described DeFreeze as unintelligent, lacking leadership ability, and incapable of formulating the SLA communiques presented with his voice. In his opinion Nancy Ling Perry and Patricia "Mizmoon" Soltysik, two gung-ho radicals enthralled with violent revolution and with whom DeFreeze was involved in sexual relationships, were the driving force behind forming the SLA. Comments on the adulation of black prisoners as revolutionary fantasy objects by white female radicals, and the ego boost that provided, were made by "Popeye" Jackson, a former inmate and prisoners' rights advocate.[4] These perspectives suggest that DeFreeze's behavior aligned with Westbrook's theory that sexual politics was a more prevalent motivation than ideology for inmates who embraced politics within the BCA, to wit: DeFreeze wanted to impress the fanatical ladies for whom he was a revolutionary fantasy object.

Not long after the SLA's denunciation of Westbrook, two of the families of SLA members, including Willie Wolfe's father, contracted top notch private investigator Lake Headley in an attempt to shed some more light on the matter.[14] On May 4, 1974, Headley, along with freelance writer Donald Freed, held a press conference in San Francisco. They presented 400 pages of documentation of their findings, some of which included:

  • A year before the kidnapping Patty Hearst had visited black convict, Donald DeFreeze, who later became the SLA's figurehead.[14]
  • DeFreeze's arrest records and disposition of cases indicating unusually lenient treatment starting in 1967, when he informed on an accomplice in possession of nearly 200 stolen weapons. The detective on the case moved to a new unit focused on black dissidents.[10]
  • The work of Westbrook with Los Angeles Police Department's CCS (Criminal Conspiracy Section) and the State of California's Sacramento-based CII (Criminal Identification and Investigation) unit, during the time DeFreeze was inferred to be an informant.[7]

On May 17, 1974, The New York Times ran the story of DeFreeze and the Los Angeles Police Department.[10] However, the story was largely overlooked due to this being the day of the shoot out and conflagration that killed DeFreeze and five other members of the SLA.

In the 1993 book Vegas P.I.: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Detective which he co-wrote with freelance writer William Hoffman,[15] Lake Headley also presented evidence that Donald DeFreeze was a police informant and an agent provocateur, and that the Black Cultural Association was used to monitor radicals among students and prison inmates.

Theories that the SLA was conceived of as a disguised CIA hit squad gained currency in some leftist circles, and were expounded upon in satirical[16] and men's entertainment/storytelling[11] publications. In one telling, a number of inmates in California prisons were recruited with a combination of coercion and promises of favored treatment, and later withdrew their consent and faced consequences.[11] Reportedly, DeFreeze was recruited and anointed as Field Marshall Cinque while still in Soledad Prison, and left prison to do the government's bidding. The main target of the SLA hit squad was the Black Panther Party, with Oakland School Superintendent Marcus Foster selected as a target by government forces because of his friendly relationship with the Black Panthers in Oakland. Joe Remiro and Russell Little compromised security after the assassination of Foster and were planned to be executed by SLA recruits in prison. The Kidnapping of Patty Hearst was a decoy action to provide cover for the SLA hit squad before planned actions against the Black Panthers. As a capstone to this elaborate and far-reaching theory, the Los Angeles shootout in which six SLA members were killed was a planned elimination of the hit squad to silence them after security of the hit squad had been unacceptably compromised.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Westbrook married Eposi Mary Ngomba, whom he met on a visit to Cameroon. They had four children and lived in California.


Westbrook died of cancer at Kaiser Oakland Medical Center on August 3, 1989. He was 51.[2]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g
  3. ^ a b c Ross, Colin A. The CIA Doctors: Human Rights Violations by American Psychiatrists, Manitou Communications, 2006
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Davidson, Sara, Notes from the Land of the Cobra, The New York Times, June 2, 1974
  5. ^ Schreiber, Brad (2016). Revolution's End: The Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Mind Control, and the Secret History of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 1510714278. Archived from the original on February 14, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ Kifner, John (May 17, 1974). "Cinque: A Dropout Who Has Been in Constant Trouble". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 26, 2017. Retrieved April 26, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ a b Churchill, Ward & Vander Wall, Jim, Agents of Repression: The FBI's secret wars against the Black Panther Party, 2002
  8. ^ a b Youtube video of Westbrook hosting a talk by James Baldwin, UC Berkeley, 1979. Westbrook is seated on the left (Baldwin's right). A reference to the Jonestown mass killing in Part II dates the video to after 1978.
  9. ^ McLellan, Vin, The Man and the Mystery Behind the Sla Terror, People, April 29, 1974
  10. ^ a b c d Kifner, John, Cinque: A Dropout Who Has Been in Constant Trouble; School Dropout On Welfare Wanted to Sell Bombs Recommendation Ignored Cooperation Indicated Charges Dropped The New York Times, 17 May 1974
  11. ^ a b c d Russell, Dick, Who Ran the SLA?, Argosy, Ann Arbor Sun, January 22, 1976,
  12. ^ Headley, L and Hoffman, W, Vegas P.I.: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Detective, Thunder's Mouth, 1993
  13. ^ a b SLA targets three for death,The Bakersfield Californian, April 5, 1974
  14. ^ a b Langley, W, Patty Hearst - urban guerrilla brought to heel, The Telegraph, 17 Feb, 2008
  15. ^ Vegas P.I.: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Detective
  16. ^ Brussell, Mae