Omaha agents of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division sought federal prosecution for conspiracy against twenty-two suspected Black Panthers in 1970. The Panthers were blamed for a series of unsolved bombings in the Midwest and the bomb death of an Omaha policeman hardened ATF suspicions about the group. ATF agents pushed for prosecution against Black Panthers in Des Moines and included Charles Knox, Edward Charles Smith, Mary Ann Smith, and Steve Green.
Charles Knox was Minister of Education in the Des Moines Black Panther Party. Knox had helped the Iowa chapter incorporate as a non-profit organization with the state in July 1968. Knox came to Des Moines with Volunteers In Service To America. As a VISTA volunteer, Knox was a visionary and brought a lot of dedication to his anti-poverty efforts. Knox saw the Black Panthers as a logical extension of his prior work.
Edward Charles Smith was the Minister of Defense of the Des Moines chapter. As the muscle of the local Black Panthers, Smith was regularly at odds with police.
Steve Green was in charge of distribution of The Black Panther, a role that attracted the attention of the authorities. The newspaper rhetoric was a flashpoint for law enforcement officers.
At the high point, the Des Moines Black Panthers had about one hundred members and gained respectability in the community. The education level of members was low so Knox set about a reading campaign and handled political education by teaching classes himself.
Charles Knox narrowly escaped harm when the Black Panther headquarters in Des Moines was bombed. The explosive went off right outside Knox’s classroom when he was scheduled to teach. A schedule conflict saved him from the blast. The April 27, 1969 bombing has never been solved although the Panthers suspected off-duty police were responsible.
Knox had been arrested and beaten at a Black Panther rally two weeks before the explosion for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. Charles Knox was back in court in November 1970 on a traffic charge and in no mood to listen to a lecture from the bench. The sentence of five days in jail for no driver’s license irked Knox who spit at Judge Howard Brooks. The spitting incident led to an appearance for contempt of court before a second judge whom Knox proceeded to call a fascist leading to more time in jail.
Knox was also under surveillance by ATF’s rival agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Paul Young, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Omaha FBI office kept J. Edgar Hoover updated on the activities of the Des Moines chapter under the clandestine COINTELPRO operation. In 1972, after COINTELPRO had been terminated, the Omaha FBI office asked Hoover for permission to conduct a counterintelligence operation against Charles Knox. Extensive redactions by FBI censors to the Omaha memorandum conceal the nature of the COINTELPRO request which was denied by Hoover.
Although Knox was regularly in conflict with the police there is no indication that Knox was aware he was a COINTELPRO target or a subject of the multi-state Midwest 22 conspiracy investigation by Omaha ATF agents. Charles Knox is now deceased.
For further information see Midwest 22
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