Hillary and the Black Panthers: Exaggeration

Another Myth of Women's History

Hillary Clinton Announces Her Candidacy For Senate
Hillary Clinton announced her Senate candidacy, February, 2000. Dirck Halstead / Getty Images

Right about the time people began seriously considering Hillary Clinton as a likely candidate for the U.S. Senate from New York, in late 1999 and early 2000, an email started circulating, alleging that Hillary Clinton had led violent protests defending Black Panther members accused of murdering and torturing another Black Panther member who was a police informant. More came through in somewhat different form, with the story changed.

While there are still web sites alleging the truth of these stories, they turn out not to hold water. Defenders of the legends say things like "This story has not been verified by me -- but I personally believe it more than any word that has left the mouth of the Clintons." (source)  How's that for respect for the process of searching for the truth?

Tracking down this story was interesting. If you search on the Net for keywords "Hillary Clinton" and "Black Panthers" you may find the same web sites that I did, with evidence of the evolution of the story from simple beginnings through the full-blown urban legend, complete with misspelled names of major figures in the supposed case. In fact, if you want to turn up the most exaggerated versions in this long train, try searching first or those misspelled names: "Racily," "Warren Akimbo" and "Erica Hugging."

Here's an email that I received, asking about the case, in January 2000:

I received this via e-mail and was disturbed by it. The source is unknown. I would be interested in any insights you may have regarding this. Is there any truth to this?
Subject: FEW: An Interesting Story
Back in 1969 a group of Black Panthers decided that a black man named Alex Racily needed to die. Racily was a fellow Panther suspected of disloyalty. Racily was first tied to a chair. Safely immobilized his "friends" tortured him for hours by, among other things, pouring boiling water on him. When they got tired of torturing Racily, Black Panther member Warren Akimbo took Mr. Racily outside and put a bullet in his head. Reckless body was found floating in a river about 25 miles north of New Haven, Conn. Maybe at this point you're curious as to what happened to these Black Panthers. Well, in 1977 that's only eight years later only one of the killers was still in jail. The shooter, Warren Akimbo, managed to get a scholarship to Harvard. He later became an assistant dean at Eastern Connecticut State College. Isn't that something? As a 60s radical you can pump a bullet into someone's head, and years later, in the same State, you can be an assistant college dean! Only in America! Erica Hugging was the lady who served the Panthers by boiling the water for Mr. Reckless torture. Some years later Ms. Hugging was elected to a California school board. How in the world do you think that these killers got off so easy? Well, maybe it was in some part due to the efforts of two people who came to the defense of the Panthers. These two people actually went to far as to shut down Yale University with demonstrations in defense of the accused Black Panthers during their trial. One of those people was none other than Bill LAN Lee. Mr. Lee Or Mr. LAN Lee as the case may be, isn't a college dean. He isn't a member of a California school board. He is the head of the US Justice Departments Civil Rights Division. Lee is serving in that capacity illegally, by the way, but that's another story -- another part of the Clinton saga of ignoring the rule of law. OF. I., so who was the other Panther defender? Is this other notable Panther defender now a school board member? Is this other Panther apologist now an assistant college dean? Nope, neither. The other Panther defender was, like Lee, a radical law student at Yale University at that time. She is now known as The Smartest Woman in the World. She is none other than the unofficial Democratic candidate for UP. SO. Senate from the state of New York ---- our lovely First Lady, the incredible Hillary Rhodium Clinton.

Here's my reply from January 29, 2000, when I received the email, which pretty much summarizes what's come out about the rumor since then:

As far as I can track this down in objective, reliable sources: Hillary Rodham, while at Yale, worked as an intern for an attorney who also defended Black Panthers. When Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins were on trial near Yale, there were student demonstrations in support of them getting a fair trial.
Hillary Rodham presided over a meeting of law students who were deciding how to respond to the demonstrations, the trial, and police gassing of demonstrators.
I have found no evidence that she actually was a lawyer defending these two, much less the people mentioned in the email you received. There's also no evidence I could find (other than this allegation) that Hillary organized the demonstrations, only that she was involved in chairing a meeting afterwards.
I'd point out that several names are just plain wrong in the note forwarded to you, and the roles of the various people are quite confused, so that may indicate the reliability of other information in it. This is probably best categorized as "urban legend."
There was a woman lawyer for Huggins: Charles R. Garry defended Seale and Catherine Roraback defended Huggins.
George Sams, Lonnie McLucas and Warren Kimboro were the three Black Panthers who were directly connected with the shooting. Seale and Huggins were charged with associated crimes, though there was not a lot of evidence of their participation, which is why the Yale students organized "court watches" to be observers, and why there was a mass demonstration (at least one).
I've found a number of web sites which repeat versions of this story, but it's very much like the old game "rumor" where each has some of these details but they seem to change as the story is told and retold. Names are gradually shifted; accusations of Hillary Clinton organizing law students to be present at the trials to watch for civil rights abuses are called "defending" those accused, and this now seems to have turned into an accusation that she was the defense lawyer for two defendants whose names are even more badly mispelled.
It sounds like it must have been an election year, doesn't it?

Is it a surprise that this came back in 2016, as Clinton was running for President?

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