Rhetorical Analysis Essay

It is no secret that the U.S has had a dark history of racism and it continues to be an issue that runs rampant throughout the country. This racist mentality has continued to deprive individuals of basic human rights and opportunities that they deserve. In response to this thinking, there has been the creation of various civil rights organizations/movements, two of which are the Black Panther Party and the Black Lives Matter movement. With the formation of these groups came lots of opposers and in this essay, I will discuss the various tactics used by these oppositions such as the media and government-funded missions which were used to suppress the movements. Additionally, the idea of a moral panic will be discussed and how this tactic was used to portray the organizations in a very different light in order to create a sense of fear in the public.

The Black Panther Party was an activist group formulated in 1966 by African American college students in Oakland, California however it quickly gained steam in many places across the U.S. like Chicago, the group’s goal was to give African Americans around the U.S. basic rights that were being stripped from them. The Black Panthers created their Ten Point program in which they outlined the goals of their group and when reading the points it is clear there is no mention of violence, in contrast, much of the list included things like ensuring safety for their community, and giving food out to the hungry. Although the Black Panther Party had great ideas they of course saw opposition and although they did not mention any violence, the group was quickly changed by the media and turned into many calling the Panthers a radical group. The members of the group are often pictured holding firearms which was also used to create a negative narrative around the party. This is mostly where the idea of the Panthers being radical comes from and this is a huge issue because it almost discredits the Panthers and the real goals of equality that they wanted. Additionally, a huge tactic that was employed by the opposition of the Black Panther Party and was used mainly by the U.S. itself is the FBI’s use of informants. The U.S. government viewed the Panthers as such a threat that they employed informants in the group, they often tried to start up problems within the group and also published news articles that painted the Panthers poorly. A specific example of this comes from Chicago, Illinois where the FBI employed a man named Bill O’Neal to spy on the Black Panther Party in Chicago and inform them of their plans. The film Judas and the Black Messiah directed by Shaka King portrays the events of Bill O’Neal in a great fashion. In one moment of the film Bill O’Neal is found by the police for stealing a car and they give him a choice, he could either be an informant or go to prison, the FBI agent tells O’Neal “You’re looking at 18 months for the stolen car and five years for impersonating a federal officer, or you can go home” (8:59 – 9:05). In this moment we see one of the popular tactics employed where the FBI takes advantage of someone for their own use, it may seem like O’Neal is given a choice, but he is really not. He is put in a huge moral dilemma where really the only choice he has is to become an informant because if he doesn’t he goes to prison where his life ultimately is ruined. Additionally in a New York Times article titled F.B.I. Sought Doom of Panther Party, John Kifner speaks on the various tactics employed by the FBI to try and undermine the Black Panther Party. Kifner similarly discusses the FBI’s use of informants to try and stir up issues within the group, Kifner writes “a campaign in which the bureau used a legion of informers, sometimes as provocateurs, and close cooperation with local police antiradical squads to sow confusion, fear and dissension among the Panthers” (Kifner 1976). This use of informants was very popular for the FBI and this could reflect the ideas and culture of the time because the article was published in 1976, therefore it is not new information that the U.S. government was carrying out attacks on the Black Panther party yet at the time no one had a problem with that. During the late 70s large percentages of the U.S. population were still very discriminatory and the manipulation of the Black Panthers in the media led many to view the Black Panthers as a threat and led them even as far as to call the Panthers a ‘terrorist group’. Kifner also later speaks on a report published by the FBI and says that in this “report on the F.B.I. efforts against the Black Panthers said that, although the “claimed purpose” of the program was to prevent violence, some of the tactics “were clearly intended to foster violence” (Kifner 1976). From this, we could see that the nature of many of the tactics of opposers to the Black Panther Party was very hands-on and direct which sadly led to the death of many innocent young leaders within the Party.

In recent history we have seen the effect of police brutality and racist ideas continue to affect society. In 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a man who had murdered an innocent young teen named Trayvon Martin, an organization named Black Lives Matter was established which had the goal of protecting African American communities everywhere. Although the true meaning of Black Lives Matter is that black lives matter just as much as any other life, people quickly took this phrase and changed the meaning. Very soon after BLM started gaining traction there was the emergence of the phrase All Lives Matter which was in direct opposition to BLM and although it may not seem like ALM is in opposition, it is. The use of ALM changes the meaning of BLM in the public’s eye to as if the movement was preaching for Black lives being more important than others, this is not at all what BLM stands for and in reality, BLM is saying that all lives matter the same amount. Today, media is how a lot of people consume their news and when this media shares misinformation it leads a lot to have mixed views on things that really shouldn’t. For example, the New York Times Article titled False Political News in Spanish Pits Latino Voters Against Black Lives Matter, in this article it speaks of a woman named Ms. Moncada and how she had gathered information about BLM. The article states “Ms. Moncada appeared to be citing News Punch, a website known to publish conspiracy theories. She posted a link to a story the site published about witchcraft on Twitter. It was based on an interview in which the Black Lives Matter co-founder mentioned invoking the “spirits” of people who have died” (Mazzei and Medina 2020). The article later goes on to speak of how Ms. Moncada later went and told many of her Twitter followers which then consumed that misinformation and changed their view on the topic of Black Lives Matter. In another New York Times article titled Beyond ‘Black Lives Matter’ Charles M. Blow speaks on the backlash that BLM received and writes “Black Lives Matter protesters took some criticism for what others viewed as a lack of clear focus and detailed agenda” (Blow 2015). Both of these quotes demonstrate just how much the United States culture has changed and that it is that today people are very much affected by the media they consume. Media has become so accessible to everyone and now almost anyone can publish something on the internet. This then becomes a big issue because when people cannot tell the difference between misinformation and real information they begin to trust any article they read.

An important tactic that was used against both the Black Panther Party and the Black Lives Matter organization was the use of moral panic. The idea of a moral panic is when there is a feeling of fear across the public which is often used to try and create an enemy out of people or organizations that do nothing wrong. The use of moral panics can be seen against the Black Panther Party, especially by the FBI and their publishing of articles. It is no secret that the FBI either directly created articles or hired journalists to write articles saying that the Black Panthers were a terrorist group and that they were basically ‘killers’. It is no surprise that this caused a huge moral panic with the public believing the Panthers to be a radical group when in reality they were closer to a community service group. Moral panics have continued to be deployed to try and suppress people and we can see a direct link between moral panics and Black Lives Matter. We can see this used in a Sky Sports Australia video where a former member of the FBI Terry Turchie speaks on BLM saying “So they don’t care a whole lot about people’s safety, what they care about is this and this is why this makes no sense what is going on today because those of us who have a logical brain and think of things rationally would never think about this, but to them it makes a lot of sense” (3:06 – 3:20). In this part of the video Turchie generalizes the movement by blaming looters on the entirety of Black Lives Matter, this is just one example from a video full of misinformation aimed to create a moral panic. Moral panics are employed by the media in order to try and control people’s narratives and to try and downplay organizations like the Black Panthers and BLM

There are some parallels between the oppositions of the Black Panther Party and Black Lives Matter, one of which is looking at both through a critical race view. Critical race theory refers to race and how it is perceived in laws, media etc. The effect of misinformation has caused a huge storm in the media against these organizations, during the Panthers era various articles were published by the FBI stating that the Panthers were ruthlessly killing police officers and other terrible things. Much of these articles were either false or taken out of context and this was done to create a negative agenda against the Panthers. Similarly, we see today with the growth of social media people now are able to spread misinformation quickly. For example in the New York Times article where Ms. Moncada was able to spread a completely false story about BLM to her thousands of Twitter followers in seconds. This is where we can also see a difference in the opposition and the culture of the US. At the time of the Black Panthers things like social media were not relevant and therefore much of the opposition could directly come from people in power like the FBI. Today media is consumed at such high numbers and social media plays such a huge part in people’s everyday lives that oppositions of these groups can click one button and it can reach millions of viewers.

There have been many civil rights organizations throughout U.S. history and in all cases they have been met with opposition. Oftentimes this opposition creates a terrible narrative around a group which are truly seeking nothing but fairness.Opposers will often try to control the media and the public’s thinking to try and change the narrative of groups, this continues to be an issue and today with the speed of sharing media misinformation is being spread at rapid rates. The spread of this misinformation is not only a problem for us now, but will be an even bigger problem for generations to come. Media and technology are only becoming more important in people’s daily lives and because of this spreading falsified information will lead to a generation of people who do not know fact from fiction and thus will basically be controlled by the media. This is a Twilight Zone sort of thought, but it isn’t too far from what could happen if people do not begin to distinguish between what is real and fake. Now more than ever people must start analyzing whether information they are getting is real or false because without this knowledge the media would lead people to believe anything.

Works Cited

“Black Lives Matter Wants to Light the US ‘on Fire.’” YouTube, Sky News Australia, 13 June 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mclt1UOPaWM. Accessed 7 March 2024.

Charles. “Beyond ‘Black Lives Matter.’” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Feb. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/02/09/opinion/charles-blow-beyond-black-lives-matter.html. Accessed 7 March 2024.

King, Shaka, director. Judas and the Black Messiah. Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2021. 

Mazzei, Patricia, and Jennifer Medina. “False Political News in Spanish Pits Latino Voters against Black Lives Matter.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Oct. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/10/21/us/politics/spanish-election-2020-disinformation.html. Accessed 7 March 2024.

Special, John Kifner. “F.B.I. Sought Doom of Panther Party.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 May 1976, www.nytimes.com/1976/05/09/archives/fbi-sought-doom-of-panther-party-senate-study-says-plot-led-to.html. Accessed 7 March 2024.