Al Sharpton was thrust into the media spotlight this week thanks to newly released documents that detailed his role as an FBI informant in the 1980s. At the end of his MSNBC show PoliticsNation on Tuesday night, the reverend addressed the revelation, although he put his own spin on it to portray himself in the best possible light.
Sharpton claimed his involvement with the FBI arose out of a music industry dispute. He said “people who claimed to be mobsters” threatened to kill him if he didn’t stop demanding that black promoters be involved in promoting a Michael Jackson tour. This death threat supposedly led him to call the FBI and cooperate with them against those mobsters.
However, Sharpton’s account does not entirely mesh with the new report released Monday by The Smoking Gun website. The authors of the report offered another possible explanation for Sharpton’s cooperation with federal agents:
The other explanation for Sharpton’s cooperation--one that has uniformly been offered by knowledgeable law enforcement agents--presents the reverend in a less noble light. Worried that he could face criminal charges, Sharpton opted for the path of self-preservation and did what the FBI asked.
The FBI had secretly recorded a meeting between Sharpton and an undercover agent posing as a wealthy drug dealer looking to promote boxing matches. Federal agents then confronted Sharpton with the undercover tapes and warned him that he could face prosecution, even though that would have been a “reach,” according to an ex-FBI agent cited in the report. The reverend has repeatedly denied that this sting operation had anything to do with his decision to cooperate with the FBI, but The Smoking Gun came to a different conclusion:
In fact, Sharpton fell for the FBI ruse and agreed to cooperate, a far-reaching decision he made without input from a lawyer, according to sources. "I think there was some fear [of prosecution] on his part," recalled a former federal agent.
Here is what Sharpton said on his Tuesday night show about how he came to cooperate with the FBI: “I contacted the FBI, even though I'd had recent run-ins with them in a separate boxing investigation. My call led to my cooperating with the FBI against those mob guys, or who they say they were, to try to protect myself and others.”
So he maintains that he initiated contact and the “boxing investigation” was separate. Somebody is lying here – either Sharpton or the law enforcement agents cited in the report.
Despite confessing that he cooperated with FBI agents, Sharpton still bizarrely denies that he worked as an informant. During his end-of-show commentary, he proclaimed, “ I didn't consider myself, quote, ‘an informant.’ Wasn't told I was that. I was an American citizen with every right to call law enforcement.” And yet the reverend is proud of not being an informant, claiming, “I did the right thing, working with authorities.”
Sharpton ended his spiel by trying to turn his non-informant informant past into a lesson for today’s young people, insisting that kids must not be afraid to cooperate with police. The reverend preached, “We can't have kids feel as though there's something wrong with helping the police keep communities safe and getting guns out of the neighborhood. I've certainly had my differences with police and still question them. But we must live in a country where people can call law enforcement and not be castigated.”
That’s a good message, but it’s an understatement for Sharpton to say he has had his differences with police over the years. This is the man who had protestors yelling, “Kill the police!” during a 2008 protest over the acquittal of the police officers who shot Sean Bell.
Below is a transcript of the segment:
AL SHARPTON: Finally tonight, the mob, the music industry and me. I was blessed to know entertainer James Brown. He was like a father to me. Through him, I got involved in the music industry. That was in the 1970s. Came to understand that even though many African-American artists were successful, when it comes to concert promoters, African-Americans was pretty much shut out. Working toward trying to aid the Michael Jackson tour with his family in 1984, we demanded black promoters be involved in promoting their tour. Soon after that, my life was threatened by people who claimed to be mobsters. A guy who called himself Sal actually flew to New York from L.A. and said that if I didn't stop interfering, they would kill me. I contacted the FBI, even though I had had recent run-ins with them in a separate boxing investigation. My call led to my cooperating with the FBI against those mob guys, or who they say they were, to try to protect myself and others.
That's the story and it's not a new story. I wrote about it in my book Go And Tell Pharaoh back in 1996. And it's been reported in the press before. I did the right thing, working with authorities. I didn't consider myself, quote, an informant. Wasn't told I was that. I was an American citizen with every right to call law enforcement. And that's the lesson I want to emphasize tonight. Forget me, I'll fight my battles. But I want to emphasize especially in my own community where the insidious campaign not to cooperate with police has taken hold among too many young people. Many of us are pushing back hard against this no-snitch campaign. We can't have kids feel as though there's something wrong with helping the police keep communities safe and getting guns out of the neighborhood. I've certainly had my differences with police and still question them. But we must live in a country where people can call law enforcement and not be castigated. That's an important message, and it is one that I will continue to bring, no matter what they say, to communities across the country, from Crown Heights to Chicago.