Greensboro Trials

CWP member with a fallen comrade in Greensboro

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.7, November/December 1980

The trials in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA, stemming from the assassination of five leading members of the Communist Workers Party in November 1979, are turning out to be the most important political case of the Eighties. In the Greensboro events, beginning with the killings and continuing through the trials that are still in process, are expressed all the vital elements of the crisis of US imperialism and the necessity of a revolutionary solution.


One-third of all textile workers in the United States work in the state of North Carolina, which has the lowest percentage of workers belonging to unions and where the lowest hourly industrial wage rate prevails. Moreover, ten per cent of the country's estimated 10,500 Ku Klux Klan members live in the state of North Carolina.

The city of Greensboro, with a population of 165,000, is the second largest city in North Carolina and a center of the textile industry. It has always been known as a 'company town' of the Cone Mills corporation. It has tried to maintain a moderately progressive and racially untroubled public image since the first lunch-counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement began there in 1960, but that image was blown away on 3 November, 1979, in a Greensboro housing project when five anti-Klan demonstrators were murdered with the cooperation of the Greensboro police department.


Half an hour before an anti-Klan rally organized by the Communist Workers Party USA was to begin, eight cars and a van loaded with forty armed Klansmen and Nazis, led by an FBI informant, drove into the site of the rally, where they opened fire on the crowd of about one hundred killing five leading members of the Communist Workers Party (CWP).

Other than the rally organizers, only the Greensboro Police Department knew the actual site of the anti-Klan rally. Though publicly announced to start at another location, the permit to demonstrate was filed with the Greensboro Police for Morningside Houses, a project in the black community. Although it is legal in North Carolina to bear arms openly, a special ordinance was issued by the Greensboro police denying the CWP the right to carry open or concealed weapons on 3 November. No police officers were on the scene at the start of the demonstration that Saturday morning, the demonstrators were unarmed and unprotected when the caravan of Klansmen arrived, although that day the police had called out extra men on duty, including the tactical squad trained to deal with riots. It can only be assumed that the Greensboro Police Department leaked the actual location of the rally to the Klan, who were then allowed to ambush the demonstration while the police looked the other way. Not only was this police complicity in setting up the ambush immediately obvious, but also obvious was the fact that the five CWP anti-Klan demonstrators killed were all struck in the head and upper-body, hallmarks of deliberate assassination by expert marksmen. Only after the killers left the area did the Greensboro police arrive and proceed to arrest the surviving CWP members for 'inciting to riot'.

All five victims were well-known labor organizers in local mills and CWP leaders. Using the KKK and Nazis as a cover, a team of professional assassins had moved in on the demonstration and with the non-interference of the police guaranteed, with military precision opened fire on the crowd. The ambush was obviously pre-planned and conducted as a military operation. Eight vehicles drove up the street past the gathering demonstrators. A shot was fired in the air from the first car. As the crowd began to run for cover, or in some cases advanced in protection of the demonstration armed only with placards and sticks, the Klansmen began firing, striking pre-selected targets with professional accuracy.

Only two vehicles containing twelve self-identified Klansmen and Nazis, were apprehended by police. At least six other vehicles and more than 30 men who participated in the ambush caravan were never caught or identified. Another two Klansmen, and later a third, were arrested on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. As the story hit front page in newspapers all over the US, the White House dispatched 24 federal agents in order to investigate, not the KKK and Nazis, but the CWP, around which a net of surveillance and harassment was cast. Carter authorised the Justice Department to set up a special unit to investigate KKK activities around the country, but it was no secret in Greensboro that the 'Invisible Empire, South Carolina Realm' of the Ku Klux Klan had been conducting a recruiting drive and pre-assassination planning meetings to counter the anti-Klan organising of the local communists.

The media began portraying the Greensboro ambush as a confrontation between leftists and the Klan as the main theme of the official cover-up in order to hide the complicity of federal agents and local police in setting up the CWP. The FBI is well-documented for its undercover role inside the KKK, in which its agents-provocateurs have set up civil rights workers and black activists for murder.

Communist Workers Party Five

JIM WALLER, Central Committee Member of the Communist Workers Party, and National President of the Trade Union Educational League, was shot in the back and died at the scene. Waller, of Greensboro, had led a strike at Cone Granite Plant and was elected president of the textile workers union local but was fired despite protest of fellow workers when management and the union bureaucrats combined to oust him from the plant.

CESAR CAUCE, also of Greensboro, was a regular contributor to the CWP newspaper, Workers Viewpoint, and had organized hospital workers at Duke Hospital. Cesar was struck dead with a 357. magnum bullet in the heart.

MICHAEL NATHAN, of Greensboro, died within 48 hours of buck-shot to the head.

WILLIAM SAMPSON, of Greensboro, a worker and union shop steward in the White Oak Cone Mills plant, died of a buck-shot wound to the heart.

SANDRA SMITH, the only black killed, died of a gunshot wound to the head. She had worked in the Cone Mill Revolution plant for five years in Greensboro and was a union leader and organizer of black and poor people for many years.

Leading CWP organizer Nelson Johnson was attacked commando-style with a knife and severely cut. He was arrested at the scene and charged with 'inciting to riot'. Rand Manzella, a union organizer and CWP supporter was arrested for picking up Sampson's small revolver. He was arrested for 'being armed to the terror of the people'. Another anti-Klan demonstrator, Willena Cannon, a Greensboro activist, was also arrested for 'interference with an officer' when she protested the arrest of Nelson Johnson. These arrests were made in order to intimidate any potential witnesses from testifying in the upcoming trial that was supposed to officially cover-up the conspiracy to brutally murder leading members of the CWP.

KKK/Nazi Hit-Men

All of the dozen men, none of whom are from Greensboro, who were arrested fleeing the scene of the ambush, and the three later arrested, claimed connection with Nazi and Klan groups. Hardcore fascist elements who were arrested included: Ronald Wayne Wood, who is the Regional Commander of the National Socialist Party; Rayford Maynard Caudle, a self-identified member of the same Nazi group's paramilitary arm, the 'Storm Troopers'; Jack Wilson Fowler, head of the North Carolina Nazi party organization.

The court-appointed prosecutor, District Attorney Schlosser, agreed to the lowering of bail to a mere $4000 for five counts of first degree murder. In addition, the state is paying all Klan legal expenses and the cost of private investigation and attorney fees. Every step of the way during the course of the trial's proceedings the prosecuting attorney has worked with the Klan defense in attempting to turn the trial of the Klan killers into a frame-up of the Communist Workers Party.

CWP 5 Funeral March

In preparation for the funeral of the CWP Five, on 11 November, the city of Greensboro was turned into a police state. A state of emergency was declared and the police chief of Greensboro threatened with arrest any armed participants in the march. A thousand military and police armed personnel were called in to encircle the marchers, while military helicopters hovered over the heads of the five-hundred who defied this intimidation and accompanied the red-draped coffins of the five communists along the 2 1/2 mile route to the cemetery.

The CWP announced its intention to come armed and prepared to defend the funeral march against any attacks. Thirty-four marchers were arrested and weapons confiscated, but the CWP defended its right to bury their comrades with a military honor guard of 10 rifles and shotguns, carried unloaded by order of the police.

A state of emergency was again declared on February 2 1980, when 7,000 came to Greensboro to march with the CWP under the banner 'Unite to Stop Klan/Nazi Terror!'

Police state measures did not succeed in disrupting the coalition march, but reformists inside the Feb 2 coalition fell in line with the police by openly calling for an unarmed demonstration and went so far as to expel the CWP from the executive committee organizing the march, thus helping to facilitate the cover-up of the murders by trying to turn the protest of the Klan killings against the CWP. Nevertheless, the CWP took a leading part in the demonstration, their contingent being the largest in the march.

Kangaroo Court

On December 14, 1979, the original conspiracy charges against the Klan defendents were dropped thanks to the prosecutor. When Signe Waller, widow of Jim Waller, independently filed a motion for a special private prosecutor to be brought in, this was refused. The prosecutor has refused to carry the investigation of the murders of the CWP 5 beyond those already arrested. More than 500 potential jurors were screened before an all-white jury of twelve with professed anti-communist views were selected for the trial. DA Schlosser has maintained complete control over the prosecution of the case.

Schlosser saw to it that all charges against Rayford Caudle, whose car loaded with weapons owned by him brought most of the guns to Greensboro on 3 November, were dropped completely and he was released. At this point, only six Klan defendents stand charged with first degree murder, having confessed their involvement.

Klan leader Virgil Griffin has bragged that he took part in the caravan to Greensboro on the day of the assassinations. He has never been arrested, nor has Edward Dawson, identified as an FBI informer, who is known to have passed a copy of the police permit for the rally onto the Klan killers. Nor has another known police informer, George Dorsett, who was part of the ambush caravan, ever been arrested.

In April the Klan defense sought to block the tape recorded confession of the youngest Klan defendent, Jerry Paul Smith, age 16, in which he detailed pre-assassination planning meetings. The portions of the tape which contained this vital evidence were mysteriously erased according to FBI and local detectives.

On 2 May, 1980 there were further frame-up arrests on charges of 'inciting to riot' related to 3 November, when in addition to Johnson, Manzella and Cannon, three other CWP supporters, Lacie Russell and Dori and Allen Blitz became the 'Greensboro 6'.

In order to expose and flush out the government's instigating hand in the Greensboro ambush, the CWP, on 23 June in New York City, occupied the offices of the North Atlantic Regional Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms of the US Treasury Department, demanding that all files and evidence of their agency's complicity be released.

In July the Nazi party in North Carolina leaked to the newspapers that Bernard Butkovich, a Federal agent of the AT&F Bureau infiltrated their Nazi group before 3 November and further revealed that the federal agent sat in on planning sessions for the assassination and instructed them in the use of weapons and offered to hide out the killers after the ambush. Butkovich in fact was present at the final planning meetings and was originally going to be called in as a witness for the prosecution but was dropped when Schlosser saw the government was clearly going to be implicated.

In another deal worked out between the judge, Klan defense and prosecution, analysis of the audio and visual tapes was made the responsibility of the FBI, whose lab technicians were to cooperate with Klan defense in presenting all technical evidence supplied by the tapes and ballistic tests, which has been served up in such a manner as to prove the CWP and Klan ‘equally guilty'. The FBI gave evidence that Paul Bermanzohn was shot by another CWP member, Tom Clark, and that his wound was the result of buck-shot, when in fact, according to Bermanzohn's neurosurgeon, his brain was penetrated by a long thin fragment much larger than any shotgun pellet. Bermanzohn was in fact shot by Jack Fowler, the only man with an automatic weapon.

Despite the fact that the videotapes unquestionably incriminate the Klansmen, all the FBI's ‘expert testimony' lays the blame for what they are seeking to portray as a 'shoot-out' on the CWP. Defense has been relying on the FBI-prepared audio analysis of the tapes to prove the Klansmen fired in self-defense and this will serve as 'evidence' in the Greensboro 6 trial.

On 30 September, Nazi RW Wood began turning state's evidence against his co-defendents, Nazi Fowler and Klansman David Wayne Matthews, claiming that he heard Fowler say 'I got my few' and Matthews, ‘l got three of them' upon firing on the anti-Klan demonstrators.

In October another squirming-on-the-hook Klansman testified that Dawson, already exposed in court in August as a police informer, was the man who led the caravan of almost 40 to the site of the Greensboro ambush. Despite all of this, the court has failed to conclusively pin single murder on any of the KKK/Nazi defendents. Klansman Smith, whose 357. magnum positively killed Cesar Cauce, is the only defendent claiming 'temporary insanity' instead of self-defense. Klan defense is trying to frame organizer Tom Clarke as the killer of Jim Waller, Federal Agent Butkovich will be testifying on behalf of the Klan that no violence was planned.

In order to allow the Klan time to disentangle their own pack of lies the trial adjourned temporarily on 2 October, after 16 weeks in process, and upon resumption on 14 October, the prosecution still refused to indict the two federal agents, Butkovich and Dawson, who have been implicated by the defense's own testimony.

CWP 5 Means Fight Back!

The CWP has kept the Greensboro events before the attention of millions as CWP members and supporters confronted all the bourgeois presidential candidates, as well as the Democratic Party Convention in NYC in August, with militant agitation and struggle. This is one of the main reasons why the KICK itself became .one of the issues of the 1980 elections, with Carter and Reagan both accusing each other of Klan sympathies, while in fact known Klansmen are running on both Democratic and Republican party tickets.

The main strategy being followed by the government in relation to the Greensboro trials is to allow several minor Nazi and KKK members to 'take the rap', to cover-up the fact that the highest imperialist circles are giving the orders, as in the case of the Greensboro assassinations, and also in relation to the larger nation-wide right-wing activity, including an unparalleled wave of racist terror bombings and killings.

On 16 September, in Los Angeles, four black anti-Klan activists were attacked and beaten by Klansmen, and two of them framed on serious charges, when they came to a meeting to speak against KKK Democratic Party Congressional candidate Tom Metzger. Four days later the offices of the CPUSA in Los Angeles were bombed, with no injuries, and on 23 September, again, an attempt was made to bomb the Los Angeles offices of the SWP, with a large meeting narrowly escaping. A wave of snipings against blacks has broken out in at least six states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, with the latest being the 20 August killing of two blacks in Salt Lake City, Utah, shot by a sniper or snipers while they jogged through a public park. The police cynically declared they are hunting for a 'lone maniac', deliberately covering up for the coordinated nature of these attacks, as well as open Klan and Nazi declarations of 'race war'. Even more hideous than these snipings is the series of killings of blacks in the Buffalo, New York area. The latest of the seven killed so far, include two black men whose hearts had been cut out of their bodies. This mutilation killing is known as a 'tradition of the Ku Klux Klan, and blacks in the Buffalo area have become more and more rebellious in the face of what even moderate black leaders declare is a 'nation-wide conspiracy' to kill blacks.

American Correspondent