Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton said today that he plans to return immediately to face what he calls false charges of murder and assault in California.
Newton, 35, who became a symbol of the angry, gun-carrying black militant in the 1960s, has been living in Cuba since he jumped bail in 1974.
The unrepentant Black Panther Party leader said the U.S. Justice Department had informed him that it would allow him to spend 10 days conferring with his attorneys in Canada or another third country without trying to extradite him.
Newton said, however, that the Canadian government had notified him today that he would be detained on arrival and sent to the United States. Newton said he plans nevertheless to fly to Canada Saturday night.
"I'm going back and my bow is bent," he said. "I'm going back to the United States to fight false criminal charges." He said in an interview that his attorney has filed a $100 million damages suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. government's alleged conspiracy against the Black Panther Party.
[A Justice Department official said in Washington that Newton had written to Attorney General Griffin Bell about two months ago to say he would be willing to surrender if arrangements could made to have the single outstading federal charge of "unlawful flight to avoid prosecution" dropped. After negotiations with the Criminal Division such an agreement was reached, the official said. He said he knew of no deal for Newton to be allowed to stay in Canada first. California authorities were not immediately available for comment.]
Newton, served 23 months in jail for the murder of an Oakland, Calif., policeman, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. He was released in 1970 and spent the next four years working with the Black Panthers.
He helped to shift the party's emphasis from a gun-toting, leather-jacketed "off-the-pigs" approach to community-improvement programs.
In 1974, Newton was charged with assault and murder in connection with two new incidents in Oakland. He denied his guilt and failed to show up for court appearance, forfeiting $42,000 bail.
Newton arrived in Cuba a few months later, and has lived there since. He said that when he arrived in Cuba he saw little chance of defending himself successfully against the charges against him the United States.
Asked what had happened during his three years in Cuba to change his mind, Newton mentioned Watergate and the public revelations about abuses by the CIA and the FBI.
"Armed with this information, I go back in order to do battle," he said. "We have new information. The political climate has changed." He paused, then added, "Somewhat."
"A change of administration does not mean an end to the system of exploitation which I oppose," Newton said. "But there is now a more congenial atmosphere for the kind of court battle that we are going to fight. After all these revelations of recent years, the people are prepared to believe the kind of conspiracies that the government has inflicted on us."
Newton's case is being handled by attorneys Sheldon Otis, Paul Harris, Dennis Roberts and Fred Hiestand, all of San Francisco.
They are basing part of the case on the report of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, which contains a chapter entitled "The FBI's Covert Action Program, to Destroy the Black Panther Party." It describes the activities of COINTELPRO, the FBI's counterintelligence effort against radical groups.
Huey Newton says he is not going back repentantly, renouncing his revolutionary ideas as Eldridge Cleaver did. Nor will he try to maintain a low profile, as Robert Williams did. He is still a Black Panther and believes in the future of his party. His ideas have matured, he says, but have not changed essentially. He is still a revolutionary. He still velieves that fundamental transformations are needed in the United States.
Fred Hiestand, one of Huey's lawyers, who was also interviewed in Havana, says the defense has an affidavit from one of the chief counsels of the Senate Select Committee to the effect that only the tip of the iceberg is showing in the committee report on the alleged government conspiracy against the Panthers.
Under Federal law, both parties are entitled to "discovery" - to get documents from the other party that have a bearing on the case or to get sworn statements through the questioning of witnesses.
Hiestand said that the case was argued in late May and that the court denied a government motion to dismiss the case.It ordered the parties to complete their "discovery" by September 1977.
The Black Panther lawyers say they have served their first requests for documents from the Justice Departm,ent, the FBI, the CIA, the Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. postal authorities and the Departments of the Army and Air Force.
"The trick, said Hiestand, is to use the information gathered from our case against the government to show that Huey Newton founded the Black Panther Party in Oakland. He had just finished a year at San Francisco Law School and had decided to devote himself full time to organizing the black community - "to stop the oppression, to revolutionize the system in the United States."
"No. We were armed for self-defense and we were armed according to the California penal code that gave residents the right to bear arms and also in accordance with Federal Law. So it was quite legal."
Newton's slender fingers played with tigers' teeth hanging from a thin chain around his neck. "We realized that a small party could not defeat the Unites States military or the U.S. police force. The guns were for self defense, to defend ourselves when we were attacked."
Newton claims that at its high point the party had 25,000 members and half a million or more sympathizers. He charges that its leaders and members were harassed, imprisoned and murdered by or in collusion with local, state or federal authorities.
Newton says thay harassment increased after Black Panther chairman Bobby Seale got 38 per cent of the vote in the 1972 Oakland mayor's race.
"I always had it in mind to build a mass base, and the Party was successful in doing this. But then we regressed because of some ideas set forward by people such as Eldridge Cleaver."
This was during the late 1960s when Newton was serving a three-year term for manslaughter. Newton characterizes Cleaver as an "M.F." (a media freak who joined the party so his book would be a best-seller.)
Newton says his three years in Cuba were a positive experience. When he, his wife, Gwenn and their tow children (a girl, 7, and a boy, 9) arrived in Cuba, they were given a grand tour of the island. They lived in every province of Cuba. In January 1977, they returned to Havana from a six-month stay in the city of Santa Clara. While there, Newton worked in a truck-repair shop, Gwenn taught English to doctors, and the children went to school.
He talked enthusiastically about his factory experience. "On the weekends, the workshop buses were used to take us to beach - husbands, wives, kids and singles. We had a fine time, almost like an extended family, blacks and whites together."
Newton said he wished those two tigers' teeth on the thin chain around his neck were Black Panther teeth. He intends to rebuild the party.
Huey Newton's Afro begins farther back on his forehead than it did a few years ago. But a 35, he is still a firebrand who believes in changing America into a socialist country.