Wood maintained that the arrests were part of a conspiracy by the NYPD and the FBI to murder Malcolm X, who had become disenchanted with the Nation of Islam and left the Black separatist group to start his own organization, the Muslim Mosque.
“I was a black New York City undercover police officer between May of 1964 through May of 1971,” Wood’s letter began. “I participated in actions that in hindsight were deplorable and detrimental to my own black people. … Under the direction of my handlers, I was told to encourage leaders and members of the civil rights groups to commit felonious acts.”
Wood said he was hired by the NYPD to infiltrate the civil rights groups “to find evidence of criminal activity, so the F.B.I. could discredit and arrest its leaders.”
He said that he threatened to resign but that his supervisors said if he did, they would charge him with false crimes. His supervisors, Wood said, concocted an alleged plot to bomb the Statue of Liberty that implicated the members of Malcolm X’s security detail and led to their arrests.
On the day of the assassination, Wood said, his supervisors ordered him to be at the Audubon Ballroom, where he was identified by witnesses while leaving the scene. Khalil Islam, also known as Thomas Johnson, “was later arrested and wrongfully convicted to protect my cover and the secrets of the FBI and NYPD,” he said.
The letter was presented at a news conference Saturday in New York by Malcolm X’s three daughters and civil rights attorney Ben Crump. A cousin of Wood, Reggie Wood, joined them in revealing the letter’s contents at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, on the site where the Audubon Ballroom once stood.
Raymond Wood, who had written the letter shortly after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, had stipulated to his cousin that he did not want his involvement to be made public until after his death. His cancer went into remission in 2012, and he did not die until Nov. 24, 2020.
Sunday marked the 56th anniversary of the assassination. At her daily briefing Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the revelations in the letter. “I have not seen that letter,” she said. “If you want to provide it to us, I’m happy to have the right person look into it after the briefing.”
Early last year, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced that his office would review the convictions of two Nation of Islam members who were held responsible in Malcolm X’s killing. One of the men who confessed to the killing, Mujahid Abdul Halim (a.k.a. Talmadge Hayer or Thomas Hagan), has maintained since his 1966 trial that the other two Nation members, Islam and Muhammad Aziz (a.k.a. Norman Butler), were innocent.
Halim served 45 years in prison before he was paroled in 2010. Islam, paroled in 1987, died in 2009. Aziz, 83, was paroled in 1985. The Innocence Project, along with attorney David B. Shanies, are fighting to clear Islam’s and Aziz’s names.
A 2020 documentary series on Netflix, “Who Killed Malcolm X?” and efforts by the Innocence Project prompted Vance to review whether to reopen the case.
After Saturday’s news conference, Vance’s office released a statement saying its “review of this matter is active and ongoing.”
In a separate statement, the NYPD said it “has provided all available records relevant to the case to the District Attorney. The Department remains committed to assist with that review in any way.” The FBI has declined to comment.
The assassination of Malcolm X has long been a subject of fascination to historians and activists, given the acrimony between Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X after his break with the group.
According to witnesses in the Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965, a man rushed forward and shot Malcolm once in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun as two other men also charged the stage firing semiautomatic handguns. Malcolm X was pronounced dead that afternoon, shortly after arriving at a hospital.
Malcolm X’s widow, Betty Shabazz, said she believed current Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a protege of Malcolm X, was involved in her husband’s assassination. In the Dec. 4, 1964, issue of Muhammad Speaks, the organization’s newspaper, Farrakhan wrote: “The die is set and Malcolm shall not escape. … Such a man is worthy of death.” He later acknowledged that his remarks played a role in the assassination.
After confessing at length to his cousin, Raymond Wood wrote the letter believing he would die soon. Reggie Wood said at the news conference that, on the advice of Crump, he planned to publish a short memoir of his cousin’s confessions, which covered other matters as well.
“I am aging and in failing health; recently I learned about the death of Thomas Johnson and [am] deeply concerned that with my death his family will not be able to exonerate him,” Raymond Wood wrote in the 2011 letter. “… It is my hope that this information is received with the understanding that I have carried these secrets with a heavy heart and remorsefully regret my participation in this matter.”
Crump called on Vance’s office to launch a full re-investigation of Malcolm X’s assassination.
“Who more personified the Black liberation movement in America in 1965 than civil rights icon Malcolm X?” Crump said at the news conference. The FBI “was trying to stop another Black messiah from uniting African Americans. This was orchestrated, and the only way we get to justice … restorative justice or otherwise, is with the truth.”
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