Donald Rumsfeld and the Lost Co-op of the North Side

(Also appearing: Watergate, Chicago street gangs, Col. Gadaffi and Dick Cheney)

Wirth Co-op has announced that they will finally, after seven years of hard work, bring a food co-op to Minneapolis’ North Side. A little known fact is that the North Side had the first of the “third wave” food co-ops, formed in 1970 by the Poor People’s Corporation under the leadership of fiery organizer Matt Eubanks.

But Eubanks faced a struggle more difficult than opening a store: he was the target of a young Donald Rumsfeld, appointed by newly-elected President Richard Nixon to head the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). Nixon was disturbed by the fact that militants like Eubanks were receiving federal dollars from the OEO as part of its mission to maximize the participation of poor people in anti-poverty projects. For Eubanks, the tactics necessary to achieve this goal included rent strikes and protests, including picketing and boycotts of white-owned grocery stores on Plymouth Avenue, leading to police response and arrests.

Nixon tasked Rumsfeld with cutting off funds to radicals. Rumsfeld’s friend from his time in Congress, suburban Minneapolis Rep. Clark MacGregor, put it this way: “The whole thing is going down the drain if the Blackstone Rangers and the Matt Eubankses take control of every city.” (The Blackstone Rangers were a large Chicago street gang which adopted black nationalist politics and received $1 million of OEO funds to divert gang members into employment. Its leader, Jeff Fort, was convicted in 1972 of mismanagement of federal funds, even though the Rangers returned $200,000 of the unused money.)

After an investigation, but without a hearing, Rumsfeld cut the funds to Eubanks’ group and Eubanks resigned. We’re not sure what happened to the co-op. An article we have says their building was scheduled to be demolished even before they moved in, but we’ve also heard that it burned down six months after opening.

We don’t know what happened to Matt Eubanks. But we do know:

  • Rep. MacGregor later took over Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) after John Mitchell resigned due to the revelations that the CRP was behind the burglaries of the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate hotel, kicking off the Watergate Scandal that forced Nixon from office.
  • Perhaps due to their experience fighting insurgents at home, Donald Rumsfeld, his OEO assistant Dick Cheney and his OEO deputy Frank Carlucci all went on to be US Secretaries of Defense.
  • Blackstone Rangers’ founder Jeff Fort was so mainstream in 1968 that he was invited to Richard Nixon’s inauguration. He is now serving a life sentence with a “no human contact” order in the notorious ADX Florence supermax prison for murder and conspiring with Muammar al-Gaddafi's Libyan government to commit domestic terrorism. Some think he is innocent of the charge

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