Despite constant meddling from the FBI and its COINTELPRO program, which sought to "disrupt, confuse and create tension within the organization," the BPP's organizational structure was solidly built, baring a slight resemblance to that of the Nation of Islam. Some BPP chapters operated with military-like discipline, a quality that tends to be lacking on a loose and often times hyper-sensitive Left (even amongst Leninist organizations). This was accomplished with a good mix of horizontal leadership and chapter autonomy, which allowed for creativity, initiatives and actions throughout the organization, while also maintaining the discipline necessary for taking broad action and staying focused on the big picture.
The party recognized the severity of the situation for oppressed and working-class communities within a racist and capitalist system. The system's inherently predatory nature regarding social and economic issues provided a glimpse of a society based in class division, and the daily brutalization of communities of color at the hands of the police confirmed the presence of an all-out class war. In this sense, the party organized for this purpose - equipping themselves with ideological ammo, building poor and working-class armies through community outreach and education, arming themselves for self-defense, and operating their mission with a high degree of strategy and discipline.
Mao Zedong's revolutionary military doctrine, "Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points for Attention," was highly influential in the party's daily operations. These "rules of engagement" emphasized obedience to the needs of oppressed peoples as well as conducting actions in a respectable and honorable manner (Be polite when speaking; Be honest when buying and selling; Return all borrowed articles; Pay compensation for everything damaged; Do not hit or swear at others; Do not damage crops; Do not harass females; and Do not mistreat prisoners). "There were some aspects of Chairman Mao's thought that had helpful and sensitive application for the life of the Panthers in the ghetto," explained Cleaver.
In addition to Mao's "little red book," the party made Che Guevara's "Guerilla Warfare" required reading in all of its political education classes. Recognizing the similarities between the Black struggle in America and the struggle of the colonized in many parts of the world, party members studied anti-colonial resistance and Regis Debray's foco theory of revolution, which posited the idea that "vanguardism by cadres of small, fast-moving paramilitary groups can provide a focus (in Spanish, foco) for popular discontent against a sitting regime, and thereby lead a general insurrection." While the BPP didn't apply this in the same manner as a revolutionary peasantry would in taking up arms against an imperial force, they were able to use many points as a foundation for unity and self-defense, if not merely for inspiration in battling forces of oppression. Said Newton:
… all the guerilla bands that have been operating in Mozambique and Angola, and the Palestinian guerillas who are fighting for a socialist world. I think they all have been great inspirations for the Black Panther Party… they are examples of guerilla bands. The guerillas who are operating in South Africa (against Apartheid) and numerous other countries all have had great influence on us. We study and follow their example."
This disciplined approach allowed the party to establish clear targets for opposition, while also dissuading reactionary behaviors that were dangerously counterproductive and counter-revolutionary. An example of this came in a message released to members through the