In 1968, prompted by the nationwide growth of the Panthers, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declared the organization the most dangerous threat to the internal security of the country. The following year, the Panthers were targeted by the FBI's COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), a program aimed at dismantling political groups, particularly civil rights organizations.
At that time, the Panthers were recent arrivals in San Diego, having been established in the city in 1968. In the eyes of local police, the Panthers were a violent group; in the eyes of many former Panthers, however, much of the violence that surrounded the organization was actually instigated by the police and the FBI.
One of the tactics used by the FBI to undermine the Panthers was to create tension between that organization and US, a rival black nationalist group. Animosity between the two groups reached a peak in January of 1969 when two Panthers, John Huggins and Bunchy Carter were killed at UCLA by members of US. Revelations since that time have revealed that the FBI actively encouraged the feud by circulating fliers purportedly from San Diego Panthers, goading their rivals in US.
The violence did not stop with the killings at UCLA. In May, a Panther named John Savage was fatally shot as he stood on a street corner near Panther headquarters. In August, Sylvester Bell was shot and killed while selling copies of the Black Panther in a shopping center parking lot. Three members of US were convicted of his murder. Later in the summer, San Diego agents sent a letter to Panther leaders which claimed that a prominent member of the organization had relationships with white women.
By the end of the year, the Black Panthers in San Diego were splintered, with some leaders having left the area. In December, the FBI announced that the San Diego Panthers were defunct, while maintaining surveillance of the organization's members. At the national level, too, the Panthers began to suffer from internal disputes and outside pressures. By the early 1980s, the Panthers had largely disintegrated.