The Black Liberation Army gained strength as Black Panther Party membership declined. By 1970, police and FBI sabotage (see COINTELPRO), infiltration, sectarianism, the lengthy prison sentences and murdering of key members by the government (among them Fred Hampton, at the hands of police), had significantly undermined the Black Panther Party. This convinced many former party members of the desirability of an underground existence, seeing that a new period of violent repression by the U.S federal and local government was at hand. BLA members operated under the belief that only through covert means, including but not limited to retribution, could the movement be continued until such a time when an above-ground existence was possible.
The conditions under which the Black Liberation Army formed are not entirely clear. It is commonly believed that the organization was founded by those who left the Black Panther Party after Eldridge Cleaver was expelled from the party’s Central Committee. A fallout was inevitable between Cleaver and other Panther leaders after he publicly criticized the BPP, among other things accusing Panther social programs of being reformist rather than revolutionary. Others, including black revolutionary Geronimo Pratt (AKA Geronimo ji Jaga), assert that the BLA “as a movement concept pre-dated and was broader than the BPP,” suggesting that it was a refuge for ex-Panthers rather than a new organization formed through schism.