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In Memoriam: Chris Thompson

by Pratap ChatterjeeCorpWatch Blog
January 24th, 2016

Photo: Erin Archer

Chris Thompson, CorpWatch investigative reporter, died January 21, 2016, at his home in Berkeley, California. He was a fearless reporter and progressive activist and will be missed sorely by his readers, family and friends.

A former staff writer for the East Bay Express, Slate and the Village Voice, Thompson also wrote freelance for a variety of national publications, including the Center for Public Integrity, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Salon and Slate.

His awards included the 2003-04 Northern California Society of Professional Journalists award for best investigative story for “The AXT Way,” a story about a semiconductor manufacturing company that poisoned up to 500 Chinese immigrant laborers with arsenic; and a 1999 California Newspaper Publishers Association award for best environmental reporting, for “Our Chernobyl,” a story on a massive tire dump that caught fire and poisoned neighbors in Modesto, California.

Thompson is perhaps best known for an investigative series of reports on the Yusuf Bey "family" that was published in the East Bay Express in 2002. His article explained how Bey had set up "loose collection of entrepreneurs and reformed ex-cons built a patchwork of businesses and nonprofits."

"A close examination involving court and government records, police reports, and dozens of interviews has uncovered a trail of alleged violence, brutality, and fraud that stretches back almost a decade. Members and associates of the Bey "family" have terrorized countless Oakland residents, fomented racial hatred, and even allegedly threatened to kill apostate women who break with the organization or go public with their stories," Thompson wrote. Bey himself was accused of brutally raping and sodomizing girls as young as thirteen.

After his article was published, Thompson got numerous death threats. "Men repeatedly tried to follow Thompson home, or staked out routes he took leaving the office," the Village Voice reported. "Eventually, Thompson was forced to go into hiding for several months."

Thompson worked with CorpWatch staff for over a decade. He wrote a cover story for the East Bay Express on the very first Halliburton whistleblower, John Mancini. He profiled Fariba Nawa, a CorpWatch investigative reporter, in the East Bay Express, following the release of her report: Afghanistan, Inc.

In 2014, Thompson came to work for CorpWatch, first as a freelancer and eventually as staff. His first big report for us was titled "Subsidizing Contractor Misconduct" and it described how every year, the U.S. government awards billions of dollars in federal contracts to companies who routinely violate basic legal rights of workers. His report profiled three individuals who were harmed by Imperial Sugar, Tyson Foods and Verizon and explains a new presidential order that could help reduce abuses.

Before he died, Thompson worked on a series of blogs on drone contractors. The first was titled "U.S. Air Force Hires Private Companies To Fly Drones In War Zones" and his last piece was "Failed Watchkeeper Drone To Be Weaponized For Sale To Poland."

In his personal life, Thompson sought to entertain and support his friends at all times."At a going-away party at my house in 2011, Chris arrived, made a beeline for the kitchen and spent an hour in the NYC summer heat frying latkes for all my guests," a friend recalled. "Then he and Eliza snuck upstairs with their banjo and mandolin, only to appear a half-hour later to perform a song they’d just written on the fly. This was not exceptional Chris, this was everyday Chris, as I knew him."