This Video Of Liberian Officials Getting Executed Reveals Liberia's Extreme, Riotous History

The decades-long political unrest in the West African country of Liberia has produced some of history's most disturbing imagery. After years of rule from a one-party political system in a dual-society country – where the elite lived in peace and comfort, and the lower classes suffered from poverty and class turmoil – a rebellion sprouted, culminating in the Liberian coup d'état of 1980. Led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, the coup was a brutal takeover carried out by 17 non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia. President William R. Tolbert Jr. was slaughtered in the Presidential palace while his cabinet was gathered for trial.

The cabinet members were put on trial in a kangaroo court – an unfair or biased court that usually ends in harsh punishment – with no jurors. Unsurprisingly, all were sentenced to death. This unnerving video of the Liberian government execution – originally broadcast on television to the rest of the country – demonstrates the brutal and fiercely personal nature of the event, clearly fueled by a long history of oppression and resistance. This government-wide execution of the Liberian cabinet was only the beginning of what became years of civil and military unrest in Liberia. 

  • The Execution Was Broadcast Live On Television

    The Execution Was Broadcast Live On Television
    Video: YouTube

    The video of the broadcast depicts the kangaroo trial and sentencing of the cabinet, followed by their full execution. While not outwardly gory or gruesome, the footage holds on the condemned men before, during, and after the shower of bullets, presenting a distressing – and what some may consider extremely disturbing – image. 

    Prior to the executions, Master Sgt. Samuel K. Doe gave a public, televised press conference. Doe told reporters, "The revolution which brought down the Tolbert government was motivated by the sufferings of the Liberian people throughout our country. Things were fixed in such a way that only a very few people enjoyed everything."

  • The Condemned Were Paraded Around Naked Before Their Execution

    Thirteen cabinet members were rounded up when Master Sgt. Samuel K. Doe led his rebellion against President Tolbert. An additional 27 members of the government were also slain, but 14 cabinet members were put on trial. These trials, however, were simply five-man military tribunals led by the rebels, and all but one of the cabinet members were quickly sentenced to execution by gunfire. The former information minister, Johnny McClain, escaped execution because he was an indigenous Liberian rather than an Americo-Liberian. 

    Prior to their slaying, some of the condemned men were forced to walk either naked or partially clothed to the beach where they were then shot.

  • A New, Similar Regime Was Established Soon After The Executions

    A New, Similar Regime Was Established Soon After The Executions
    Photo: FRANK HALL / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    After storming the palace and disposing of most governmental leaders, Samuel K. Doe (pictured left) founded a new government called the People's Redemption Council (PRC). Before the rebellion, Doe was virtually unknown by the Liberian public. He was a low-ranking officer with no political training. Once in office, he grew paranoid and favored indigenous Liberians like himself, flipping the scales but essentially keeping Liberian classism alive.

  • A Crowd Gathered To Watch The Shootings

    Despite the brutal cruelty of the public executions, many Liberians gathered to watch the display and welcome the regime change.

    The previous year, President Tolbert proposed an increase in the price of rice, a suggestion that outraged the Liberian people; a peaceful protest was planned, but 2,000 participants grew to 10,000, resulting in rampant riots and looting that caused more than $35 million in damages. The event was dubbed the "Rice Riots," and they marked the beginning of the end for Tolbert.

  • The Republic Of Liberia Was Formed To House Former Slaves

    The Republic Of Liberia Was Formed To House Former Slaves
    Photo: Austa Malinda French / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In the early 1800s, Quakers and slaveholders in America formed the American Colonization Society (ACS), a strange pairing as Quakers were staunchly against the rampant slave trade in the US at the time. Despite this, the two groups shared a common goal: they both wanted to find somewhere for freed slaves to live. The Quakers wanted them to have their own space, and the slaveholders wanted them far away in case they ever considered rebelling.

    Over the next 60 years, tens of thousands of former slaves and freeborn black Americans were sent to the settlement of Monrovia (named for U.S. President James Monroe) where the population grew as they combined with the indigenous Africans already living in the area. In 1847, they declared themselves an independent state: the Republic of Liberia.

  • Liberia's Oligarchy Led To Its Civil Unrest

    Once the people of the Republic of Liberia began governing independently in the 1840s, a two-tiered society rapidly emerged. The upper class was comprised of those who came from America or their descendants, called the Americo-Liberians. These Americo-Liberians were highly Westernized, creating a marked contrasted between themselves and the indigenous African people who also lived in the newly formed country. The Americo-Liberians instituted Christian religious practices and founded schools. Soon, a general understanding emerged that certain Liberians were "whiter" – and thus, based on the white Western ideal of the time – better than others.