More questions, few answers about the FBI targeting of Black groups
National Black leaders, organizations, and activists continue to challenge the Federal Bureau of Investigation over its leaked “Black Identity Extremists” report labeling certain Black individuals and organizations as violent threats to police.
The Congressional Black Caucus, including ranking members on three House committees, has requested a meeting with FBI Director Christopher Wray. At Final Call presstime, the Black lawmakers had not received a response to their letter sent Oct. 13.
CBC Chairman Cedric L. Richmond and John Conyers, Jr., the Judiciary Committee; Bennie G. Thompson, the Homeland Security Committee; and Elijah E. Cummings of the House Oversight Committee want to know the origins of the report and how it will be used.
They also expressed concern about the Aug. 3 document, given the FBI’s “troubling history” of targeting Black leaders and movements, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders.
“The assessment and the analyses upon which it is based are flawed because it conflates Black political activists with dangerous domestic terrorist organizations that pose actual threats to law enforcement. It relies on a handful of obviously terrible incidents to paint Black Americans who exercise free speech against witnessed police brutality as possible violent extremists,” charged the lawmakers.
The FBI declined The Final Call’s request for an interview and gave no comment on the intelligence report itself. “Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit violence and other criminal acts. Furthermore, the FBI does not and will not police ideology. When an individual takes violent action based on belief or ideology and breaks the law, the FBI will enforce the rule of law,” stated Andrew Ames of the FBI’s national press office in an email response to The Final Call.
Critics point to a double standard when it comes to how certain groups are viewed or perceived as threats. There have been documented cases of violence perpetrated by White anti-government militias and White supremacist groups that U.S. law enforcement should be more concerned with, activists said.
“We know they’re targeting us. They’ve always targeted us, and maybe they’re stating it more blatantly, maybe they’ll come after us more blatantly than they have in recent years, but the freedom of our people means that we have to work for what it means to be free. The freedom of our people is more important than any risks that we run,” said Dr. Melina Abdullah, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and chair of the Pan African Studies Department at California State University-Los Angeles.
“Who are they calling an extremist? They’re calling us extremists, but they’re saying nothing of the real extremists, who are assaulting and killing our people. Why is there no call for threats that White Identity Extremists pose?” she asked.
“When we think about the number of people who have been killed by terrorists in this country, White men are by far the most dangerous group, but there’s no umbrella term for White Identity Extremists,” she added.
The record against ‘White extremists’
In October 2006, the FBI’s “White Supremacists Infiltration of Law Enforcement” intelligence report indicated White supremacist have had a historical interest in infiltrating law enforcement communities or recruiting law enforcement personnel.The report, redacted almost line for line, concealed much of what it was supposed to address, except that it examined infiltration from organized groups and law enforcement personnel sympathetic to White supremacist causes. It hid information pertaining to recruitment campaigns and systematic attempts by White supremacist groups to infiltrate law enforcement. But among White supremacist sympathizers, the FBI reported that the Ku Klux Klan was notable for historically having support in many communities and ties to local law enforcement.
“Of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far right-wing violent extremist groups were responsible for 62 (73 percent),” said a General Accounting Office report, “Countering Violent Extremism,” issued earlier this year.
“In that same 15-year span they’ve also killed 34 police officers, compared to 10 from left-wing extremists (including the five officers killed within minutes of each other in Dallas), and one from a domestic jihadist terrorist,” observed Paste.com in a September article titled, “White Lives Matter, Blue Lives Don’t: Right-Wingers Kill More Cops Than Any Other Group.”
“Despite these stats, police kill black people 2.5 times more frequently than they kill white people. What’s more, police kill unarmed black people at five times the rate they kill unarmed white people. That gap is racism at its ugliest,” Paste.com observed. “This January the Intercept published an important but overlooked story about another FBI investigation: White supremacists have infiltrated law enforcement organizations around the country. That’s right: white supremacists want to kill cops, and white supremacists want to be cops.”
Activists argued the Justice Department is neither going to pursue these White hate groups, nor call them out as threats.
“We’ve seen a blatant example in Dylan Roof, after his arrest, the police literally took him out to eat at Burger King. This document is a sign of the times. Though U.S. President Donald Trump is extremely reactionary, the machine which he represents is not reactionary,” said Fred Hampton, Jr., a Chicago activist and son of assassinated Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. He was referring to the young, White convicted murderer of nine people in a Black church in Charleston, S.C. Mr. Roof, who was sentenced to death after a federal trial, pleaded guilty last year to state charges related to the 2015 killings.
James Alex Fields, Jr., 20-year-old alleged White supremacist, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer, an anti-racist demonstrator, and injuries to 19 others when he weaponized his car, mowing them over during a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. in August.
On Oct. 19, White supremacists rallied again at an Alt-Right rally at the University of Florida featuring Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer and were met with mass demonstrators mobilized by the ANSWER Coalition.
Three White nationalists were charged with attempted homicide after they shot at the anti-racists protestors. According to police, 28-year-old Tyler Tenbrink fired a single shot that struck a building, after Colton Fears, 28, and William Fears, 30, encouraged him to “kill them,” and “shoot them.”
Then there have been armed stand-offs between Whites and federal agents in recent years, including the January 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Oregon and the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff. Cliven Bundy engaged in an armed confrontation with law enforcement after the federal government ordered him to pay over $1 million in grazing fees for his federally-owned land near his ranch in southeastern Nevada. Many of those involved in the Bundy Ranch standoff joined the Oregon occupation. It ended with one White militia member shot to death by federal agents.
In March 2010, the Justice Department indicted nine members of a White, Christian militia group in a plot to murder police officers. “Hutaree,” an anti-government extremist organization, advocates violence against local, state, and federal law enforcement, according to the Justice Department.
Basically, the group planned to kill police in traffic stops, by ambush in rural communities, or by luring them with a false 911, according to the authorities. Seven were acquitted on charges related to conspiracy and sedition, and two were sentenced to time served on weapons related charges, and two years’ probation.
A long history of domestic terror, surveillance against Blacks?
“Keep in mind, ‘alt-right’ is a very nice way of talking about White Supremacists, including White Supremacists organizations that have been active in this country, primarily from its very beginnings,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau.
“I think what we’re seeing is, there’s been a consistent growth in White Supremacists hate groups in this country, that was also stimulated by having an African American being elected to serve as president of the United States,” Mr. Shelton told The Final Call. “We’ve seen, based on data from the Justice Department and other places, there has been a consistent uptick in recruiting and membership to these White Supremacists organizations throughout the country.”
On Oct. 18, the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Media Justice filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking other records regarding the FBI’s surveillance of Black people on the basis of a supposed shared ideology, including records using the term “Black Identity Extremists.”
Malkia Cyril, executive director of Center for Media Justice, and Hugh Handeyside, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said the FBI’s assessment contains troubling signs that it is scrutinizing and possibly surveilling Black activists in its search for potential “extremists.”
They found the report disturbing on several levels, starting with the label “Black Identity Extremist.” The FBI definition of the term is so confusing as to be unintelligible, critics said.
The FBI assessment mentions the Moorish Science Temple and followers of Noble Drew Ali, and not the Nation of Islam, but “we know they’re coming,” said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan during his recent riveting address, “Separation or Death,” commemorating the 22nd Anniversary of the Million Man March and Holy Day of Atonement.
“I thought since they said that separation of Black people from White people was one of the things that upset them, so I want to upset them a little more today,” Min. Farrakhan during his Oct. 15 address from Symphony Hall in Newark.
“The Minister said after acknowledging the existence of this report, that the only solution to the toxic relationship between Black and White is separation, and of course, he put up on the screen the first four issues under What the Muslims Want in the Muslim Program that was developed by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad,” said Dr. Ava Muhammad, national spokesperson for Min. Farrakhan.
“I believe very strongly that the FBI report is the product of an effort to craft some type of policy and law that will allow the U.S. government to come after the Nation of Islam as we move forward on behalf of our people to implement the Muslim Program,” she said.
Roy Bey, national coordinator for the Moorish American National Republic, under the leadership of National Grand Sheik Jole Bratton Bey, said the group will not stand by and be the FBI’s new target.
“The enemy never sleeps, and we are all targets of this political construct, and they are finding discrepancies with the Moorish American paradigm, because some of us claim sovereignty,” he said.
Ward Churchill, Native American activist, former head of the ethnic studies department at the University of Colorado, and author of “Agents of Repression,” warned, “Beware of erratic, irrational behavior of particularly people approaching to become members.” This type of infiltration of Black organizations helped the groups fall victim to COINTELPRO, he observed.
Under the COINTELPRO secret domestic infiltration program, the FBI used agents as spies, criminals and others to disrupt and neutralize legitimate organizations, said Mr. Churchill. It was all part of a trap as part of the aim was to instill paranoia, he said.
“The only real antidote I know to that is imperfect, to exercise some common sense and to step on rumors, because one of the main techniques that was used for internal disruption and the amplification of internal tensions and negative dynamics was to spread rumors based on nothing at all,” Mr. Churchill stated.
“Just simply with the state putting this out, the system putting this out, this sets an atmosphere from the White House on down, to the rank and file police officers, to the school teachers, TSAs and airports, to the sentiments of everyday people, to the music, to how entertainers dress, what people feel they can say and what now becomes ‘politically correct’ and what’s not politically correct,” said Mr. Hampton, Jr.
“Though this is an articulation of how this system has been operating quite historically, COINTELPRO has never ceased. … In fact, we use the term ‘NOWINTELPRO,’ ” said the activist, who is also chairman of the Prisoners of Consciousness Committee.
Despite constant attacks, there’s been resistance, uprisings, and organizing, which must continue, he said. Mr. Hampton believes the government underestimated the people’s rebellion in Ferguson, Mo., which though small in locale, was a marker that has and continues to inspire many.
Be mindful of the government creating bogus organizations, spokespersons, and individuals as agent provocateurs to justify repressive tactics, not only against individuals in organizations, but against people in general, he said.
Krystal Muhammad, chairman of the New Black Panther Party, said the FBI is essentially criminalizing common terminology by twisting words and making being Black a crime.
“It is criminal that we feed our people? No. It’s not. It is criminal that we speak up against the tyranny of this government? No. It is not. It is criminal that when our people have been devastated by natural and manmade disasters that we’re out doing search and rescues? No, it’s not,” Ms. Muhammad said.
Dr. Boyce Watkins, author, academic and Black economic empowerment advocate, told The Final Call he was detained during a recent trip to London, which took him by surprise.
He couldn’t figure out if his nine-hour hold to determine if he was on a work visa for a scheduled speaking engagement was really a technicality or based on political motivations.
They took his picture and wanted to fingerprint him. He said he was held in a room where he couldn’t contact the outside world. He said he was threatened and couldn’t mention anything about the detention on social media.
“My reaction is I’m just not one to fall for your intimidation. I’m going to call your bluff. My term is you’re not going to try to molest me in the dark. You know how child molesters will try to scare the child into not telling nobody? My feeling is I’m going to tell the world what happened here so that people are just aware of what’s going on,” he said.
Lawyers with BlackHistoryStudies.com helped to finally gain his release, he said. They also shared with him the history of the UK ban on Min. Farrakhan, Dr. Watkins continued.
“Because I have so much respect for the Minister, I said, ‘well, at least I’m in good company,’ ” he said.