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The FBI’s New Fantasy: 'Black Identity Extremists’

The FBI has conjured up a new domestic terrorism movement that does not exist.

October 11, 2017

The history of the FBI is the history of surveil­lance and intim­id­a­tion of black Amer­ic­ans that frequently goes beyond legit­im­ate law enforce­ment into para­noia, racism, and polit­ical expedi­ency.

This was true almost 50 years ago, when J. Edgar Hoover sent his loyal line officers into black communit­ies to try to gin up evid­encedesigned to convince one pres­id­ent after another that the civil rights move­ment was some sort of commun­ist plot. It was true in the 1970s when the feds houn­ded those whom they perceived to be black separ­at­ists. And it is true today now that we know the FBI is promot­ing the hoary idea that some­thing called “black iden­tity extrem­ists” poise a danger­ous domestic terror threat, partic­u­larly to police officers.

Foreign Policy broke the news this week­end of an internal report, leaked to report­ers of the respec­ted journal, in which the FBI “assesses it is very likely that Black Iden­tity Extrem­ists (BIE) percep­tions of police brutal­ity against African Amer­ic­ans spurred an increase in premed­it­ated, retali­at­ory lethal viol­ence against law enforce­ment and will likely serve as justi­fic­a­tions for such viol­ence.” There has been a “resur­gence,” the FBI wants us to believe, “in ideo­lo­gic­ally motiv­ated, viol­ent crim­inal activ­ity within the BIE move­ment.”

Except there is no “BIE move­ment,” but in the fertile mind of those within the Trump admin­is­tra­tion who want you to believe there is some sinis­ter black force out there bent on attack­ing police officers. No journ­al­ists or academ­ics have discovered and chron­icled such a move­ment or its lead­ers. No such lead­ers have come forward to say they are part of such a move­ment. No one has killed a cop in the name of such a move­ment. The only cita­tions to the move­ment, the Foreign Policy piece tells us, come from internal law enforce­ment writ­ings made over the past two months.

The same two months that followed the white suprem­acist rally in Char­lottes­ville, Virginia. The same two months in which it has become clear the extent to which the Trump admin­is­tra­tion gives aid and comfort to white suprem­acists. The feds have inven­ted a title — BIE — and linked it to a hand­ful of epis­odes of viol­ence against the police and now claim they’ve discovered a domestic terror­ism move­ment. A cynic might say that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, for its own polit­ical purposes, has manu­fac­tured the whole thing to make white Amer­ic­ans fear­ful of some new race war.

In this sense, the report is the FBI’s version of the cynical “war on cops” argu­ment that Pres­id­ent Trump, Attor­ney General Jeff Sessions, and police union offi­cials have been pitch­ing as policy to justify ending even the modest judical reforms imple­men­ted by the Obama admin­is­tra­tion. But there is no viable “war on cops,” either, except in the minds of a few lone killers, like the gunman who slew six police officers in Dallas in July 2016. The truth is that fatal shoot­ings of police officers by black or white suspects is down 20 percent this year from last.

The tactic here is almost diabol­ical. To deflect legit­im­ate criti­cism of police tactics, to under­mine a legit­im­ate protest move­ment that has emerged in the past three years to protest police brutal­ity, the FBI has tarred the dissent­ers as domestic terror­ists; an organ­ized group with a crim­inal ideo­logy that are a threat to police officers. Martin Luther King was not a Commun­ist no matter how hard the dupli­cit­ous Hoover wished it to be. And the Black Lives Matter move­ment is not a domestic terror­ist move­ment no matter how hard Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions wish it so.

What exactly is the ideo­logy of this non-exist­ent “Black Iden­tity Extrem­ist” move­ment? And who exactly are the members of it? Do you become a member of the BIE if you believe that police brutal­ity contin­ues is a signi­fic­ant prob­lem hinder­ing crim­inal justice? Do you become a member of the BIE if you believe that the police too often avoid account­ab­il­ity for the use of excess­ive force on unarmed black civil­ians? Does the FBI consider every member of the “Black Lives Matter” move­ment, which is real, a member of the BIE, which is not?

There is no room in law enforce­ment for altern­at­ive facts. There is no room in law enforce­ment for chas­ing ghosts. The FBI has a prob­lem of extrem­ism in this coun­try and in the ranks of law enforce­ment. And it has noth­ing to do with black “terror­ists” target­ing police officers. The feds have worried for years about white suprem­acists infilt­rat­ing police depart­ments and yet they appear to have been unable to do much about it. And the Trump admin­is­tra­tion knows it has a prob­lem of white suprem­acist viol­ence even as its tribunes coddle white suprem­acists.

The final word here belongs to James Comey, the FBI Director Trump fired in May. In Febru­ary 2015, in a speech at Geor­getown Univer­sity, Comey spoke about the FBI’s ugly, racist legacy. He said:

The Irish had tough times, but little compares to the exper­i­ence on our soil of black Amer­ic­ans. That exper­i­ence should be part of every Amer­ic­an’s conscious­ness, and law enforce­ment’s role in that exper­i­ence — includ­ing in recent times — must be remembered. It is our cultural inher­it­ance.

There is a reason that I require all new agents and analysts to study the FBI’s inter­ac­tion with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to visit his memorial in Wash­ing­ton as part of their train­ing. And there is a reason I keep on my desk a copy of Attor­ney General Robert Kennedy’s approval of J. Edgar Hoover’s request to wiretap Dr. King. It is a single page. The entire applic­a­tion is five sentences long, it is without fact or substance, and is predic­ated on the naked asser­tion that there is “commun­ist influ­ence in the racial situ­ation.” The reason I do those things is to ensure that we remem­ber our mistakes and that we learn from them.

This BIE nonsense is a reminder that the FBI has not learned from its past mistakes. Yet another gener­a­tion of black Amer­ic­ans is destined to be the targets of unwar­ran­ted surveil­lance and harass­ment. And those of us who had hoped that the FBI had finally achieved a meas­ure of reform will sadly watch it further divide an already frac­tured nation.

The views expressed are the author’s own and not neces­sar­ily those of the Bren­nan Center for Justice.

(Photo: Getty)