“It is a catch-all for blanket repression of Black activism of any kind.
The FBI has apparently chosen a new heading under which to lump Black Americans targeted for political persecution: “Black Identity Extremists.” There’s a simple explanation for the new categorization. The FBI is a bureaucracy whose day-to-day work involves drawing up lists of people and organizations to be surveilled, disrupted and prosecuted. The dramatic increase in Black “movement” activity since the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has presented the FBI with a much larger field of targets, including youthful elements loosely grouped under the Black Lives Matter banner. When bureaucracies compile new lists, they typically file them under new names.
In a sense, the change in nomenclature is an acknowledgement by the FBI that, after nearly two generations of Black political stagnation and capitulation, there is finally a Black “movement” with the potential to upset the status quo. The leaked FBI counterterrorism division report, scooped by Foreign Policy magazine, also signifies that Black grassroots political activity is under the purview of the national security state’s War on Terror and, therefore, subject to the awesome array of repressive measures authorized to law enforcement and intelligence agencies since 9/11.
“The change in nomenclature is an acknowledgement by the FBI that there is finally a Black ‘movement’ with the potential to upset the status quo.”
COINTELPRO – the FBI’s program to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" those designated as enemies of the state – was itself exposed as an illegal police state mechanism in the mid-1970s. Since 2001, the government’s COINTELPRO-like programs have been superseded by a far more repressive regime, inaugurated by President George W. Bush and strengthened under Barack Obama. The post-9/ll national security state has legalized the world’s most intrusive surveillance apparatus and detention without trial or charge, a system designed specifically to crush targeted ideologies – meaning, modes of thought and political identification.
It is in this context that the FBI’s umbrella designation “Black Identity Extremists” is so insidious and dangerous, in that it targets people based on their (stated, imagined or inferred) beliefs and ethnic loyalties, rather than specific criminal acts or even organizational affiliation. It is a catch-all for blanket repression of Black activism of any kind.
“Since 2001, the government’s COINTELPRO-like programs have been superseded by a far more repressive regime.”
The FBI mindset has clearly been shaped by its frustration with so-called “lone wolf” Islamic jihadists -- individual actors not directly affiliated with al Qaida or its offshoots. U.S. police and intelligence operatives speak constantly of the need to identify and neutralize Muslims in our midst that have been “radicalized” or “self-radicalized” and thus are fair game to be subjected to every tactic of entrapment and dirty tricks. The FBI views Black activists in the same light -- as potentially dangerous, “self-radicalized” threats. The counterterrorism division report cites six armed attacks on U.S. cops in the post-Ferguson period, including Dallas, Baton Rouge and New York City, as justification for its ideology-based categorization of the Black menace. Micah Johnson, who shot 11 cops in Dallas, “appeared to have been influenced by BIE ideology” based on his “journal writings and statements to police,” said the Bureau.
“BIE ideology” is whatever the FBI thinks it is. In the tortured logic of white supremacist law and order, Black identification with other Blacks is inherently subversive and a prima facie justification for surveillance. The Bureau’s BIE list could eventually accommodate every conceivable political tendency of Black thought -- including the “ideologies” resident in the venerable old NAACP, which issued a statement on the leaked FBI document.
“In a time when white supremacists are marching down city streets with loaded weapons and tiki torches — organizing rallies of terror around the country — it comes as a great shock that the FBI would decide to target black identity groups protesting police brutality and their right to exist free of harm, as a threat,” said NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson.
“The designation targets people based on their (stated, imagined or inferred) beliefs and ethnic loyalties, rather than specific criminal acts or even organizational affiliation.”
Johnson then attempts to lay the blame for this state of affairs on President Trump, who has “emboldened... right-wing extremists, white nationalists and white supremacists.” But, the FBI has been surveilling Black Lives Matter activists ever since the explosion of resistance in Ferguson. As early as December, 2014, the FBI was discovered to have tracked Black Lives Matter activists at the huge Mall of the Americas in Bloomington, Minnesota, in conjunction with state and local officers of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. In July of 2015 The Intercept reported that “Feds Regularly Monitored Black Lives Matter Since Ferguson,” exposing extensive surveillance of the rejuvenated Black movement by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The FBI has been spying on Black activists since its founding in the early 20th century. COINTELPRO was created during the Eisenhower administration, and never died. Under President Obama, Black activists became targets of the War on Terror, and now the FBI has conjured up a rationale to criminalize African American political thought as “Black Identities Ideology.” The Bureau will ultimately decide what this ideology actually is, and whose head it is lurking in.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].