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FBI Report on Fictitious “Black Identity Extremists” Movement

by Makeila Jamison | Spring 2019

In October 2017, a Federal Bureau of Investigation report was leaked which identified a movement of “Black Identity Extremists” (BIE) who pose a threat to law enforcement. According to the report, there have been a strung of violent premeditated crimes against law enforcement that were orchestrated based on perceived racial injustice in the criminal justice system. Not only does the report speak of a nonexistent movement but it overlooks the truth of racial injustice and amplifies the stereotypical criminality of Black people, giving law enforcement cause to act violently against Black activists and Black people in general. The FBI seems to be following the trajectory they began in the 1960s when they used a counterintelligence program specifically to target Black civil rights organizations, using illegal tactics in the process. All of these factors require that actions be taken to address the situation. The Brennan Center for Justice has made several demands that would help to rectify the impacts of the BIE report and prevent future occurrences of racism, insensitivity and inaccuracy in the FBI.

4.  Stockton, Richard. "How The FBI Used Murder And Blackmail To Thwart The Civil Rights And Antiwar Movements." All That's Interesting. January 20, 2019.

5.  "Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate." Internet Archive. January 01, 1976.

8.  Brennan Center for Justice. "Testimony Before the Congressional Black Caucus on the FBI's Report on ‘Black Identity Extremism.’" The Brennan Center. March 20, 2018.

Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling are some of the many names of Black people who have been killed by police officers in recent years, sparking nationwide outrage and protests. Black people are more likely to be arrested for a crime, convicted of said crime, and face harsher sentences than people of any other race in America. They are incarcerated at almost five times the rate of whites.[1] The Black Lives Matter movement began in response to police violence and aims to both expose and challenge the systemic racism that is evident in the criminal justice system. In October 2017, foreignpolicy.org leaked a 12-page FBI report written that August, which described a movement of “Black Identity Extremists” (BIE) whose retaliatory violence against law enforcement officials posed a domestic terrorist threat.[2] In response, the Brennan Center for Justice also testified before the Congressional Black Caucus, asking for Congress and the FBI to denounce the report and make changes to the FBI and its oversight. In light of the FBI’s historical use of illegal tactics against Black civil rights groups, and the racially charged nature of the report on the BIE movement, the FBI should be obligated to meet the demands of the Brennan Center for Justice.

 

The FBI report on the BIE movement claims that Black individuals who “perceive” of racial injustice in the criminal justice system and feel anti-white sentiments, are using recent cases of police shootings as a justification for premeditated violence against law enforcement officials. As evidence of such a movement, the report details premeditated violent crimes that have been committed or planned against police officers by Black people from 2014-2016. Though none of the crimes or the perpetrators were connected, the FBI reasons that BIE ideology catalyzed them all. According to the FBI, the BIE movement has existed for decades with one such group, the Black Liberation Army (BLA), engaging in various crimes throughout the 1970s with the intention to “take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States.”[3]

The reference to the BLA is the only historical reference made in the FBI report, which otherwise neglects the history of racial injustice in America. For one, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies actively targeted civil rights organizations and activists during the latter half of the 20th century. In 1956 the FBI formed COINTELPRO, a covert counterintelligence program designed to dismantle dissident groups in America. In 1967, it transitioned to focusing on Black nationalist and civil rights organizations, especially the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary political organization that argued for self-defense and racial equality. Under COINTELPRO, the FBI used various methods to harm the Panthers such as planting informants, surveilling and following leaders, conducting raids, and even killing leaders such as Fred Hampton in 1969. [4]  These actions among others came to light in 1975 with the formation of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, termed the “Church Committee” after its chairman Senator Frank Church. In their final report released in 1976, the committee reprimanded the FBI for their illegal tactics and recommended several policies to create more oversight of justice department.[5] Reports like this one, which is inaccurate and racially charged, cast doubt on the progress of the FBI and are cause for concern.

The BIE report is inaccurate in its regard for the criminal justice system and the BIE movement. For one, no such movement has ever existed and no evidence of such a united ideology is provided in the report. In addition, police brutality and racial injustice in the American criminal justice system are not mere “perceptions,” as the report repeatedly claims, they are fact. Some of the very police shootings that fueled the Black Lives Matter movement have ended in convictions of police officers, legally proving the existence of police brutality. In overlooking the fact of racial injustice, this FBI report shifts focus from the wrongdoings of law enforcement to the wrongdoings of Black people, positioning them as the aggressors in the conflict between police and communities of color.

Beyond its inaccuracies, the report is also racially charged and appeals to stereotypes of Black criminality that are harmful to the community. The criminalization of Blackness has been persistent throughout American history and is amplified by the report. It is evident from many cases of police shootings that law enforcement officials tend to criminalize Black people and fear them without just cause to do so. In Illinois. v. Van Dyke, a Chicago police officer who fatally shot Black teenager Laquan McDonald testified that “his eyes were just bugging out of his head. He had just these huge white eyes just staring right through me.”[6] This fear of Black appearances is echoed in several cases of police shootings of Black men; they are often described as brutish, big and scary. The Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown testified that “he was just staring at me, almost like to intimidate me or to overpower me,” and that when he grabbed Brown he “felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” A Minnesota officer justified his shooting of Philando Castile by noting that the smell of cannabis smoke is what led him to believe that Castile was armed and prepared to kill him. The Baton Rouge officer who killed Alton Sterling referred to him as a “thug” and stated, “from the minute I walked up I was in fear of my life.”[7] These statements are endemic of the implicit association between violent criminality and Blackness. Police officers who have these racial stereotypes fear Black people more than they would fear a person of another race and turn to violence more quickly as a result. The FBI report on the BIE movement has been disseminated to over 18,000 law enforcement agencies, giving police officers further cause to succumb to stereotypes of Black criminality and expect the worst from Black suspects they encounter in the field.

The Brennan Center for Justice has speculated that the very purpose of the FBI report may have been to “justify monitoring, questioning, and investigating Black Lives Matter or other African American protest groups.”[8] This possible motive is scary, yet plausible given the FBI’s history and the poor quality of the report. As a result, Congress should meet the demands of the Brenna Center which has called the FBI to withdraw and denounce reports about the BIE, establish better oversight of the FBI, and order an independent study to address racial and gender disparities in FBI employment.[9] These measures will aid in preventing reports like the one about the BIE, which promotes racialized, inaccurate understandings of crime in America.

REFERENCES

 

[1] "Criminal Justice Fact Sheet." NAACP. Accessed April 08, 2019. https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/.

[2] FBI Counterterrorism Division. "BIE Redacted." DocumentCloud. August 3, 2017. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4067711-BIE-Redacted.html.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Stockton, Richard. "How The FBI Used Murder And Blackmail To Thwart The Civil Rights And Antiwar Movements." All That's Interesting. January 20, 2019.

[5] "Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate." Internet Archive. January 01, 1976.

[6] "Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke's Testimony in Court: Word for Word." Chicago Sun-Times. October 07, 2018. 

[7] Mock, Brentin. "Fear of a 'Black Boogeyman' Defense Fails Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke." CityLab. October 12, 2018.

[8] Brennan Center for Justice. "Testimony Before the Congressional Black Caucus on the FBI's Report on ‘Black Identity Extremism.’" The Brennan Center. March 20, 2018.

[9] Ibid.

1.  "Criminal Justice Fact Sheet." NAACP. Accessed April 08, 2019. https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/.

2.  FBI Counterterrorism Division. "BIE Redacted." DocumentCloud. August 3, 2017. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4067711-BIE-Redacted.html.

3.  Ibid.

6.  "Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke's Testimony in Court: Word for Word." Chicago Sun-Times. October 07, 2018. 

7.  Mock, Brentin. "Fear of a 'Black Boogeyman' Defense Fails Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke." CityLab. October 12, 2018.

9.  Ibid.