As I celebrated Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day I was reminded that he was considered an enemy of the country by the FBI. Dr. King, much like many other African American activists and civil rights leaders seeking equality in America, was the target of a then-secret counterintelligence program run by the FBI called COINTELPRO. I spent the day reflecting on what it means to be a person of color in America today; thinking about the country’s trek backwards. I didn’t write, I didn’t tweet. I avoided the barrage of news reports debating whether the President’s language confirms that he’s a racist or whether those who sat quietly or defended his erratic behavior is a greater threat than a leader with the power to take action that matches his rhetoric.
More than 60 years after the creation of COINTELPRO, the FBI is seemingly revisiting, at the very least, the philosophy behind the program initially intended as an effort to infiltrate, undermine and disrupt social and political movements in America. Understanding the contents of the FBI report is as important as questioning the Attorney General regarding his knowledge of and/or his response to the report. Armed with details from the FBI’s Black Identity Extremist (BIE) report Americans can discern, on their own, still another truth about how the tide is turning – it’s turning backwards.
I can state with unequivocal surety that I have placed a huge amount of trust in the FBI over the past 30 plus years. I have sat at the table with many fair and just FBI agents. I have read FBI reports, drawn conclusions from those reports and taken enforcement action based on the FBI’s findings. I can also say with some confidence that this report must be viewed for what it is – an incomplete picture.
Mayhem and Misfortune
There are a number of opinions surrounding what has come to be known as Black Identity Extremists. A prevailing opinion is that the FBI report is actually assessing activists’ concerns about racial injustices as an emerging domestic threat to the lives of law enforcement officers and that assessment paints activists with the broad brush of terrorism. There is both truth and misfortune in that opinion. A strong case can be made that law enforcement officers across America who read the report will see an emerging domestic terrorism threat, exact an increased response resulting in the very thing activists are focused on – unnecessary mayhem. It is also unfortunate that the author(s) of the report published a document that should be considered substandard in the FBI.
The scope of the FBI’s intelligence assessment is quite telling, focusing on individuals the FBI says have committed violent crimes against law enforcement officers since 2014. The assessment goes on to focus on two basic questions – the extent of BIE targeting and the “movement’s” relationships (and resulting influence) with others. Can anyone reading the report conclude that either question is answered during the assessment? We also need to understand if the FBI is committed to a belief that the reason these violent crimes are committed is solely due to the violator’s thoughts about race. Exactly what does the FBI believe is a question I have after reading the report online?
Based on this leaked intelligence report, the FBI believes that the motivation for African Americans organizing this not-so-clearly-defined movement is the “perception” of police brutality against African Americans. That doesn’t bode well for those with the unpleasant task of owning this report. Can anyone truly say that police brutality against African Americans is not a reality on some level?
The report points to 2014 as central to the “movement”. A November 2014 FBI intelligence report referenced in the BIE assessment focused on reactions to the Ferguson, MO grand jury announcement where the FBI believed that the grand jury’s decision would be exploited by African Americans as justification to wage attacks on police and critical infrastructure. It doesn’t take much, then, to conclude that the focus was on those activists voicing concern following the Michael Brown shooting and not a movement as the report would have us believe. It takes even less convincing that the narrative about what was happening in Ferguson and elsewhere across America was being hijacked. The new narrative – police brutality against African Americans is simply a perception but there’s an emerging movement where black extremists are targeting police that is real. I guess it’s true that your perception becomes your reality.
Where It All Began
The FBI’s reality came in the form of six incidents the report appears to rest on as the definition of a present day movement. The FBI provided no evidence that these six incidents are anything more than unrelated acts of violence. The only factor present in each incident is the race of the person committing the act of violence. The strong rhetoric of each violator does little to establish a single, even loosely organized movement.
The report also lays out the FBI’s perspective about what it considers a movement. Much of that perspective however, is dated. It states that African Americans have historically waged a campaign of violence against the police citing incidents dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. Really? A failure to focus on current day trends and patterns rather than attempting to create a nexus to dated facts is simply irresponsible.
Has there been an historic campaign of violence by African Americans against law enforcement? Do these intelligence professionals actually believe that the most prudent way to assess law enforcement’s response to the violence perpetrated against people of color, specifically African Americans, during encounters with the police is to provide a climate that may very well increase those instances of violence? We know that historically law enforcement (and private citizens) have justified violence against African Americans in a number of ways. Why feed into the hysteria and give law enforcement officers another reason to misjudge a situation?
Looking at the 33 source references in the BIE report (some dating back to January 2014), the FBI cited itself as the source of the information a total of 21 times (roughly 64%). In about 62 percent (13) of those FBI reports law enforcement information was the FBI’s source. Surprisingly, 11 of the 13 references citing law enforcement as the source were identified as electronic communications. The remaining 8 FBI reports used open sources. The FBI also relied on 12 news reports or and blog posts as source information for the BIE report.
Despite the fact that the BIE report is troubling several reasons, the FBI appears to have begun to focus more attention on the activities of white supremacists as well. In May 2017, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned that white supremacist violence was growing, according to a report obtained and published by Foreign Policy news. That same report noted that white supremacists were responsible for more attacks in the United States than any other extremist group, including Islamic extremists. Threats against law enforcement ranked high on the list of targets for white supremacists. Law enforcement resources are definitely best utilized where there is clear and convincing evidence of the actual existence of an extremist movement.
It’s been rumored that former FBI director, James Comey, famously kept a copy of the Martin Luther King Jr. wiretap order on his desk as a reminder of the bureau’s past abuses and made new agents learn the history of the FBI’s pursuit of the civil rights leader.