On Friday, a leaked document from the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit revealed that the US government has declared “black identity extremists” a domestic terror threat.
In a report titled “Black Identity Extremist Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers,” the bureau assesses “it is very likely black identity extremist perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.” The report cites anti-authoritarian and “Moorish sovereign citizen” ideology as factors influencing this alleged increase in almost entirely non-existent “black terror.” I am active in Black Lives Matter and even I had to Google “Moorish sovereign citizen” because I’d never heard the term before.
Yes, as the report notes black extremists do, very rarely, target police officers. The report cites six such cases. For a little perspective, consider there are more than 300 violent attacks by right-wing extremists each year in the US. The election of Donald Trump has fueled a dramatic increase in hate crimes committed by bigoted white people, and last year US police killed over 1,000 people, a hugely disproportionate number of them black, many of them unarmed or posing no threat, as is yet again painfully evident in the latest such incident. Furthermore, police almost always enjoy impunity when they murder black people, even when the victim isn’t armed or a threat. And despite the alarming number of right-wing terror attacks, the president seems far more interested in condemning NFL players who take a knee to protest racism — who he called “sons of bitches” — than in condemning racists — who he has called “very fine people.”
It seems clear to me that misidentifying black people as a terror threat is a blatant attempt by the Trump administration to demonize, delegitimize and ultimately destroy Black Lives Matter and other groups and individuals fighting for the elusive equality promised to all Americans since 1776. It’s a disturbingly familiar development. Ever heard of COINTELPRO?
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover launched COINTELPRO in August 1956 to bedevil US communists, but within two months the covert — and often illegal — program was targeting the burgeoning civil rights movement. Attorney General Robert Kennedy authorized the wiretapping of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s phone, with the head agent in charge of COINTELPRO, William Sullivan, warning that “we must mark [King]… as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation.” This, just before King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to lead the struggle against Jim Crow segregation and disenfranchisement. The FBI systematically bugged King’s home and hotel rooms, sent anonymous letters urging him to kill himself and even sent a tape of what it claimed was King having an affair to his wife. When King criticized the FBI for ignoring the heinous and often murderous crimes of the then-powerful Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists who were still lynching blacks with alarming regularity and impunity, an infuriated Hoover publicly called him the “most notorious liar” in America.
That other slain colossus of the civil rights era, Malcolm X, was simultaneously targeted under COINTELPRO. The FBI infiltrated his Organization of Afro-American unity in the final months of his life, stoking conflict and division among the group’s members that ended with the iconic leader’s assassination. The Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement, Nation of Islam, women’s liberation movement, Socialist Workers Party, KKK, National Lawyers Guild and others on both the left and right were targeted under COINTELPRO. But the worst of the programs’ infiltration, psychological warfare, legal and illegal harassment, brutal violence and even assassination, most notably of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago in 1969, were reserved for black people fighting for equality and justice.
When we examine who the Trump administration does — and does not — consider a national security threat, a disturbing and undeniable myth-making pattern emerges:
Undocumented immigrants are called a threat, worthy of walls and mass deportation. Yet they contribute some $11 billion annually to our nation’s economy and contrary to regressive claims, do not take jobs away from Americans. They also commit less crime than US citizens, with border cities and towns perennially ranking among the safest in the nation.
Muslims are called a threat, worthy of travel bans and a never-ending war that’s killed more than a million people. Yet you’re more likely to be shot dead by a right-wing extremist, a police officer or an armed toddler than killed by an Islamist terrorist on US soil. Falling furniture, melting icicles and lighting are other things that kill more Americans than jihadists.
LGBTQ people are called a threat, worthy of military and bathroom bans and a rollback of other civil rights and protections that straight people enjoy. Yet no transgender person is known to have ever molested anyone in a bathroom, and it’s still perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay in a majority of states.
And as was the case under Hoover, so too under Trump and Jeff Sessions is the mythical “threat” of “black identity extremists” seen as much more dire than the deadly menace posed by Trump’s “very fine people,” aka white nationalists/white supremacists/KKK/Nazis. And so as right-wing terror and hatred soar in the age of Trumpism, the administration orders the federal program targeting all extremist violence to focus solely on “radical Islam.” And so Trump takes days to condemn a deadly white supremacist terror attack but just hours to blast black athletes protesting police brutality and racism.
And so I have to ask: is there anyone out there who still doubts that this is a racist administration?