Back in August after the white supremacist and Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville took the life of Heather Heyer and injured many others, Donald Trump claimed that there were very fine people on both sides. This narrative—that there is an equivalent on the left to white supremacists and Nazis is both false and dangerous. But since alternative facts are a daily reality from this White House, this hasn’t stopped the Trump administration from taking its “both sides” lies to new heights. While they refuse to see white nationalism as a growing problem, in August, the FBI did declare “black identity extremists” as a growing terrorist threat.
Amid a rancorous debate over whether the Trump administration has downplayed the threat posed by white supremacist groups, the FBI’s counterterrorism division has declared that black identity extremists pose a growing threat of premeditated violence against law enforcement.
“The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremist (BIE) 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,” reads the report, marked for official use only and obtained by Foreign Policy.
Not surprisingly, this so-called threat that the FBI is warning about is directly referencing the Black Lives Matter movement and increased pushback against police and state violence directed at black people. It is also completely fictitious. There is no data that supports the claim that there has been an increase in lethal violence directed at police on behalf of Black Lives Matter. The only example that can remotely be connected to this is last summer’s shooting of 11 police officers in Dallas during a peaceful protest of the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. While that shooter, Micah Johnson, claimed to be doing so in the name of avenging police violence against black people, he had no actual ties to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Experts in counterterrorism say that not only does the FBI’s concept have no basis in fact, it is also tied to a long history of government surveillance and intimidation of black people. A Google search of the “black identity extremists” found only few references and they were mainly contained to law enforcement documents which emerged in the last two months. This is clearly not a real thing—though this administration wants us to believe it is.
A former senior counterterrorism and intelligence official from the Department of Homeland Security who reviewed the document at FP’s request expressed shock at the language.
“This is a new umbrella designation that has no basis,” the former official said. “There are civil rights and privacy issues all over this.” [...]
Some experts and former government officials said the FBI seemed to be trying to paint disparate groups and individuals as sharing a radical, defined ideology. And in the phrase “black identity extremist” they hear echoes of the FBI’s decades-long targeting of black activists as potential radicals, a legacy that only recently began to change.
“They are grouping together Black Panthers, black nationalists, and Washitaw Nation,” said the former homeland security official. “Imagine lumping together white nationals, white supremacists, militias, neo-Nazis, and calling it ‘white identity extremists.’”
In a country so deeply founded and entrenched in anti-black racism, it shouldn’t surprise us that when black people protest to demand their dignity and right to live, the government comes up with ways to criminalize us. This has long, historical roots dating back decades. This is just what it looks like in 2017.
From the time J. Edgar Hoover took over the anti-radical division in the FBI at the height of the first “red scare” in 1919, the bureau began systematically surveilling black activists. [...]
“Black protests get conflated for the bureau [with communism], and it begins there,” said William Maxwell, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who has researched the FBI’s monitoring of black writers in the 20th century.
While this is isn’t new, it is incredibly scary and we should remain very vigilant. This has important implications as to how the Trump administration plans to carry out a program to demonize and target black activists—and activists of color more broadly. With Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department, who knows what kind of laws they’ll come up (or even break) to surveil and jail folks? It’s also yet another demonstration of their clear commitment to advancing a white nationalist agenda. So far they’ve identified Muslims as a terrorist group, identified Latino immigrants as a threat and now blacks. Who’s next?