by Christopher Zoukis
An FBI report published in August 2017, and leaked two months later, identified a movement it refers to as “black identity extremists” as a new addition to the growing number of groups the agency considers possible domestic terrorists.
According to McClatchyDC.com, the report defines black identity extremists as individuals who, in response to “perceived racism and injustice in American society,” seek to use force or violence, sometimes in furtherance of “establishing a separate black homestead or autonomous black social institutions, communities or governing organizations within the United States.” In addition, the report claims that black identity extremists engage in “premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement.”
This label, combined with the overly broad definition of domestic terrorism in the USA PATRIOT Act, could lead to “abusive and unjustified investigations,” said American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi.
“We are worried that protestors are increasingly being labeled as terrorism threats,” said Shamsi.
Shamsi’s concerns may be well-founded. A letter from 84 members of Congress to the U.S. Department of Justice requests that Dakota Access Pipeline protestors be labeled as domestic terrorists. While the designation is not necessarily a criminal charge, Shamsi told McClatchyDC.com that the label makes it easier for police agencies to surveil affected groups.
“This has absolutely been a pattern by federal, state and local law enforcement,” said Shamsi. “And it is absolutely subject to rhetorical and political manipulation, and there is real danger that arises from that.”
According to former FBI agent Michael German, being labeled a domestic terrorist allows the FBI to surveil “basically anyone who’s black and politically active.” German, who worked in domestic terrorism at the FBI and is now a fellow at the Brennan Center, doesn’t believe that there is enough ideological commonality to connect the very few attacks on police by black individuals together into a terrorist movement.
“They’re talking isolated incidents and turning it into a movement to justify increased surveillance,” said German. “It’s throwing fuel on this argument of a war on police by black people, even though if you look at the numbers that’s not the case.”
The FBI refused to comment on the leaked report specifically, but said in a statement that it is prohibited from “initiat[ing] an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights.” The statement went on to declare that the FBI’s focus “is not on membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit violence and other criminal acts.”
Shamsi told McClatchyDC.com that the classification of “black identity extremists” as domestic terrorists may be unique to the Trump administration, but the labeling of minority groups in this way is not. “There is no question that people who have been singled out include Muslims, black activists and environmental and animal rights activists, regardless of the administration,” said Shamsi.
Erroll Southers, director of the University of Southern California’s Homegrown Violent Extremism Studies at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, warned: “This document has been distributed to 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, some of whom have intelligence capacity. So when they get a document that speaks to the topic of domestic terrorism, and they’re given these guidelines on what to look for, this ups the ante in regards to people they come in contact with.”
Sources: mcclatchydc.com, thinkprogress.org
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