In a leaked 2017 report circulated among US police departments by the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit, the newly fabricated designation of ‘Black Identity Extremist’ is slowly becoming an unsettling reality for those involved in the promotion of black civil rights. According to this document, ‘Black Identity Extremists’ are an increasingly violent domestic threat promoted and inspired by those who criticise and hold genuine grievances with police brutality, (the imprisonment of former-officer Jason Van Dyke serves as a reminder) the criminal justice system and poor US government policy toward minorities. The report states that these homegrown terrorists have ‘historically perpetrated violence against law enforcement, in which they perceived as representatives of the institutionalised oppression of African Americans,’ this, in turn, has served to stoke the fire of public opposition toward movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the United States.
Under the current Western political climate, the concept of domestic terrorism is for many immediately associated with that of the Islamist variety. The US media has continually shifted public focus toward the Middle-East, in which the unseen other of terrorism works toward our destruction, causing many elements of the population to respond in turn with the acceptance of widening state foreign and domestic power, in order to apparently combat this looming threat. The same can be said for the current US government stance on black activism, whereby the FBI has now formally designated ‘Black Identity Extremism’ as the violent other who schemes in the shadows toward the downfall of society. In reality, it is a hollow term used to widen federal power in relation to domestic activist groups, to overshadow racist elements of the justice system and turn public opinion away from activism and toward governmental support. The US government has consistently gripped the reins of power regarding the ability to breach the constitutional rights of its citizens by creating political others and can only maintain this power through constantly expanding its range in what it deems as a terrorist actor.
According to Michael German, fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and former FBI agent during a Vice News interview, the FBI cannot legally place someone under investigation, formally arrest or unleash its immense power of surveillance on them purely through their exercise of first amendment rights within the US Constitution. However, in establishing the label of ‘Black Identity Extremist,’ the FBI can fully target any activist deemed to be overtly criticising police violence or harbouring anti-government sentiment. Furthermore, German states that the examples used within the report are vastly different individual cases of violence committed against police officers, and the only thing connecting them was their mutual skin colour. When an overarching ideology like this is used to simultaneously blanket people who are black and identify as an activist, this lens could soon widen to include other groups who provide views contra to government policy such as trade unions, immigrant rights groups or socialist parties. When a group provides a national alternative or movement to subvert government action or policy, it is completely within the interest of that governmental body to present this threat as a national threat to the population, as they can rally support from every social class.
However, this is not a characteristic inherent to the new US administration but can be seen as a renewed intensification of previous actions committed by the US government and the FBI under their Counter-Intelligence Program codenamed COINTELPRO from 1956 till 1971. This operation was comprised of covert illegal activities including surveillance, harassment, disruption, discrediting, infiltration, the promotion of violence and the organisation of assassinations within groups designated as a threat to national security. This secret FBI initiative particularly targeted the Black Panthers and figures such as Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, but continually expanded to target Anti-Vietnam War groups, Socialist Groups, Native American Movements and Irish Nationalists. The Trump administration is yet again unafraid to evoke the conservative fervour of the past to suppress current movements for socio-economic change as seen by the blatant connection to previous FBI actions.
One can see the US government’s operations against ‘subversive’ elements in the arrest of activist and co-founder of the Guerilla Mainframe (GM) movement Rakem Balogun on the 12th of December 2017, in relation to his vocal criticism of the police on social media. Balogun served five months in prison during the process of his prosecution and was denied bail, yet the charges against him of illegal gun possession and providing a threat to law enforcement were completely dropped. His prosecutors eventually admitted that they lacked evidence relating to Balogun’s attitude towards the police and resorted to using footage of a GM rally obtained by InfoWars, the far-right network notably featuring the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones as formal evidence. The activist movement in which Balogun co-founded echo many of the social initiatives pioneered by the Black Panthers like food drives, picnics, self-defence classes and the organisation of black-led community groups and neighbourhood patrols. In a letter to the Guardian, Balogun refers to his arrest as unjustified and an example of ‘government abuse’, and that ‘violence is the method of our oppressor.’
Rakem Balogun’s arrest has signalled the start of an unsettling series of events between the Trump administration and minority groups of the United States. The federal double standard in regard to US national security remains in effect as white supremacists have been responsible for 75% of deadly extremist attacks since 2001, yet black activists are continually publicly targeted. Through the establishment of the blanket term of ‘Black Identity Extremism’ and the blatant evoking and promotion of COINTELPRO tactics, an unsavoury trend has yet again been put into motion, whereby those deemed as politically subversive or acting against the national interest of the United States, shall be violently dealt with according to unprecedented levels of federal power over individual expression and association. In the future, one can expect the FBI to spout the same rhetoric relating to ‘Black Identity Extremism,’ and chase further terms made of straw while activists suffer the brunt of this systemic abuse.
By Aaron Collier – Features Writer