A California congressperson wants to know, what exactly is Black Identity Extremism, and who is being targeted?
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) continues to pressure the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to provide clearer guidelines in understanding how the agency identifies members of the Black community to be categorized under the new Black Identity Extremism (BIE) designation.
Last week, at a House Judiciary hearing with FBI Director Asher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Rep. Bass expressed her concerns of the classification.
“Until this report is retracted and clarification is made to thousands of police agencies around the country, then that report can be used especially if you have, and my concern is, young African American activists who might protest police violence,” said Rep. Bass.
She also conveyed an unease about how law enforcement will use the document; especially on the heels of the FBI prosecution of Rakeem Balogun, whose legal name is Christopher Daniels. Documents said that the FBI used BIE report to identify Daniels as fitting the category.
They arrested him on illegal firearm possession charges, but the case was thrown out by a judge after he spent several months in jail. Balogun participated in several rallies protesting police brutality and is the co-founder of a Black gun club that promoted weapons training, fitness and volunteering in the community.
In an interview with the Guardian, Balogun said, “It’s tyranny at its finest. I have not been doing anything illegal for them to have surveillance on me. I have not hurt anyone or threatened anyone.”
When Rep. Bass asked Wray and Rosenstein if they were familiar with the Balogun case, they both expressed that they were not. To date, it is the first prosecution of a person using the BIE report.
However, Wray answered Rep. Bass’ concerns about the agency’s review of the document. “We’re continuing to look at the information we used for that report and the manner in which we described it … we have very strict guidelines about not just in this area, but in any domestic extremism situation,” he said.
Wray explained that there are three criteria that have to be met in order for the FBI to move forward on investigating individuals. He continued, “Credible evidence of a violation of federal criminal law. Number one. Number two. Credible evidence of violence or a threat of violence. And then third, motivated by some extreme ideology. If we don’t have those things our folks are not allowed to open up an investigation.”
Modern Day COINTELPRO
In August 2017, an FBI leaked document showed a report by the agency labeled, Black Identity Extremism, to describe a person of African descent who is more than likely to target law enforcement with acts of “premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence.”
According to the documents, Black people who are anti-authoritarian, espouse Moorish sovereign citizenship and hold violence against law enforcement as a justified act, all fall within BIE label. The document says that BIE peaked during the Civil Rights Movement and Black Liberation campaigns that formed thereafter.
The intelligence report caused alarm throughout the community of activists and Congressional Black Caucus members.
Earlier this year, Rep. Bass examined the FBI’s BIE report through a briefing where she invited two former FBI officers, Dr. Erroll G. Southers and Michael German, in addition to Nana Gyamfi, a human rights and criminal defense attorney, to provide their opinion of the document. All three condemned the report.
Gyamfi commented, “The FBI Black Identity Extremist classification is a dangerous and constitutional policy that puts black activists and organizers at serious risks of having our fundamental constitutional rights violated and our liberties … without a shred of competent evidence, the FBI, especially and erroneously asserts that black activists and organizers who protest or otherwise speak out against extradition murders of Black people by law enforcement are motivated by a dangerous extremism that they FBI has defined as a Black identity extremism.”
Gyamfi also acknowledged in proceedings that Black activists already reported constant surveillance and harassment that telltales of an era that some thought were long gone.
“This doesn’t just harken back to COINTELPRO this is like COINTELPRO on steroids,” said Gyanfi. “And we know we what happened when all this surveillance was illegal at the time of COINTELPRO. So imagine now when it is legal, imagine now when the standards are being set purposely.”
Under the directorship of FBI head, J. Edgar Hoover, the agency carried out covert operations on domestic organizations to disrupt their mobilization. Often using illegal practices, the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) targeted Black organizations that contested the inequities of the US government. From Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. to Black Panther Party heads such as Huey P. Newton, COINTELPRO worked to dismantle Black activist groups from the inside.
In his remarks, Germain said, “The assessment is of such poor analytic quality that it raises serious questions about the FBI’s purpose in producing it. What is most troubling about the BIE assessment is its potential to incite irrational police fear of Black political activists. Irrational fear, unfortunately, too often in the past translated into unnecessary police violence against unarmed and unthreatening Black men and women.”
Questions still stand about BIE. Rep. Bass asked Wray and Rosenstein for a follow up report of their findings in the internal assessment. The FBI has not given any word as to when they will produce this report.