Balance in all things

Huh. Speaking of absurd moral panics over “black identity politics,” here’s an item from Foreign Policy, also last October, that I saw not via the ravings of Sam Harris but via Trump’s “they’re not people, they’re animals.”

As white supremacists prepared to descend on Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, the FBI warned about a new movement that was violent, growing, and racially motivated. Only it wasn’t white supremacists; it was “black identity extremists.”

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.

Oh no, it’s the black identity extremists coming to get you.

“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.

Are these “extremist” perceptions of police brutality against African Americans actually wrong? Factually wrong? Has that problem been entirely fixed already?

“The FBI assesses it is very likely incidents of alleged police abuse against African Americans since then have continued to feed the resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity within the BIE movement,” the report states.

Some 748 people have been shot and killed by police so far in 2017, including at least 168 African-Americans.

The report, dated Aug. 3 — just nine days before the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville turned deadly — appears to be the first known reference to “black identity extremists” as a movement. But former government officials and legal experts said no such movement exists, and some expressed concern that the term is part of a politically motivated effort to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists.

Can we call the FBI White Identity Extremists now? Would that be fair?

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.

Just in case we were inclined to think of the FBI as the anti-Trump, this is a useful corrective.

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.

The FBI is linking the people discussed in the report based only on them being black, rather than on any sort of larger ideological connection, the official said. “The race card is being played here deliberately.”

Michael German, a former FBI agent and now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, said manufacturing this type of threat was not new. He has criticized earlier FBI reports on “black separatists,” arguing that they conflated radical groups operating in the 1970s with attacks in 2010 and later, even though there was no obvious connection.

The use of terms like “black identity extremists” is part of a long-standing FBI attempt to define a movement where none exists. “Basically, it’s black people who scare them,” German said.

Ta-Nahisi Coates! Black Identity Politics! Auggghhhh!

In 2009, Daryl Johnson, then a Department of Homeland Security intelligence analyst, warned of the rise of right-wing extremism, setting off a firestorm among congressional critics. Johnson, who left the department in 2010, said he could think of no reason why the FBI would create a new category for so-called black identity extremists. “I’m at a loss,” he replied, when asked about the term.

“I have no idea of why they would come up with a new term.”

There have been concerns about rising violence among black separatist groups in recent years, he said, but it does not approach the threat of right-wing extremism. “When talking about white supremacists versus black supremacists, there are way more white supremacists,” Johnson said.

For historians and academics who have looked at the history of FBI surveillance of black Americans, the report also smacks of the sort of blatant racism the bureau has worked hard to leave behind. 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.

It goes all the way back. You could argue it’s a product of the white guilty conscience translated to paranoia about a Likely Uprising.

Lately, that seemed to be changing. As FBI director, James Comey famously kept a copy of the Martin Luther King Jr. wiretap order on his desk as a reminder of the bureau’s past abuses and made new agents learn the history of the FBI’s pursuit of the civil rights leader.

The FBI also appeared to be focusing more attention on the threat of white supremacists. In May, the FBI warned that white supremacist violence was growing, according to a report obtained and published by FP. That same report noted that white supremacists were responsible for more attacks in the United States than any other extremist group, including Islamic extremists.

Little did we know they were trying to “balance” it with talk of Black Identity Extremists.

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