Is the FBI Setting the Stage for Increased Surveillance of Black Activists?

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
October 18, 2017

A recently leaked FBI “Intelligence Assessment” contains troubling signs that the FBI is scrutinizing and possibly surveilling Black activists in its search for potential “extremists.”

The report, which the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division prepared, identifies what it calls “Black Identity Extremists” as security threats. Their “perceptions of police brutality against African Americans … will very likely serve as justification” for violence against law enforcement officers, the report claims. Today, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Center for Media Justice seeking other records regarding the FBI’s surveillance of Black people on the basis of a supposed shared ideology, including records using the term “Black Identity Extremists.”

The report is disturbing on several levels, starting with the label “Black Identity Extremist.” Its definition of the term is so confusing as to be unintelligible:

The FBI defines black identity extremists as individuals who seek, wholly or in part, through unlawful acts of force or violence, in response to perceived racism and injustice in American society and some do so in furtherance of establishing a separate black homeland or autonomous black social institutions, communities, or governing organizations within the United States."

What seems to be a made-up term raises concerns that the FBI created the designation to enhance government scrutiny of Black activists, including people involved in Black Lives Matter, which some wrongly blame for incidents of violence and label a hate group. By focusing on ideology and viewpoint in defining what constitutes a so-called “Black Identity Extremist,” the FBI is spending valuable resources to target those who object to racism and injustice in America.

The report is also flawed in its conclusions and methodology. Any violence against law enforcement officers is unacceptable, but the FBI’s focus on supposed “Black Identity Extremists” appears misplaced. Studies show that attacks against police officers are extremely rare and that white men carry out the overwhelming majority of those attacks.

Read the full post at ACLU Northern California