The FBI's 'Black Identity Extremist' Classification Is As Absurd As 'Reverse Racism'

The government will prey on civil rights activists by suggesting they--not white supremacists--pose a threat to our nation.
10/10/2017 10:18 am ET Updated Oct 10, 2017
Charlotte Observer via Getty Images

Donald Trump's presidency continues to be an abject lesson in the persistence of systematic racism, and a recent FBI report shows how little this administration regards black people.

The FBI released a report warning that "black identity extremists" are a new threat to law enforcement, even though white supremacist violence and police violence are more prevalent issues, because Trump’s administration is more focused on quelling black people's response to oppression than actually stopping systematic racism.

Foreign Policy obtained an August 3 FBI report that named black identity extremism (BIE) as a "movement" motivated by "incidents of alleged police abuse against African Americans." The report predicts an increase in violence against law enforcement based on six attacks on police officers from 2014 to 2016, including Micah Johnson's July 7, 2016 shooting in Dallas where he killed five police officers.

In all six incidents, a total of eight police officers were killed, but this doesn't compare to how many police officers have killed black people according to the Washington Post's database. In 2015, police killed 259 black people, 38 of whom were unarmed, and less than 40 percent of those unarmed black people were an "attack in progress." In 2016, police killed 233 black people and 17 of them were unarmed. So far in 2017, police have killed 169 black people and 10 of them were unarmed.

Comparing the FBI's recent number of “BIE”-related deaths and police-related shootings of unarmed black people within the same time period brings a ratio of 8:65, and yet Trump’s administration has scaled back Barack Obama’s efforts toward police reform.

Jessie Daniels, sociologist and professor at Hunter College-CUNY, said black people are "routinely killed by police at rates that mirror those of the racial terrorism of lynching," but the FBI's report works against black citizens by shifting the blame to "identity politics, which is code for activism against racism and police brutality."

The FBI report says five of these attacks occurred after "controversial police shootings of African Americans by white officers," and that "BIEs' perceptions of unjust treatment of African Americans and the perceived unchallenged illegitimate actions of law enforcement will inspire premeditated attacks against law enforcement over the next year." The report said additional police shootings, and their legal proceedings, will be future catalysts for violence against law enforcement.

Daniels said the report uses a “cynical” tone toward injustice, and it is motivated by “white fear of black violence,” a typical response to black progress in the United States.

“I think we’re seeing a continued backlash against our first black president and the powerful Black Lives Matter movement,” Daniels said.

The report states nearly all of the perpetrators were influenced by Moorish Sovereign Citizens and other black separatist groups, but Johnson was "ousted from a local BIE group for being too radical" before he attacked police officers at a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas. Black Lives Matter activists were quick to condemn the attack, but right-wing pundits and social media platforms blamed them anyway continue to do so. Dallas-based political commentator Tomi Lahren called Black Lives Matter “the new KKK” and said their goals are “far from equality” after Johnson’s shooting. After Gavin Long's attack on police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Sean Duffy blamed Black Lives Matter for an increase in violence against police officers. Historian Yohuru Williams called this framing of the incident dishonest and careless, and said it "creates a context that shifts attention away from the very police practices that nonviolent protesters are demonstrating against."

"There is no need to use pseudo-political labels or to willfully conflate it with nonviolent protests," Williams said. "Micah Johnson and Gavin Long were disturbed individuals who acted on their own."

The FBI report doesn’t directly blame Black Lives Matter or clarify if it fits under “BIE ideology,” but it doesn’t explain why it needs the term “BIE” when it already identifies Moorish Sovereign Citizens and black separatists.

Speaking of the “new KKK,” white supremacist killings outweigh the FBI’s recorded “BIE” attacks during the same time period. In 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller, founder of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, murdered three people because he wanted to kill Jews before he died. In 2015, Dylann Roof massacred nine black people in a church to start a race war, and John Russell Houser praised Adolf Hitler and David Duke online before he killed two people in a Lafayette, Louisiana, movie theater. In 2016, Russell Orlando Courtier, member of the European Kindred white supremacist prison gang, killed black teen Larnell Bruce in Oregon and was charged with a hate crime. This year, James Harris Jackson traveled from Maryland to New York City and killed Timothy Caughman, an elderly black man, to discourage white women from interracial dating, and Jeremy Joseph Christian stabbed two men to death on a Portland, Oregon train after they stepped in to protect two Muslim girls from his hate speech. On August 12, James Fields Jr. killed Heather Heyer, an anti-racism protester, with his car during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Comparing the deaths in the report with high-profile white supremacist violence that occurred before it was written brings a ratio of 1:2, and a joint memo from the FBI and DHS earlier this year warned this administration about white supremacist violence as the dominant threat of domestic terrorism, but Trump’s administration has cut funding for organizations designed to prevent white supremacist violence. Now, the FBI presents a black “movement” that former officials say doesn’t exist. Former FBI agent Michael German defined the FBI’s new term “BIE” as “black people who scare them,” per Foreign Policy.

A screenshot of the FBI report.
(Foreign Policy)
A screenshot of the FBI report.

The FBI should focus on any threat to society, regardless of race, but creating a racialized term for a form of violence that the report admits has been rare over the last 20 years is excessive. The mentality behind the term, however, isn’t new. The tone of this recent report pays homage to J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO program that led the FBI to track James Baldwin due to his bitter criticism of the American government’s response to violence against the black community.

Screenshot of James Baldwin’s COINTELPRO file.
(FBI.gov)
Screenshot of James Baldwin’s COINTELPRO file.
A screenshot of James Baldwin’s COINTELPRO file.
(FBI.gov)
A screenshot of James Baldwin’s COINTELPRO file.

Considering Trump and Mike Pence’s conduct toward NFL players protesting American systematic racism, this administration’s unflinching dedication to rolling back Obama’s efforts toward criminal justice reform (frankly, rolling back Obama’s legacy as a whole), and Trump’s praise for white supremacists as “very fine people,” it’s likely Trump favors an authoritarian regime that stomps out any black-led resistance, much to his base’s delight.

Terms like “Black Identity Extremist” are intended to create a false equivalence to the systematic racism that plagues and traumatizes the black community. It’s the law enforcement version of “reverse racism,” and it’s a logical extension to Trump’s racist, fact-allergic administration that doesn’t seek criminal justice reform but calls for ESPN to fire a black woman journalist for calling out its white supremacist leanings, and then rails against her while ignoring yet another white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville.

Trump’s administration focuses more on “black identity extremism” than the extreme conditions that, if unchecked, will only serve to provoke the violence the FBI fears, because it considers any form of black anger toward injustice extreme. Meanwhile, white supremacy gets a pass, along with the most powerful positions in government.

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