Recently released documents from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security show that government officials feared “black supremacist extremists” had plans to disrupt the 2016 Democratic and Republican national conventions.
An internal email, obtained by Al Jazeera, was sent the day after Micah Johnson killed five Dallas police officers during a July 2016 Black Lives Matter march. The FBI noted that Johnson, a black man who was later killed by a police bomb, acted alone and had no ties to Black Lives Matter. However, it expressed deep concern over potential violence from other “black supremacist extremists” in the document.
“Due to the sensitives surrounding recent police shootings, the threat of copycat attacks against law enforcement exists,” one email reads. “There is a threat of black supremacist extremists attempting to violently co-opt the upcoming DNC/RNC.”
The phrase “black supremacist extremist” is used a second time in the memo when it points to several movements in the Dallas area, “the most prominent is the New Black Panther Party (NBPP), which has numerous offshoots.”
Much of the memo’s text about a plan of action has been blacked out. However, Al Jazeera notes that the language in the documents they obtained allude to Black Lives Matter protests being monitored.
Activist DeRay McKesson told Newsweek that FBI agents visited his and other black activists’ homes in 2016. He said before the summer conventions they left a business card with a note outside his home.
“We knew that there were likely people watching,” McKesson said. “We knew that we were on the right side of justice. We were not afraid.”
A spokesperson for the FBI sent a statement regarding the claim that they monitored activists to HuffPost:
“The FBI investigates activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security and cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights. The FBI remains committed to protecting those rights for all Americans. Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit violence and other criminal acts. Furthermore, the FBI does not and will not police ideology. When an individual takes violent action based on belief or ideology and breaks the law, the FBI will enforce the rule of law.”
In October, Foreign Policy obtained an FBI document that said the agency was targeting “black identity extremists” for fear that they’d use “premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement.” The report, titled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers,” says it was prompted by the widespread anger after a Ferguson, Missouri, cop killed Michael Brown in 2014.
“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 reads, using an acronym for “black identity extremists.”
Civil rights leaders note that the label puts a dangerous and racist target on the backs of black activist groups and is reminiscent of the bureau’s COINTELPRO (counterintelligence program), which aimed to disrupt the efforts of civil rights leaders and groups in the 1960s.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) previously told HuffPost that the report needs to be disowned and thrown “in the trash can.”
“I think it’s just the racism, frankly, not because they’re loosely organized or anything like that. I think that what has happened in our country a lot is that if an African-American commits a crime, then the entire group is responsible,” Bass said. “Black people’s general response to a crime is ‘Was it a black person who did it?’ Because we know if there was a black person who did it, then everyone is responsible and accountable.”
Ryan J. Reilly contributed to this article.