FBI Acts Like It's Still 1960 With Its Report On 'Black Identity Extremists'
from the agency-eats-its-own-speculative-dog-food dept
We already knew Jeff Sessions was a throwback. The new head of the DOJ rolled back civil rights investigations by the agency while calling for harsher penalties and longer jail terms for drug-related crimes, while re-opening the door for asset forfeiture abuse with his rollback of Obama-era policy changes.
But it’s more than just the new old-school DOJ. The FBI is just as regressive. Under its new DOJ leadership, the FBI (inadvertently) published some speculative Blue Lives Matter fanfic [PDF] — an “Intelligence Assessment” entitled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Police Officers.”
There’s no hedging in the title, despite what the word “likely” usually insinuates. According to the FBI, this means there’s an 80-95% chance it believes its own spin.
Here’s the opening sentence:
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.
And here’s what the term “very likely” means when the FBI uses it:
Beyond that, the FBI says this:
The FBI has high confidence in these assessments…
And here’s how the FBI defines “high confidence.”
High confidence generally indicates the FBI’s judgments are based on high quality information from multiple sources. High confidence in a judgment does not imply the assessment is a fact or a certainty; such judgments might be wrong. While additional reporting and information sources may change analytical judgments, such changes are most likely to be refinements and not substantial in nature.
What’s in this open-and-shut report? What key elements lead the FBI to believe “BIEs” will be killing cops in the future? Well, it appears to be nothing more than a recounting of recent cop killings, coupled with anecdotal evidence, like the expression of anti-white sentiment in social media posts. Beyond that, there’s little connecting those who have killed cops with the ethereal FBI BIE ideal. There’s certainly no organization behind the killings — only a few common factors. And those factors — if the FBI is allowed to continue to treat “BIE” as a threat to police officers — will do little to discourage violence against police officers.
What it will do is allow law enforcement to engage in racial profiling and to overreact to social media rants by angry black men. And it will allow the FBI to turn into the same FBI that targeted Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists during the 1960s. In fact, it almost acknowledges as much in the report.
BIEs have historically justified and perpetrated violence against law enforcement, which they perceived as representative of the institutionalized oppression of African Americans, but had not targeted law enforcement with premeditated violence for the nearly two decades leading up to the lethal incidents observed beginning in 2014. BIE violence peaked in the 1960s and 1970s in response to changing socioeconomic attitudes and treatment of blacks during the Civil Rights Movement.
The composers of this report may have a lot of confidence in their assumptions, but no one else seems to.
Daryl Johnson, a former Department of Homeland Security intelligence agent, when asked by Foreign Policy in October why the F.B.I. would create the term “B.I.E.,” said, “I have no idea” and “I’m at a loss.” Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent and fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, said the “Black Identity Extremists” label simply represents an F.B.I. effort to define a movement where none exists. “Basically, it’s black people who scare them,” he said.
“Could you name an African-American organization that has committed violence against police officers?” Representative Karen Bass asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions at Tuesday’s hearing. “Can you name one today that has targeted police officers in a violent manner?” It’s no surprise that he could not. Mr. Sessions, who confessed that he had not read the report, said he would need to “confirm” and would reply in writing at a later time. The F.B.I. itself admits in the report, that, even by its own definition, “B.I.E. violence has been rare over the past 20 years.”
If the report is acted on, it will be the 1960s all over again.
Although it’s unclear what actions the F.B.I. will take as a result of the report, the conclusions pave the way for it to gather data on, monitor and deploy informants to keep tabs on individuals and groups it believes to be B.I.E.s. This could chill and criminalize a wide array of nonviolent activism in ways that have terrifying echoes its infamous Cointelpro program, which investigated and intimidated black civil rights groups and leaders, including Marcus Garvey and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Under this program, F.B.I. agents concocted a false internal narrative connecting Dr. King to foreign enemies, allowing agents to justify threatening to publicize his private life and encouraging him to commit suicide. This is a reminder that while the “Black Identity Extremist” designation is new, the strategy of using a vague definition to justify broad law enforcement action is not.
This is what the report looks like from the outside. It’s unclear if those inside the agency feel the same way. The leaked report confirms many people’s suspicions about law enforcement agencies: they view minorities as threats and will concoct narratives to support these views. There’s no evidence any sort of BIE organization exists, much less the existence of a concerted effort to inflict violence on police officers. But this report is a gift to every police officer and FBI agent who really wants to believe African Americans are out to get them. Given the administration’s unqualified support for law enforcement, coupled with the Commander in Chief’s off-the-cuff encouragement of violence, this report is basically an invitation to start policing like it’s 1960, rather than 2017.