FBI Report Targets Black Activists
The FBI terrorism unit’s report warning that ‘black identity extremists’ are a violent threat is only the latest in a long tradition of targeting black activists, says the Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford
EDDIE CONWAY: I’m Eddie Conway coming to you from Baltimore. Thanks for joining me at The Real News. Recently a FBI report has been released that’s targeting activists in the black community, and so joining me to kind of explain what that means and what kind of impact that’s gonna have on our community is Glen Ford, the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report.
Glen, thanks for joining me.
GLEN FORD: Thanks for having me.
EDDIE CONWAY: Well Glen, this black extremist, this Black Identity Extremist document that the FBI counterintelligence, no counter-terrorist agency released, what does that mean?
GLEN FORD: Well, that’s something for debate, isn’t it? Now I never met a black activist that actually believed that the FBI had called off it’s COINTEL Program to neutralize and destroy black organizations despite those revelations by Congressional committees back in the 1970’s. Nobody I know who was serious that that was really true.
But this article, and it comes from Foreign Policy Magazine, it’s based on a leak from the FBI Counter-terrorism division, refers to something that they’re treating as new, which they call, as you said, the black identities extremists. They don’t say how long they’ve been tracking these so-called black identities extremists and how they are different from black militants that they used to track. You know that very well. But they cite 2014, the killing of Michael Brown by a cop and the black community response in Ferguson, Missouri as the beginning of this kind of threat. And they say that there have been six discrete incidents of attacks on cops, that occurred because of this black identities threat.
Again, besides the change in nomenclature, it’s kind of difficult to distinguish this new heading from the activities that we all assumed that they had been engaged in previously. But I personally think that what has occurred here is that the FBI, since 2014, since these new forces have really put them under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter, have been set in motion, has been therefore required to put together a new list of targeted suspects and when bureaucracies put together a new list of targets, they usually put another title over that list. So that’s, we could consider this Black Identities Extremists to just be a new bureaucratic title.
What does separate this new list from the old list is the period of time that we’re in. Back in the old COINTELPRO, even though the state threw everything at the movement in order to neutralize and destroy it, and that included assassinations of course, the police and the cops and the FBI all knew that they were committing illegal acts, and that these were not sanctioned by law, and they were not officially sanctioned by the US government. But now we live in this era of the so-called War on Terror, and so when an FBI Counter-terrorism division puts you on their list, they have behind them all of the repressive machinery of government and a new set of laws and practices that are held to be legal. That are in the hands of this government. So, even if it’s just a new bureaucratic title for an old practice, it occurs during a much more lethal kind of era. This so called War on Terror and black folks are among those targeted for the War on Terror. That certainly is something to be disturbed about.
EDDIE CONWAY: Well, you know one of the things is, and I understand that during the 60’s and the 70’s they were very much aware that their activities were illegal, but it also seems to me and I could be wrong on this, is that the targets, whether it was Martin Luther King’s or Southern Christian Leadership Movement, or the Black Panthers, or the Republic of New Africa or the targets always seemed to have at least some organizational structure, form and shape. This new designation seem to just target any and everybody. You don’t have to belong to a movement, all you have to do is think you’re black, and I’m concerned about that because it seems like a broad brush, not just that they have the force of law behind, but there’s no borders now to this.
GLEN FORD: You’re right. They’re talking about, and they keep repeating the term, “Ideology.” That is what someone is thinking. And not even describing what organization they belong to. Now, when they talk about these six incidents in which cops were attacked, including Dallas, Texas where a bunch of them got killed, the young men who were involved in those attacks were not members of any organizations. Rather than use the standard anti-terror speak that cops employ, or have been employing, and call people lone wolves, they now, with regard to black folks, they seem to be faulting an ideology. What is in people’s heads, although they don’t describe what that ideology is. And it’s a kind of blanket kind of label that they can put on anybody.
But to tell the truth, back in the 60’s they did the same thing, so you had very mild mannered writers, as well as peaceful preachers as well as conscious revolutionaries who were all put onto the same hit list.
EDDIE CONWAY: Well, and I guess one of the things that I’m thinking is throughout our history we’ve always had a segment in our community called race men or race people. People that put the race first, not just for offensive reasons but to protect the community and so on. So, they might have cultural events, black picnics, or black weddings or this kind of thing. It seems that now that they might be in danger of being targeted because they advocate race first, say for instance.
GLEN FORD: You know, it’s kind of ironic, a Black Left often criticizes some of the young folks in motion as having identity politics that really isn’t anti-the system at all but just about me me me, that is we often use that word in a pejorative sense, but the FBI doesn’t seem to make any difference between the two. If you’re a Black Pride person or a race man or woman, as you’ve described it using the terminology of our generation, than you can be put under the same list as a New Panther.
EDDIE CONWAY: So this is, and I think earlier you had mentioned something about bureaucracy needing to label and so on, this seems to be compatible to like Nazi Germany now even more so in my estimation of where I look at it in terms of compiling lists. I go back to the National Defense Authorization Act that allows people to be designated as enemies of the state and disappear, that’s a law in America right now, and with no rights whatsoever. And then I look at the massive amount of weapons that Obama have given the domestic police forces and it’s a cause for concern. Are people alarmed in the community?
GLEN FORD: Yeah, you know when I a couple of days ago first started talking about this being largely a product of the way bureaucracies react to new situations, some folks thought I was downplaying it. But as we discussed, the Nazis were very big on nomenclature. And the wrong word got you sent to an early end. Words are important to bureaucracies. They are the signifiers of what will be done to you by that bureaucracy, so this new title, this Black Identities Extremists, it means they have a new category of punishments in store for a group that is not well-defined by the language and could therefore be anybody, as long as they’re Black.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, so do you have any final thoughts on this?
GLEN FORD: Yeah, in terms of the new era that we’re in that makes this different from the old era of COINTELPRO repression, this is the era of preventive detention. This is the era in which you can be locked up without trial and without even being charged, and this has been since 2009 under President Obama. The NAACP came out with a statement rather quickly denouncing the FBI’s new nomenclature or categorization, but in that statement they seem to be trying to put the onus for the new policy, or new words on President Trump. But the leak itself shows that the FBI is dating its offensive back three years, to 2014. And we’ve been hearing about the FBI stepping up its surveillance of Black organizations ever since Ferguson. So, this is not about Obama or Trump, it’s about the permanent National Security state and its special project to keep the lid on Black politics.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, well on that note, hopefully we will continue to follow this and look at it, and we’ll get back and talk about this some more.
GLEN FORD: Yes. I’m sure there’ll be more to talk about as these leaks pour out and folks start connecting the dots to things that have been happening to them over the last three years. Now we know why.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, thanks for joining me.
GLEN FORD: Thank you.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, and thanks for joining The Real News.