Why Is the FBI Targeting ‘Black Identity Extremists?’
Eugene Puryear and Eddie Conway say there is no reason the FBI should be focusing on so-called “black identity extremists” when white supremacists commit so many acts of terror
RAKEM BALOGUN: We already expected that Donald Trump was going to try, Donald Trump administration was going to try to label black empowerment individuals and groups as potential terrorists.
EDDIE CONWAY: In December, in Dallas, Texas, FBI agents arrested Christopher Daniels in his home. The agents took Daniel’s firearms and his copy of Negro With Guns by Robert F. Williams. Many speculate that he was arrested because of his political beliefs. People are also raising questions about the recent murder of Black Lives Matter activist Muhiyidin Moye in New Orleans. Moye gained national fame when he grabbed a Confederate flag at a South Carolina protest last year.
An FBI report leaked in the fall shows that the FBI is targeting so called Black Identity Extremists. That’s their label for people who have explicitly black politics and advocate for black self defense or even just for protecting black communities. To talk about all this, I spoke with journalist, activist and author, Eugene Puryear.
Eugene, thanks for joining me.
EUGENE PURYEAR: Well, thank you so much for having me, Mr. Conway. I think that the case that you’re raising in terms of the Texas case, the Black Identity Extremism case, speaks very much to where we are in the era of Trump as it concerns the Movement for Black Lives. This is the case of an individual who is being targeted purely for having a subset of political views and expressing them publicly, and being affiliated with, at least potentially affiliated, with certain organizations in the Central Texas, Dallas, Texas area that advocate armed self defense in the black community.
And I think when we look at the Black Identity Extremism case, and I think we should also put this together with the criminalization that we’re seeing of pipeline protesters and the climate justice movement, where the government is using very similar rationale, which is that these movements, in and of themselves, are breeding grounds for people with “potential terroristic ideologies,” and thus we must surveil these movements, even when we have zero evidence that they are anything other than peaceful, at best nonviolent, civil disobedience oriented movements for social change.
I think that this has a number of implications, but first I think it shows that these movements have been very successful. The Movement for Black Lives has not only driven cultural change that has led many people to question not only racism and brutality amongst the police but also the institution of policing, which I think is very dangerous to the authorities. And I think also has been the umbrella for the Movement for Black Lives that is the empowering of radical political thought in the United States that is aimed at really questioning the social structure of this country. But even on a much more elemental level, we’ve seen that in a number of different areas from Harris County to Chicago to Orlando, Florida to Philadelphia District Attorneys and the like elected by using some of the themes of the Movement for Black Lives. So, we’re seeing also in the legislative arena that this movement is becoming much more popular even though it is highly critical of the political system. Even some those who are within want to do it.
And I think in the age of Trump, there’s a lot of fear from the law and order elements of the State and those forces in the more elite sections of our society that support them that these type of broad social movements can really potentially change the direction of this country from what is essentially a profit oriented type of society to a people oriented type of society. This attempt to sort of cul-de-sac that movement by deeming the Movement for Black Lives as a breeding ground for extremism by claiming that African Americans arguing for self defense are in fact extremists and by, quite frankly, downgrading the threats that the State is putting forward toward the black community, both in terms of its policies and now its attempt to crack down on activism in the black community, I think is very troubling.
EDDIE CONWAY: In addition to that, I wonder, they have this label now on Black Identity Extremists, but it seems to me that there’s no real investigation or observation of these extremist right wing groups, white supremacist groups, that’s then led to the deaths of people at rallies. What’s the discrepancy there? These are groups that are armed. They are hurting people. They are deliberately attacking people, et cetera. Why is there no scrutiny on these groups and the groups that are peacefully protesting because they’re black are being identified as terrorist groups? What’s the discrepancy there?
EUGENE PURYEAR: I think that’s a great question. I think one to think about this is that the most active Nazi terrorist group in America, Atomwaffen, which in just the past eight months has been linked to four murders or attempted murders and a number of their members have been arrested with an extreme amount of explosives, so a very dangerous group. Most people in America have never even heard of them. The Justice Department maintains they cannot refer to these individuals as “domestic terrorists,” because the domestic terrorism statute or whatever is not robust enough and they would be inexact. But we’ve seen the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions actually end the program that was designed to be aimed towards white Americans who may be attracted to this form of extremism.
I think the discrepancy here is troubling because I think what we see is that people who are protesting pipelines are considered to be “terrorist.” The Movement for Black Lives is now considered to be a breeding ground for terrorist extremism, the same thing for anti fascist protesters and the like, and without any real evidence to say that this is at all relevant or important. And I think what we have to see here is that one set of groups is challenging power in a very serious way while another set of groups, while they may be very violent and disruptive, is reinforcing the themes that this society is founded on, white supremacy, patriarchy, racism and bigotry and xenophobia and the like. These are really values that are as American as apple pie.
I think that, quite frankly, the Justice Department, the government and really the broader society is unwilling to actually embrace the fact that inside of white America, there’s an extreme, radical strain of xenophobic, bigoted individuals who are willing to use violence and terrorism to push their goals forward because to do that means you really have to grapple with white supremacy in our society, what its roots are, how deep it goes and why people feel justified doing these sorts of things. I think that’s challenging to people in power because there is no legitimate reason why there should be so much focus on Islamic terrorism or Black Identity Extremism or whatever when we know that white supremacist terrorists have committed the most terror acts here on US soil.
There is no discrepancy there that, to me, would be understandable other than the fact that there is something behind these organizations that people don’t really want to dig into, who are in positions of power. I think that’s very troubling. And I think we are being remiss to not put something together here that we’ve seen Darren Seals, we’ve seen Mr. Crawford. We’ve now seen Mr. …, I believe is the name, in Charleston, Black Lives Matter activists who have been killed in very suspicious circumstances when we know that there are active white supremacist terror groups that are actively telling their members to pursue lone wolf attacks. I don’t want to say one is definitely connected to the other, but to me, I think we have to start looking at these things in the same conversation or I think we could miss something that’s very dangerous in our society.
EDDIE CONWAY: The government level, the thing that concerns me most, is this National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. In 2016, it was re-passed and it basically gives the president or his representative the ability to lock up anybody in the world using the military to hold them indefinitely, including American citizens. And it doesn’t allow for any of the Bill of Rights to be applied to anybody that the president or his designee dictates is a threat to America. That concerns me because to couple that with this Black Identity Extremists, it makes everybody vulnerable. Who could this impact?
EUGENE PURYEAR: I think you’re making a great point and I think it could potentially impact all of us. I think the NDAA along with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is part of this long sort of trend that we have really seen here since 9/11 of l\presidents Bush, then later President Obama and now President Trump really codifying the ability to hold people who are said to be enemy combatants, terrorists and the like in a way that abrogates their constitutional rights if they’re American citizens.
When this initially all started, it said, “Oh. Well, this is not going to be about American citizens.” We’ve seen over the past two presidents that they’ve further and further, including quite a bit under President Obama, put out legal documents around the drone war, around indefinite detention and so on so forth that have increasingly allowed American citizens to be defined as these enemy combatant type of individuals and to have their rights abrogated.
I think when you combine that with what we’ve seen in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization where the Justice Department can actually now blanket declare organizations and individuals national security threats, which allows all the tools of domestic spying that are used, or foreign surveillance tools to be used as a domestic spying apparatus. And so, I think right there, we can see that the Trump administration and people they don’t like, from the Movement for Black Lives to the Climate Justice Movement to the labor movement could, under authority, under Jeff Sessions now, authority that cannot be reviewed by a judge, just be blanket declared national security threats, certainly be surveilled, potentially be detained under some of the other acts that you have mentioned here.
I think really the takeaway for people to remember is that all the tools that have been developed allegedly under the guise of fighting terrorism beyond the borders of the United States, whether it be domestic spying or indefinite detention, have been and are increasingly been defined down so that they can be used not just against American citizens but also in domestic criminal cases. And so, I think what we’re seeing is a national security state that really is unconstitutional in so many of its guises now being used as an end run around the constitutional rights of people here in the United States, not just political activists but even people who are drug dealers or the like who are accused of domestic criminal acts. I think it’s very concerning, and I think it really is a, it’s the first step in, I think, really starting to abrogate what we know as constitutional rights here in the United States.
EDDIE CONWAY: Well, is there any pushback? I mean, you work with people down on the ground. To the best of your knowledge, is there any pushback around this and if so, what does it look like?
EUGENE PURYEAR: Yeah, so there is some pushback. I know the Movement for Black Lives, organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a number of public civil liberties based law firms like the Partnership for Civil Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Lawyers Guild have been pushing on this in the legal arena and trying to raise as much of a human cry as we can in the broader community. But one of the things that’s really holding us back is the Democratic Party has gotten so wrapped up in these Russia investigations that it’s put them in a position where they are lionizing the FBI and the intelligence services and the intelligence apparatus. Even some of the senators and congresspeople who have been outspoken on some these issues during the previous administrations have now gone quiet because they don’t want to undermine what they view as their number one weapon against the Trump administration.
I think it’s very worrisome that there really is no voice, any significant voice I should say, inside of the Congress pushing back on any of this. So, at a grassroots level, absolutely, I think people are rallying. They’re writing their congresspeople. They’re marching, they’re testifying, they’re filing lawsuits, doing whatever they can, but there isn’t really anyone inside of our political structure who’s willing to have the backbone, quite frankly, to stand up to the intelligence community and their unceasing quest to use these national security tools against Americans and against political activist movements here in the United States.
EDDIE CONWAY: Well, I was saying, this was our last question, but I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you this because for the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party is working in the interests, in most cases, for Wall Street and that small group of people that’s accumulated more money than half of the people in the world collectively. I wonder, are we looking for help from people that are actually trying to protect the ruling class and they are, in all fairness, allowing this, not allowing it, they pass the laws. They have been involved in the process all the way since the crime bill with Clinton and certainly with Obama’s administration. They have been involved in creating these laws that are designed to keep people down on the ground under control, to militarize the police, et cetera.
So, I’m a little concerned that looking at the Democrats or their distraction with the Russiagate or the rest of that stuff is really in our interest. I think there’s, probably down on the ground, there must be a solution because we look at it with that every four year thing, the vote, the election, et cetera. It just turns this over and it continues to increase. And I don’t think the Republicans have done any more damage than the Democrats have done in terms of curtailing civil liberties and tearing up the Constitution. Do you see the Democrats really as a way out of this?
EUGENE PURYEAR: I would agree with you, I do not see them as a way out. I think all the social cultural change we’ve seen just, for instance, on police violence issues in the past couple years, are all the result of the ground level independent people’s movements, which I think usually are the big drivers for change in this country. I think they will be, and I think you’re spot on in terms of who these parties really represent, the big funders, the big donors.
My favorite story of 2016 was the New Yorker story about the ultra wealthy who were buying land in New Zealand and setting up all of these secret compounds to try to survive some sort of apocalyptic situation. What was interesting to me is these people weren’t worried about zombies taking over, that their number one fear was that the poor and the oppressed were going to rise up and take revenge on them because of the policies that the government has been pursuing, which are so heavily weighted toward the 1%. I thought that was a pretty telling thing, that there is a significant subset of the ultra rich 0.001% that is preparing to flee the country because they know that the things that the politicians they have funded that have done are so unpopular, so damaging and so dangerous.
And I think it speaks to, quite frankly, the reality that we see right now of why these politicians are continuing to strengthen the power of the State against social movements because I think that the people behind most major parties absolutely are very fearful about the social situation becoming uncontrollable because of the devastation they’ve wrought in so many different communities. I absolutely think that neither of the two major parties are going to be our salvation of the way out of here. I think from the abolitionist movement on, every single positive change that’s ever happened in this country has happened because people have, and I might add around the world, because people have stood up for what they believed in, organized amongst themselves and been uncompromising when confronted by those who said, “You don’t deserve what you’re asking for.”
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. On that note, thank you for joining me.
EUGENE PURYEAR: Thank you so much for having me. I love what you guys do there at The Real News and I really appreciate you, Mr. Conway.
EDDIE CONWAY: And thank you for joining The Real News.