Why is the FBI exaggerating the threat posed by black activists?

The US authorities have identified a new supposedly violent threat, ‘black identity extremists’ (BIEs). This is according to a leaked FBI report obtained by Foreign Policy, which says that ‘perceptions of police brutality against African-Americans’ have fed a ‘resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity within the BIE movement’.

Commentators and campaigners have raised concerns about the FBI ‘aggressively’ clamping down on political activists and civil-rights campaigners as a result of this report. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a strong statement suggesting the FBI hadn’t learnt from past mistakes – citing its unwarranted intimidation and surveillance of activists and civil-rights protesters in the 1960s.

The FBI report mentions incidents of activists targeting police and white people in the past year. This includes Micah Johnson, who shot and killed five police officers at a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in Dallas, Texas, and Gavin Eugene Long, who killed three police officers and injured three others in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Yet these individuals were described as ‘lone wolves’ by the police at the time. Though some commentators spuriously claimed that Johnson had been incited by Black Lives Matter, he had no clear ties to the group. According to the Daily Beast, he had effectively been blacklisted by various activist organisations.

Though the FBI hasn’t designated BLM or similar protest movements a violent threat, activists are rightly worried about the broad definitions being used, and the extent to which this will deter people joining protests. This is an unwarranted obsession that can only lead to more illiberal state controls and the singling out of black activists. What’s more, this will only vindicate the ‘we are victims’ mentality that BLM members have cultivated, bolstering their often one-dimensional and unhelpful rhetoric. This report should worry anyone who cares about democracy and freedom.

Courtney Hamilton is a writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter: @MrCDHamilton

Courtney is speaking at the session, ‘The legacy of Martin Luther King: from civil rights to identity politics’ , at the Battle of Ideas festival in London on Saturday 28 October. Get tickets here.

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