Who comes to mind if you hear that the government wants to track “violent, terroristic acts that were driven by race-related extremist ideologies”?
Or maybe Dylann Roof, the young white supremacist who slaughtered nine African-Americans in Charleston, S.C., as they gathered in fellowship and prayer. Surely that bloodshed qualified as the actions of a racist extremist.
Nope. You’re focusing on the wrong race. You just don’t see the racial militancy problem like our government so often does. Remember the FBI’s covert ops disgrace, COINTELPRO? It tracked and attempted to undermine black civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., convinced that what they were up to was dangerous to the nation.
In much the same vein, this generation of federal officials appears to be preoccupied with possible conspiracies among the Black Lives Matter protesters. Never mind that this movement is more a hashtag than a coordinated effort.
The Department of Homeland Security is refusing to release what’s known as the “Race Paper,” a document with the more formal title of the “Growing Frequency of Race-Related Domestic Terrorist Violence.”
In 2016, a Freedom of Information request was filed to obtain it. The request was denied. Pages were provided, but entirely redacted.
But new pressure is mounting. On Wednesday, more than 35 organizations signed a letter sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen demanding full disclosure.
The effort was led by the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the NAACP, the Brennan Center for Justice, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and dozens of other organizations.
The letter was prompted by a Homeland Security official’s statement in April to further justify not releasing the document. In it, the official acknowledged at issue was “a proposed intelligence assessment” to address “how violent ideological actors coopt peaceful political activity and mass gatherings.”
The statement stressed that surveillance wasn’t to be a part of the study and acknowledged constitutionally protected rights, along with the role of protest within politics.
But given past history, those few lines alone don’t suffice.
There is also the fact that last fall, an FBI report was leaked with the titled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers.” The highly criticized report took a handful of cases and came out with the wild prediction that what it termed B.I.E.’s — Black Identity Extremists — would continue to target police for violent, assassination-style attacks.
That hasn’t happened, despite continued, high-profile cases of questionable uses of lethal force by police. Protests against police brutality have been overwhelmingly peaceful.
And the horrific premeditated attack on police officers in Dallas in July 2016, which killed five, turned out to be the work of a lone, deranged gunman.
When pressed about the FBI report in a congressional hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was unable to name any African-American organizations that have committed violence against police.
Of course, everyone wants the government to stay abreast of threats from those who would use demonstrations for their own ill will. But what’s not needed is a set of conflated beliefs based on racial misperceptions that are used to target some citizens to stifle their free speech.
Release the document. Uncover any such conspiracy theories brewing within the federal government.
Much murder and mayhem has been committed of late by disgruntled white men with handguns and assault rifles and bombs, much of it specifically targeting people of color. And neo-Nazi types have raised the threat of violence in many cities.
Yet, continuously, what surfaces from federal agencies are alerts that portray black and brown activists and their loosely affiliated messaging as a dangerous conspiracy.
The rub is that the people who wind up targeted are the ones attempting to hold accountable the very government that is labeling them a threat. That’s not a coincidence, and it’s not new in America.