It’s Different When Black People Do It: Sessions and the Black Identity Extremists Report

Deflection and distraction seem to be the order of the day. Republican members of the House Committee on the Judiciary appear to be riding some hobby horses which raise issues long resolved, or long justifiably ignored.  .  However, setting aside the Russian issues for a moment, Representative Karen Bass (CA-37) inserted an extremely important question about “extremist groups.” That would be African American “extremist groups.” 

Has the Department of Justice compiled a report on White Identity extremists? It certainly had prepared a report on Black Identity Extremists, but Representative Bass wanted to know if Black Lives Matter was to be target of Justice Department investigations.   The Attorney General asserted that he had not read the report.

One thing about the report that is immediately apparent is how short the report is, inserting six instances of highly dissatisfied persons attacking police and law enforcement officers.  There is a relatively lengthy section on the old BLA of the 1970s.  Not to put too fine a point to it, the August 2017 report is a wet dream for white supremacists.   What renders this a nightmare is that the Attorney General of the US can’t define what a “black identity extremist” is, and wasn’t all that clear about what a white identity extremist might be — at least until he was prompted by Representative Bass who brought up the ubiquitous Sovereign Citizens and the KKK.

The report provides a definition:

“The FBI defines sovereign citizen extremists as individuals who openly reject their US citizenship status, believe that most forms of established government, authority, and institutions are illegitimate, and seek, wholly or in part, through unlawful acts of force or violence, to further their claim to be immune from government authority. The mere advocacy of political or social positions, political activism, use of strong rhetoric, or generalized philosophic embrace of violent tactics may not constitute extremism, and may be constitutionally protected.”

This adequately describes the overall “sovereign” citizens — black and white, but doesn’t define precisely what a black identity extremist might be. We’re left with this vague description:

“The FBI assesses it is very likely some BIEs are influenced by a mix of anti-authoritarian, Moorish sovereign citizen ideology, and BIE ideology. The FBI has high confidence in these assessments, based on a history of violent incidents attributed to individuals who acted on behalf of their ideological beliefs, documented in FBI investigations and other law enforcement and open source reporting.”

BIE “ideology” is apparently predicated on being upset by the use of excessive force and unjustified killings by law enforcement personnel by African Americans.   “The FBI assesses it is very likely a 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.” Evidently, African Americans can be “radicalized” by anti-authoritarian sources.  Who’s an anti-authoritarian?  ACLU?  Black Lives Matter? Anti-Defamation League?  Libertarians? The League of Women Voters?

What makes this report, and its reception, so disturbingly important is that when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on White (right wing) Extremists in April 2009 the Republicans were “outraged” at the prospect of labeling “patriots” as extremists, and the Secretary had to defend the report from none other than the American Legion which bellowed “Americans are not the enemy.”  By April 16, 2009 the Department had to issue an apology!

But when African Americans get outraged about police use of deadly force, or when law enforcement officers shoot first and answer questions much later and community members express grief and agony, then they are “BIEs” and are properly the subject of FBI scrutiny?

This issue deserves at least the same investigation as the initial 2009 report incurred, and at least the comment the 2009 report initiated.  Until the day the Department of Justice is called upon to defend this report we’d have to conclude that it “really is different when black people do it.”

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