If You Want Strong Black Communities, Then The FBI Sees You As A Threat

Surveillance Cameras / Jay Phagan /(Flickr)/ CC BY 2.0

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America is the home of the free and land of the brave...until the U.S. government deems you a threat to the status quo. In 1956, the FBI established COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) to sniff out and eliminate political groups and organizations considered dangerous for national security. Then, in 2017, they created a vague term, Black Identity Extremist, to target the entire Black community.

While COINTELPRO originally targeted the Communist Party, it quickly shifted attention to Civil Rights activists, Black Panthers, and independent groups fighting for Black liberation. COINTELPRO took a top-down approach by focusing on movement leaders, so they set their sights on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Huey P. Newton.

COINTELPRO used disruptive tactics to agitate King, Newton, and others. These tactics included wire-tapping phones, spying on individuals in their hotel rooms, sending fake mail and letters to their homes, using undercover informants, and constant surveillance.

For example, COINTELPRO sent revealing fabricated letters to Coretta Scott King in an attempt to break up his marriage and blackmail Dr. King. Also, they used anonymous threats from local gangs to incite violence between them and the Black Panther Party, resulting in several Black Panther deaths.

Although COINTELPRO had backing from the U.S. government and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, many of their operations were illegal. Much of their surveillance infringed on privacy rights and often their methods served only political goals with blatant disregard for Black lives.

In 1971, COINTELPRO absolved their operations, yet surveillance of African-Americans remains an issue today. Most recently, Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists have been targeted.

Since Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO sparked outrage and BLM participation, the Department of Homeland Security has kept a close watch on the BLM movement. Additionally, when BLM members are prosecuted, they tend to receive unfairly harsh sentences in an attempt to make them an example.

On August 3, 2017, the FBI created a new enemy: Black Identity Extremists. In this document, published a week before the Charlottesville white supremacist attack, the FBI essentially labeled a large number of Black people as terrorist threats.

Among other qualifications, the FBI defines a BIE as any Black person who desires “physical or psychological separation” from American society. This separation includes those who desire “autonomous Black social institutions, communities, or governing organizations within the United States.”

Basically, if you are in favor of establishing Black banks, schools, or community policing, you are considered a threat. With this declaration, the FBI has taken liberties to not merely monitor activists, but every individual who seeks to strengthen the Black community.

Ironically all other ethnic groups in the U.S. (ie. Jewish, Asian, Hispanic, Greek, Italian, etc.) actively work to establish strong ethnic communities and even profit from failing Black communities. However, when Black folks attempt self-sufficiency, the federal government considers it a potential act of terrorism. Some have labeled BIE as COINTELPRO 2.0.

What’s worse, some have noted that the term Black Identity Extremist serves the purpose of inciting fear in the Black community. This language could dissuade folks from being “too Black” out of concern that they may end up on a terrorist watch list or experience violence at the hands of police or white supremacists. It further encourages complete assimilation into a melting pot, opposed to embracing the unique flavors of a cultural gumbo.

Clearly, the U.S. government is serious about maintaining the status quo and suppressing any progress towards a strong Black community. Being Black is hard enough without the constant threat of government retaliation every time we decide to stand up for ourselves in the face of oppression.

Despite efforts to stop our movements, we can not succumb to fear and have a responsibility to push forward. Building a community of politically engaged African-Americans who can mobilize swiftly against injustice will send a message to the government that we demand respect and will not be moved.

To learn more about COINTELPRO and the federal government’s tactics of working against Black progress, pick up a copy of Racial Matters: The FBI’s Secret File On Black America.

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