Report: FBI la­bels some pro­test­ers as do­mes­tic ter­ror­ists

Crit­ics worry that mi­nor­ity groups are be­ing tar­geted

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD - By Kate Irby

WASHINGTON — The FBI coun­tert­er­ror­ism divi­sion’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a move­ment it calls “black iden­tity ex­trem­ists” is the lat­est ad­di­tion to the list of pro­test­ers and dis­si­dents the agency puts un­der the “do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism” um­brella.

But many na­tional se­cu­rity ex­perts say the des­ig­na­tion doesn’t de­scribe a move­ment at all, let alone a ter­ror­ism threat. It’s sim­ply a la­bel that al­lows the FBI to con­duct ad­di­tional sur­veil­lance on “ba­si­cally any­one who’s black and po­lit­i­cally ac­tive,” said Michael Ger­man, who left the FBI in 2004 and did un­der­cover do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism work.

Crit­ics are con­cerned that it in­creas­ingly ap­pears to be mi­nori­ties and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­test­ers who are be­ing tar­geted.

While the prac­tice of la­bel­ing cer­tain protest groups as do­mes­tic ter­ror­ists is not unique to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, Hina Shamsi, na­tional se­cu­rity project di­rec­tor at the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, said there’s con­cern that “abu­sive and un­jus­ti­fied in­ves­ti­ga­tions” by the FBI are ris­ing.

“We are wor­ried that pro­test­ers are in­creas­ingly be­ing la­beled as ter­ror­ism threats,” Shamsi said.

It’s dif­fi­cult to know for sure whether the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion en­gages in the prac­tice more of­ten, how­ever, be­cause the FBI and other law en­force­ment en­ti­ties rarely make that in­for­ma­tion avail­able to the pub­lic.

But rhetoric crit­i­cal of cer­tain groups by the Jus­tice De­part­ment and the White House also tends to in­form FBI de­ci­sions, Ger­man said, and em­pow­ers those seek­ing to tar­get those groups.

“They’re tak­ing iso­lated in­ci­dents and turn­ing it into a move­ment to jus­tify in­creased sur­veil­lance. It’s throw­ing fuel on this ar­gu­ment of a war on po­lice by black peo­ple, even though if you look at the num­bers that’s not the case.” Michael Ger­man, Brennan Cen­ter fel­low

Pipe­line protests

The prob­lem, Shamsi said, is partly in the overly broad def­i­ni­tion of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism in the Pa­triot Act as a vi­o­la­tion of the crim­i­nal laws of a state or the United States that is “dan­ger­ous to hu­man life” and ap­pears to be in­tended to “in­flu­ence the pol­icy of a gov­ern­ment by in­tim­i­da­tion or co­er­cion.”

Eighty-four mem­bers of Congress cited that in­ten­tion to in­tim­i­date or co­erce in a let­ter to the Jus­tice De­part­ment this week that asked whether the de­part­ment had la­beled Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line pro­test­ers do­mes­tic ter­ror­ists.

Calls and emails to mul­ti­ple mem­bers of Congress who signed the let­ter were not re­turned.

Protests of the pipe­line’s con­struc­tion led to the ar­rest of 761 peo­ple, most of them on mis­de­meanor charges, ac­cord­ing to the Mor­ton County, N.D., Sher­iff’s De­part­ment. Some of the pro­test­ers ac­cused of set­ting fire to camp­sites and turn­ing off safety valves in ef­forts to shut down the pipe­line were charged with more se­ri­ous crimes.

“Dam­ag­ing pipe­line in­fras­truc­ture poses mul­ti­ple risks to hu­mans and the en­vi­ron­ment. When an in­di­vid­ual burns a hole through a pipe­line cur­rently in op­er­a­tion, there is a high prob­a­bil­ity this could ig­nite the con­tents, killing not only the per­pe­tra­tor but other in­no­cent vic­tims,” said the let­ter, writ­ten by Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. “It also has the po­ten­tial to cause prop­erty and en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, as well as dis­rupt ser­vices to com­mu­ni­ties and con­sumers.”

The Jus­tice De­part­ment did not re­spond to ques­tions about the let­ter. ‘Deeply flawed’

The FBI report that fo­cused on black iden­tity ex­trem­ists, which was pub­lished in Au­gust and leaked to For­eign Pol­icy in Oc­to­ber, had in­ter­est groups ques­tion­ing whether the des­ig­na­tion has been used to tar­get mem­bers of Black Lives Mat­ter, though it never specif­i­cally men­tions the group.

“The FBI de­fines black iden­tity ex­trem­ists as in­di­vid­u­als who seek, wholly or in part, through un­law­ful acts of force or vi­o­lence, in re­sponse to per­ceived racism and in­jus­tice in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety and some do so in fur­ther­ance of es­tab­lish­ing a sep­a­rate black home­land or au­ton­o­mous black so­cial in­sti­tu­tions, com­mu­ni­ties or gov­ern­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions within the United States,” the leaked report says. The move­ment be­gan after the Fer­gu­son, Mo., protests in 2014, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment.

The report pre­dicted it is “very likely” that black iden­tity ex­trem­ists would en­gage in “ide­o­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated, vi­o­lent crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity” against po­lice within a year.

It iden­ti­fied six at­tacks against po­lice as ex­am­ples of black iden­tity ex­trem­ism, but Ger­man, now a fel­low at the lib­eral Brennan Cen­ter, said the logic in the report is deeply flawed.

“If you look at three of those cases, there’s no ide­ol­ogy con­nect­ing them at all,” Ger­man said. “The only com­mon­al­ity is that they’re black.”

“They’re tak­ing iso­lated in­ci­dents and turn­ing it into a move­ment to jus­tify in­creased sur­veil­lance,” he con­tin­ued. “It’s throw­ing fuel on this ar­gu­ment of a war on po­lice by black peo­ple, even though if you look at the num­bers that’s not the case.”

There has been no sig­nif­i­cant change in the num­ber of law en­force­ment deaths in re­cent years. So far in 2017, 107 po­lice of­fi­cers have been killed in the line of duty, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers Me­mo­rial Fund. In 2016, 135 of­fi­cers died while on duty; the fig­ure was 124 in 2015, 119 in 2014 and 177 in 2011.

Viewed his­tor­i­cally, the fluc­tu­a­tion is fairly typ­i­cal, and the num­bers are trend­ing down­ward over­all. The down­ward trend is also true for the sub­set of firearms-re­lated deaths only.

The FBI de­clined to com­ment on the report specif­i­cally, but said in a state­ment that it “can­not ini­ti­ate an investigation based solely on an in­di­vid­ual’s race, eth­nic­ity, na­tional ori­gin, re­li­gion, or the ex­er­cise of First Amend­ment rights.”

“Our focus is not on mem­ber­ship in par­tic­u­lar groups but on in­di­vid­u­als who com­mit vi­o­lence and other crim­i­nal acts,” the state­ment said. “Fur­ther­more, the FBI does not and will not po­lice ide­ol­ogy. When an in­di­vid­ual takes vi­o­lent ac­tion based on be­lief or ide­ol­ogy and breaks the law, the FBI will en­force the rule of law.”

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