The FBI report—released in August just before the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, that left one dead and 14 injured—warns that “black identity extremists” pose a growing threat to law enforcement. In it, the FBI assesses it is very likely incidents of alleged police abuse against African Americans have “continued to feed the resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity within the BIE [Black Identity Extremists] movement.”
Bass grilled Sessions on the report, which the Attorney General says he didn’t read, but knew of the alleged targeting of officers by “certain groups.”
“I’m not sure how that report got ordered,” Sessions said. “I don’t believe I explicitly approved it or directed it.”
“Could you name an African-American organization that has committed violence against police officers?” Representative Karen Bass asked. “In this report, they name organizations from 30 or 40 years ago, but can you name one today that has targeted police officers in a vilent manner?”
Sessions couldn’t name one. Even more troubling to Bass and others is the potentially dangerous consequences that come with a newly-created classification tying people with “extreme black identities” to possible future attacks on law enforcement officers.
So, Bass asked, “Do you believe there is a movement of African Americans that identify themselves as ‘black identity extremists,’ and what does that movement do?”
“Well, I’d be interested to see the conclusions of that report,” Sessions said, attempting to deflect, “but I’m aware that there are groups that have an extraordinary commitment to their racial identity, and some have transformed themselves even into violent activists ... so—”
Bass cut him off.
“Are you aware of white organizations that do this as well? Given that white supremacy is a well-documented, well-researched movement, such as the neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, etc.—are they white identity extremists?” she asked.
“I didn’t follow that question,” Sessions said. “
When pressed by Bass and asked if the FBI had done a report on white identity extremists likely motivated to target law-enforcement officers, he said he wasn’t aware of one.
“Would you consider Black Lives Matter a black identity extremist group?” she asked.
“I’m not able to comment on that. I have not so declared it,” Sessions said.
In follow up to the grilling of Sessions by Bass and Congresswoman Shirley Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus—including Bass, met with FBI Director Christopher Wray on Capitol Hill in what CBC Chair Cedric Richmond characterized as a good first step.
"We think that with his background—and we will give the benefit of the doubt based on his actions, words, and background today—that he is really trying to lead the FBI in a very transparent, fair way.
"We don't want anyone to view Black Lives Matter or other organizations that protest as an extremist group or a domestic terrorist group because we think that's very dangerous."
Richmond says for the FBI to believe that if one identifies as black and protests police misconduct, that he or she is considered a threat to law enforcement, which is reminiscent to the days of Cointelpro, when the FBI covertly—and at times illegally—profiled movements like the Black Panthers and civil rights, and even proponents of black power.
Congresswoman Barbara Jackson Lee has dubbed the document leaked in August as “Cointelpro 2”.
The New York Times has reported that the FBI has about 1,000 domestic terrorism cases open involving white supremacists, black separatists, militias, sovereign citizens, environmentalists, abortion and animal liberation activists and Puerto Rican nationalists.
Much of the 90-minute meeting revolved around clarification and the methodology used to come up with the category.
“He essentially said they used open source documents which means news reports and who knows what news reports they’re talking about,” Bass reports.
“This is not a policy that is new. It is a name change. What they called it before was black separatist extremists and they’ve changed it to black identity extremists. When we raised Black Lives Matter and our concern that a new generation of black activists was being targeted for surveillance and harassment, he said repeatedly that there was no investigation of Black Lives Matter.
“One of the problems with this document”, she continues, “is that it has been widely distributed to law enforcement agencies around the country. Many of us referenced either our own experiences or experiences we’re aware of during the Cointelpro years when if you send a document like this out to local law enforcement in many of our opinions you can declare open season on black activists, because then local law enforcement agencies can use the document as justification for doing whatever they want to do. The irony is that recent black lives matter protests have been fifty percent white.”
In the meeting, Wray—who was asked to have the report retracted—said that the Black Lives Matter movement was not under surveillance.
Members of the CBC believe otherwise.
Said Bass, “We are completely aware that there are activists in our communities that are experiencing surveillance…are experiencing harassment.”
Moving forward the Caucus has said it will give Wray time to “deal with the document.” In the meantime, they are requesting that protesters and activists who have experienced harassment and or surveillance share their stories with the CBC.