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FBI Report Raises New Monitoring Fears 11/18 11:33

   An FBI report on the rise of black "extremists" is stirring fears of a 
return to practices used during the civil rights movement, when the bureau 
spied on activist groups without evidence they had broken any laws.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- An FBI report on the rise of black "extremists" is 
stirring fears of a return to practices used during the civil rights movement, 
when the bureau spied on activist groups without evidence they had broken any 
laws.

   The FBI said it doesn't target specific groups, and the report is one of 
many its intelligence analysts produce to make law enforcement aware of what 
they see as emerging trends. A similar bulletin on white supremacists, for 
example, came out about the same time.

   The 12-page report, issued in August, says "black identity extremists" are 
increasingly targeting law enforcement after police killings of black men, 
especially since the shooting of Michael Brown roiled Ferguson, Missouri, in 
2014. The report describes cases in which "extremists" had "acted in 
retaliation for perceived past police brutality incidents." It warned that such 
violence was likely to continue.

   Black leaders and activists were outraged after Foreign Policy revealed the 
existence of the report last month. The Congressional Black Caucus, in a letter 
to FBI Director Christopher Wray, said the report "conflates black political 
activists with dangerous domestic terrorist organizations" and would further 
erode the frayed relationship between police and minority communities.

   "I have never met a black extremist. I don't know what the FBI is talking 
about," said Chris Phillips, a filmmaker in Ferguson.

   Before the Trump administration, the report might not have caused such 
alarm. The FBI noted it issued a similar bulletin warning of retaliatory 
violence by "black separatist extremists" in March 2016, when the country had a 
black president, Barack Obama, and black attorney general, Loretta Lynch.

   But black voters overwhelmingly opposed Donald Trump. And they are 
suspicious of his administration, which has been criticized as insensitive on 
racial issues, including when Trump was slow to condemn white nationalist 
protesters following a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

   Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former Alabama senator whose career has 
been dogged by questions about race and his commitment to civil rights, did not 
ease lawmakers' concerns when he was unable to answer questions about the 
report or its origins during a congressional hearing this past week.

   Sessions said he was aware of "groups that do have an extraordinary 
commitment to their racial identity, and some have transformed themselves even 
into violent activists." He struggled to answer the same question about white 
extremists.

   It wouldn't be unusual for an attorney general not to have seen such an FBI 
assessment, which the FBI creates on its own to circulate internally among law 
enforcement agencies. But the exchange with Rep. Karen Bass, a Los Angeles 
Democrat, presented an uncomfortable moment.

   "What worries me about this terribly is that this is that it is a flashback 
to the past," Bass said after the hearing. She said she was especially 
concerned after receiving complaints from members of Black Lives Matter, who 
said they were being monitored and harassed by police in her district.

   The group rallies after racially charged encounters with police, but it is 
not mentioned in the FBI's intelligence assessment. Even so, Bass said she 
worried the report will send a message to police that it's OK to crack down on 
groups critical of law enforcement.

   The FBI does not comment on its intelligence bulletins, which usually are 
not public. In a statement, the FBI said it cannot and will not open an 
investigation based solely on a person's race or exercise of free speech rights.

   "Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on individuals who 
commit violence and other criminal acts," the FBI 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."

   The assessments are designed to help law enforcement agencies stay ahead of 
emerging problems and should not be seen as a sign of a broader enforcement 
strategy, said Jeffrey Ringel, a former FBI agent and Joint Terrorism Task 
force member who now works for the Soufan Group, a private security firm. 
Agencies can decide for themselves whether the assessment reflects a real 
problem, he said.

   Still, some veterans of the black and Latino civil rights movement said the 
FBI assessment reminded them of the bureau's now-defunct COINTELPRO, a covert 
and often illegal operation under Director J. Edgar Hoover in the 1950s and 
1960s. Agents were assigned to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise 
neutralize the activities of black nationalists," Hoover said in a 
once-classified memo to field agents.

   David Correia, an American Studies professor at the University of New 
Mexico, said the new memo carries a similar message.

   "It's part of their playbook," he said. "They try to characterize legitimate 
concerns about something like police violence as somehow a danger so they can 
disrupt protests." The FBI used a similar tactic to try to cause confusion 
among New Mexico Hispanic land grant activists in the 1960s, he said.

   The cases listed in the new bulletin include that of a sniper who said he 
was upset about police treatment of minorities before killing five officers 
during a protest in Dallas, and a man who wrote of the need to inflict violence 
on "bad cops" before killing three in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In each of the 
cases, the FBI alleges the suspects were connected to radical ideologies linked 
to black nationalism.

   Phillips, who is set to release a film about the shooting of Brown and its 
aftermath, said if the FBI were really worried about unrest, it should turn its 
focus to the concerns of the people "who are protesting in the streets" instead 
of targeting people who face discrimination daily.


(KA)

 
 
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