Commentary: Is the FBI’s new focus on the ‘Black Identity Extremists’ new Cointelpro?

Commentary: Is the FBI’s new focus on the ‘Black Identity Extremists’ new Cointelpro?
November 30
10:00 2017

If you’ve been to a Black Lives Matter rally or tweeted the related hashtag recently, then the FBI might consider you a “Black Identity Extremist,” at least according to a report published by one of the nation’s top law enforcement agencies.

In October, an internal FBI report titled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers” [] was leaked to the public – raising concerns of activists, civil rights groups, and policy makers, including myself and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The report concludes, based on a limited total number of incidents, that:

“…it is very likely 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. The FBI assess[es] it is very likely this increase began following the 9 August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent Grand Jury November 2014 declination to indict the police officers involved.”

These unsubstantiated conclusions are troubling, especially in the context of the FBI’s history of targeting African-American activists and leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But what is more troubling is the FBI’s creation of the term “Black Identity Extremist” and the definition of it. 

According to the report, Black Identity Extremists are individuals who, “in response to perceived racism and injustice,” commit violent acts in the name of those beliefs, and, in some cases, desire a “separate Black homeland … social institutions, communities, or governing organizations within the United States.”

The report continues: “The mere advocacy of political or social positions, political activism, use of strong rhetoric, or generalized philosophic embrace of violent tactics ‘may not’ [emphasis mine] constitute extremism, and may be constitutionally protected.”

I think the words “may not” leave people who organize under the Black Lives Matter movement and other well-meaning African-American activist groups vulnerable to the type of monitoring and manipulation that the FBI engaged in as part of COINTELPRO, a counter intelligence program that unfairly and, in some cases, unlawfully destroyed movements, careers, relationships, and lives.

I’m also concerned about the FBI’s definition of “extremism.” The question becomes: What does the FBI consider extreme? The report never provides an answer to that question.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Defamation League, when it comes to extremist movements in the United States: “…White supremacists are by far the most violent, committing about 83 percent of the extremist-related murders in the United States in the past 10 years and being involved in about 52 percent of the shootouts between extremists and police. White supremacists also regularly engage in a variety of terrorist plots, acts and conspiracies.” 

A few weeks after the FBI’s “Black Identity Extremists” report was leaked, the Congressional Black Caucus met with Facebook about ads that Russian operatives purchased through the social media platform to target the Black Lives Matter movement. During the meeting, the caucus explained to Facebook that their social media platform plays a role in how African-Americans are perceived across the country and around the world. In this case, the perception could have had life and death consequences. 

In response to a letter from the Congressional Black Caucus, FBI Director Christopher Wray agreed to meet. We hope he walks away from the meeting with this understanding. We also hope he’s able to answer our questions.


U.S. Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA-02) is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. He represents the 2nd District of Louisiana, which includes parts of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. You can follow him on Twitter at @RepRichmond and you can follow the CBC on Twitter at @OfficialCBC.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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