Policy Summary
On July 23, 2019, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that the Bureau had reorganized its categories that it had used to describe and monitor violent extremism groups in the United States. Previously, the FBI had eleven different domestic terrorism categories which included “white supremacists” as a separate category. In 2017, it was revealed that the U.S. Government had a “black identity extremism” category which proved highly controversial. During his testimony, Director Wray stated that the bureau has now abandoned the category “black identity extremism” and is now using the overarching “racially motivated violent extremism” to track all domestic terrorism groups without differentiating any group by race. LEARN MORE 

The “black identity extremism” label became a highly controversial point of contention because of the possibility that the category was going to be used to suppress black protest groups in the wake of President Donald Trump’s racist statements, especially after the 2017 incident in Charlottesville, Virginia. Other civil rights leaders and a handful of Democratic senators pushed back on the “black identity extremism” label and called it an attempt to fabricate a false equivalency with rising white supremacy actions. They also called it an attempt to discredit legitimate black activist groups that were pursuing lawful actions against police violence and other black – centered issues. The worry was that any group that was legitimately advocating for an issue connected with the black community could easily be categorized as extremist. This could then lead to increased surveillance and harassment from law enforcement authorities against the groups. Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the “black identity extremism” category nothing more than a distraction from the real and rising threat of white supremacy groups. Those hate groups have even openly embraced President Trump.

The simple solution would have been to eliminate the “black identity extremism” category, which Representative Ayanna Pressley (IL-D) called absurd as used by the FBI. However, Director Wray’s comments to the Senate Judiciary Committee exposed a new problem when all of these categories are lumped together under one umbrella term. If the FBI no longer uses its old classification system (it had used as many as eleven before) to distinguish between white supremacist, anti – Semitic and other hate groups then the new “racially motivated violent extremism” category can still be used to label any race based advocacy group as a hate group. A legitimate black, Asian or Latino advocacy group can easily be grouped under this label. All it would take is one minor scuffle at a protest or a rogue member committing a violent act without the group’s knowledge and that would be enough for someone to call for the black or Latino group to be labeled and categorized as an extremist group. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) or Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) would be susceptible to being classified under this category, as would many other groups doing legitimate advocacy work.

Additionally, the umbrella category could even be used to hide how the federal government is allocating its resources to fight these groups as there would no longer be any transparency as to how much money goes to fighting white supremacy or other groups, as is pointed out in this online petition. With President Trump and his administration constantly being accused of racist statements, it becomes more important to know if enough resources are being directed to fight white supremacist groups or if the resources are being directed away to other less pressing and less threatening groups. This new single category can help hide the true facts and numbers. While Mr. Wray’s comments to the Senate Committee have helped to expose the lie of the “black identity extremism” category it tried to implement, the single umbrella “racially motivated violent extremism” category seems just as flawed and might be no better in the long run. LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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