White, far-right extremists kill more, but FBI tracks black ones closer

  • FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks before laying a wreath at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. tns photo

Tribune News Service
Thursday, January 25, 2018

WASHINGTON — White supremacist and other far-right extremist groups have killed 51 police officers since 1990, according to a report published by the Anti-Defamation League last week. Left-wing extremist groups, including black nationalists, killed 11 during the same period.

In 2017 alone, black nationalists and other leftists killed no police, while white supremacists and anti-government extremists fatally attacked a police officer and two corrections officers, the report said.

But while the FBI tracks so-called “black identity extremists” as domestic terror threats — as a report from the bureau completed in August and leaked in October revealed — it doesn’t have an equivalent designation for white extremists.

Experts worry that the broad labeling of black groups, and not white ones, is an indication that federal law enforcement’s targeting of certain groups is based less on evidence than on politics.

That targeting can significantly affect how law enforcement chooses to police protests or events organized by specific groups. Many worry the report on black identity extremists specifically could be used to home in on members of Black Lives Matter — possibly infringing on their right to speak freely and protest peacefully.

The Congressional Black Caucus asked FBI Director Christopher Wray in a private meeting in November, as well as during public testimony in December, to rescind the report. Wray did not commit to doing so, and FBI spokesman Andrew Ames said Tuesday there was “no update” since then.

The FBI counterterrorism report, titled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers,” defines black identity extremists as people who seek to commit acts of violence motivated by “perceived racism and injustice in American society.” The report said the increase in violence against law enforcement “likely” began after the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and subsequent grand jury decision not to indict the police officers involved.

It lists six attacks since 2014, including Micah Johnson, the Dallas shooter who killed five police officers in July 2016, and Gavin Eugene Long, the Baton Rouge, La., shooter who killed three officers 10 days later, as examples of black identity extremists.

“This document essentially says we don’t care about your ideology, we care about your black identity,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who worked in the counterterrorism division. “It’s an enormous classification that could encompass any violence by a black person.”

Nusrat Choudhury, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Racial Justice Program, referred to the term black identity extremist as a “manufactured threat.”

The six attacks named in the report span 2014 to 2016 and resulted in eight deaths to police officers and several injuries. The last time black nationalist groups fatally assaulted police officers before 2016 was in the 1970s, according to German.

Between 2011 and 2017, there were 11 officers killed by right-wing extremist groups compared to those eight officers killed by left-wing groups, according to ADL. That’s a much narrower gap than in the previous two decades: From 2001-2010, right-wing extremists killed 24 officers while those on the left killed two, and from 1991-2000 the figures were 16 and one, respectively.