Even as new FBI Director Christopher A. Wray assured Congressional Black Caucus members that no investigation had taken place by the agency into Black Lives Matter and other minority protest groups, new information began to leak that contradict that statement.
Reportedly, Black Lives Matter protests have routinely been monitored by the U.S. government and viewed as a potential threat, according to documents released by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The documents, which include internal emails and field reports, were circulated among law enforcement agencies last year, according to reports by Newsweek and Al-Jazeera.
The release of the papers reportedly came because of a lawsuit to expose the surveillance filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the civil rights group Color of Change.
It also arrives as the nation digests a leaked FBI report in October that warned law enforcement around the country of a domestic terror threat that targets police.
The FBI dubbed such so-called domestic-terrorists as “Black Identity Extremist.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 29, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and 2nd Vice Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.) provided an overview of their meeting with Wray in a teleconference with National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) President Benjamin F. Chavis, NNPA National Chairman Dorothy Leavell and a group of publishers, editors and reporters.
“Listening to [Wray], and especially considering the meeting we’ve had with [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions, he appeared to be a breath of fresh air,” Bass said.
Wray said the extremist document was done prior to his taking the post, but admitted that it exists, Bass noted.
“He promised that there would be no investigation or targeting of anyone. He said there had to be a three-point criteria before there could be an investigation,” she said.
Namely, there had to be credible evidence of a federal crime; a credible threat of force or violence in that both of those would be in furtherance of a social or political goal, Bass said.
Wray also admitted that the policy wasn’t new, the name simply changed, the congresswoman said.
“They used to call it black separatist extremist and they changed it to ‘Black Identity Extremists,’” Bass said. “Needless to say, the representatives of the black caucus raised several concerns, one of which was how they even came up with the methodology and coming up with the category of Black Identity Extremists.”
Wray said the agency used “open source” documents, meaning mainstream media reports that Bass categorized as unreliable. She said Wray promised that no one would be investigated and surveilled unless the three necessary criteria was met.
Bass and Richmond said the activity bears a striking resemblance to COINTELPRO, which took place from the 1950s to the 1970s. That operation was a series of mostly illegal wiretapping and surveillance of primarily black activists.
“I think this came from local law enforcement who were asking about violence directed at police and whether they should specifically be looking at the Black Lives Matter Movement,” Richmond said. “The FBI denies they were surveilling them, but we told them that we don’t believe it and our intel shows differently. I know our ears on the ground tell us that it’s happening and they said that if it is happening, it’s not authorized.”
Wray, who was scheduled to meet with lawmakers including members of the CBC on Thursday, Nov. 30, has expressed a willingness to meet with CBC members regularly, Richmond said.
Leavell said she appreciates CBC members’ efforts in the matter.
“This could mean more than just this particular issue,” she said, noting that Richmond has agreed to contribute weekly columns to the NNPA to delve into such matters.
“People maybe more considerate in doing things if they know that the Black Press will be on their case and [this collaboration] certainly shows our strength and that we can have a great impact,” Leavell said.
Richmond has asked for groups that believe they’re being surveilled to contact the CBC or any news organization publishing this information. The caucus has immediate plans to establish a hotline, Richmond said.