Newly released documents show that the FBI’s surveillance of the Black Lives Matter movement extends far beyond social media, according to The Intercept.
The documents were acquired by two civil rights groups, Color of Change and The Center for Constitutional Rights, through a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents reveal that the FBI not only used social media to track the whereabouts of black activists, but they also used informants and stakeouts. One of the emails also mentioned the existence of a document called the “Race Paper.” While the papers don’t specifically mention Black Lives Matter, the inquest that resulted in their release was centered around the movement.
A lot of the content is redacted, but what is available provides an overview of the FBI’s movements during the height of the Black Lives Matter fervor in late 2014.
One report, dated November 21, 2014, shows an FBI agent describing an unidentified activist’s plan to travel from New York to Ferguson for a protest at a Monsanto plant. The report doesn’t mention any descriptions of potential violence, but it does highlight the existence of a bail fund and “direct action devices,” which are materials and resources used during protesting. The report also mentions that the activist is “believed to have been arrested at a previous protest,” and references a document that could potentially be a dossier on the person.
These actions directly contradict the FBI’s statement to The Intercept. The agency claims they only target people who could potentially incite violence.
“The FBI does not engage in surveillance of individuals exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Rebecca Wu, a public affairs officer with the FBI in St. Louis. “However, the FBI is responsible for reviewing intelligence that indicates an individual may be involved in criminal activity or is a threat to national security.”
Two reports, both published November 25, 2014, describe stakeouts of cars and houses belonging to parties affiliated with the movement. During one of the stakeouts, a bomb technician and another agent gathered registration information from vehicles parked outside of one house. An email chain showed agents coordinating their shifts for a camp out at another residence.
This information is alarming after the FBI expressed concern over “Black Identity Extremists” last year.
Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, believes the FBI is unfairly targeting black activists and says the CBC will take action.
“Black identity extremism doesn’t exist, it’s a made-up term that they created for a guidance document on how to police young black activists,” Bass said. “In addition to other efforts to win retraction of this document, a task force of the Congressional Black Caucus will be conducting a briefing next week, featuring experts and activists from around the country to examine the troubling guidance that was released last year.”
Additionally, these reports are reminiscent of the COINTELPRO program that targeted the Black Panther Party and other social justice groups at the height of the civil rights movement.
“What we have learned from history is that policies aimed at surveilling and harassing social movements among black people in the United States have never really ended,” said Anika Navaroli, a legal expert and researcher on civil rights and privacy. “It is important to recognize that the practices shown in these documents are not unprecedented. They are a continuation of policies that have systematically created an environment of fear for black people in America, while rendering their right to privacy nonexistent.”