WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced today in a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing that the agency has stopped using the inflammatory and baseless “black identity extremists” label as a designation for domestic terrorist groups. This classification was inexplicably created by FBI in 2017. Today’s announcement came while the FBI Director, Christopher Wray, was being questioned by U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).
“We don't use the term black identity extremism anymore,” Wray said in response to pointed questioning by Booker.
“You no longer use the black extremism category?” Booker asked.
“No,” Wray replied.
Booker's full questioning is available here.
Wray’s announcement is the first public statement by the FBI that it is no longer using the misleading label, which was based on a faulty assessment of a small number of isolated incidents. While the FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Michael McGarrity said last month in a House Judiciary Committee hearing that the label hadn’t existed for 17 months, his testimony was contradicted by the fact that this Director had acknowledged the label in Congressional hearings in June 2018, and, as recently as April 2019, the FBI was still using the label in Congressional staff briefings.
The FBI’s use of the “black identity extremists” designation was exposed in an August 2017 FBI report. Additionally, the FBI recently eliminated the specific “white supremacist extremism” designation and replaced it with the ambiguously-defined “racially-motivated violent extremism” category. The new category obfuscates the true data on domestic terrorism and creates a false equivalency between the staggering violence committed by white supremacist groups and isolated and unrelated violent acts by black perpetrators. This all against a backdrop of a rising tide of white supremacy, as evidenced by recent tragedies at mosques, synagogues, churches, and other community gathering places over the last several years.
Booker calls for formal guidance to be issued to law enforcement agencies across the country:
Following Wray’s announcement today, Booker urged the FBI to issue formal guidance to agencies across the country:
“It was encouraging to hear Director Wray publicly acknowledge that the ‘black identity extremist’ label is no longer being used by the FBI as a domestic terrorism designation. By appearing to specifically target black activists and protestors, this misleading label echoed the painful legacy of African-American civil rights leaders as targets of law enforcement agencies, and gave law enforcement officers a justification to monitor and surveil members of groups such as Black Lives Matter. In light of this announcement, I urge Director Wray to issue updated guidance notifying law enforcement agencies about the elimination of this misleading designation.”
“It’s important to keep in mind that, despite this announcement, serious concerns about the FBI’s obfuscation of the threat posed by white supremacists remain. When it comes to terrorism, the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks since 9/11 have been acts of domestic terrorism, and the overwhelming majority of those domestic terrorist attacks have been perpetrated by far right-violent extremists – including white supremacy groups. The FBI should not be in the business of using phrases and categories that confuses this point – there must be real proportionality in terms of our law enforcement’s terminology, resources, and focus. While the President may not recognize this threat – and may even, through his rhetoric, embolden it – the FBI has a responsibility to protect us and apportion resources accordingly.”
Background on the “Black Identity Extremism” label:
In August 2017, the FBI issued an intelligence assessment that designated “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers” a new domestic terror threat. Disseminated as a warning to more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, the intelligence assessment claimed, without evidence, that black people involved in unrelated police killings shared an ideology that motivated their actions.
That label drew swift and vocal condemnation from activists and lawmakers, including Senator Booker, who met with Wray in November 2017 along with the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss their concerns with the designation and the dangers of creating a false equivalence between the actions of civil rights protesters and white supremacists. Following that meeting, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Wray indicated that the designation was under evaluation. In June 2018, during another House Judiciary Committee hearing in which he faced criticism and questioning for the label, Wray said he would “take a very hard look at how we are bucketing the different categories of domestic terrorism.”
Despite these statements, as recently as April 2019 the FBI continued to not only conflate the white supremacist threat with black identity extremism by lumping the two groups together under the “racially-motivated violent extremist” category, but could not provide specific data or statistics to precisely quantify the threat posed by “black identity extremists.”
In May, Senators Booker and Durbin led a letter to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Wray criticizing the shift in the FBI’s approach to tracking domestic terrorism incidents demonstrated through the new “black identity extremists” label. That letter followed legislation the two Senators introduced in March that would require the federal government to be more transparent about how it allocates resources to address the threat posed by domestic terrorists, and specifically, its efforts to address the rising threats posed by white supremacist groups.