CONTACT: Imran Siddiquee, MediaJustice, [email protected]
Washington D.C. – A coalition of civil rights groups delivered a letter to Congress today urging a wider investigation into the FBI’s targeting of Black activists under baseless threat designations like “Black Identity Extremist” (BIE). The coalition, which includes more than two dozen organizations nationwide, are asking three key House committees to not only further examine the Bureau’s use of BIE but to look into and end the FBI’s secretive “Iron Fist” program — the existence of which was revealed in a leaked document recently obtained by The Young Turks.
The letter follows a previous letter and petition, signed by over 100,000 advocates, delivered in July, which called on Congress to require the FBI to revoke BIE and other similar designations, to investigate and make public documents related to the Bureau’s use of these designations, and to hold a public hearing to compel the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to testify about their activities. Today’s letter reiterates these demands, pointing to the existence of “Iron Fist” as further reason for an urgent investigation.
“We have long known that the FBI cannot be trusted to protect Black dissent, but these new documents imply that COINTELPRO is alive and well in the form of IRON FIST and other programs used to improperly target Black people for surveillance,” said Myaisha Hayes, National Field Organizer at MediaJustice. “The FBI under Trump continues to prioritize criminalizing Black dissent while minimizing the threat of white supremacy. We’re calling on leaders in the House to use every tool at their disposal to ensure that the FBI not only ends the IRON FIST program immediately, but that the Bureau formally revokes the BIE designation and takes steps to correct the harms caused by this baseless targeting of Black activists.”
Today’s letter was signed by a coalition that includes the Ameriican Civil Liberties Union, Alternate Roots, BYP100, Center for Constitutional Rights, Citizen Action of NY, The Coalition of Concerned Citizens, Color of Change, Defending Rights and Dissent, Demand Progress, Free Press Action, Freedom to Thrive, Generation Justice, Government Information Watch, Highlander Research and Education Center, Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California, MediaJustice, Media Alliance, Media Mobilizing Project, Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, Mpower Change, Muslim Justice League, National Lawyers Guild, Official Black Lives Matter Memphis, Race Forward, Racial Justice Action Center, RootsAction, The Black Alliance for Just Immigration, The Black Identity Extremist Abolition Collective, The Brennan Center for Justice, The Greenlining Institute, and X-Lab.
The FBI’s 2017 Intelligence Assessment, “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers,” was disseminated to at least 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide. In response to a request by MediaJustice, under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for records about the Intelligence Assessment, the FBI refused to search for certain records and disclosed only heavily-redacted documents. MediaJustice and the ACLU subsequently sued, and today’s letter escalates that pressure by calling on Congress to intervene immediately.
Neema Singh Guliani, Senior Legislative Counsel with the ACLU: “Congress must demand answers. The new facts that have come to light suggest that Director Wray misled Congress when he said that the ‘Black Identify Extremist’ designation was no longer in use. In fact, it appears that the FBI may merely have shifted its terminology. Even more, it also appears that the FBI was devoting resources – through ‘Operation Iron Fist’ – to combat this fake threat. Congress must hold the FBI accountable for this harmful assessment that wrongly labeled Black activists as threats and press the agency to remedy the harms it has caused.”
Sandra Fulton, Government Relations Director with Free Press Action: “The FBI has a long and shameful history of targeting peaceful protesters, especially those fighting for racial justice. And the Trump administration is no exception. Leak after leak has revealed discriminatory targeting and unlawful surveillance by the agency. First, we learned of the bureau’s use of the bogus and dangerous Black Identity Extremist label. Then we learned about the ‘Iron Fist’ program, which was created to infiltrate the ranks of civil-rights protesters. And they are doing all of this while deprioritizing the very real threat posed by violent white supremacists. Congress must hold the bureau accountable and demand answers and transparency around these dangerous programs.”
Launched in 2009, MediaJustice fights for racial, gender, and economic equity in a digital age.