For Immediate Release: June 17, 2020


Christina DiPasquale, 202.716.1953, [email protected]

Eva Lopez, 773.574.8529, [email protected] 

FBI Misled Congress: Black Activists Still Under Investigation by New and Old Extremist Designations

MediaJustice and the American Civil Liberties Union File New FOIA Request Demanding FBI Transparency on Surveillance of Black Activists 

As Black activists around the country lead protests for racial justice, following the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people, MediaJustice and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today reveal that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is still surveilling Black activists using a dated designation they testified to Congress was no longer in use. Of one million pages of documents, responsive to a FOIA request filed by MediaJustice and the ACLU, up to one-third of the pages are on open investigations of Black people as “domestic terrorist” threats for potential “Black identity” activities. 

New update on FBI’s response to “Black Identity” FOIA request here

Today, more than 100 civil rights organizations sent a letter urging Congress to cease federal funding for surveillance technologies, known to be disproportionately deployed in communities of color. 

This month, the FBI revealed that Black activists were being investigated under a new umbrella term, “Racially-Motivated Violent Extremism.” The House Homeland Security Committee has repeatedly asked the FBI for more information on how Black activists have been classified as domestic terrorists but the agency has refused to provide details on how they are criminalizing Black dissent. MediaJustice and the ACLU have filed a new FOIA request to expose how the government is surreptitiously tracking Black leaders now and pressuring for a response to their previous FOIA request revealing open investigations still ongoing under the “Black Identity Extremist” designation started in the 1960s to monitor Black leaders, many of whom were imprisoned and assassinated.  

Newly filed FOIA request on FBI’s “Racially-Motivated” designation here

Myaisha Hayes, campaign strategies director at MediaJustice, said:

“As Black activists protest police violence and demand racial justice, Congress-approved dollars continue to fund FBI surveillance of Black leaders and surveillance tools deployed in Black and Brown communities, treating Black activists as prospective criminals for exercising their First Amendment rights. Unlike pervasive white supremacist violence, “Black identity” violence does not exist and we must know more about the current use of this dated domestic terrorist designation, with its long history of government persecution of Black leaders. The FBI’s opaque new category of “racially-motivated” violence, used to capture Black activists in their surveillance dragnet, only further obscures the agency’s lack of attention to the white supremacist attacks in Black and Brown communities. The FBI needs to provide Congress with the information they have demanded as Black activists continue to take to the streets to protect Black lives. We ask Congress to increase their pressure for FBI transparency and stem the flow of federal funding to deploy surveillance tools in communities, where they disproportionately monitor Black and Brown families.”

ReNika Moore, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program stated:

“The government has a long, terrible history of using secret surveillance programs to target and surveil Black civil rights activists – a practice that still exists today. Through our FOIA litigation, we’re aiming to learn more about the baseless investigations of Black people by our federal government that we know continues to this day.” 

Sandra Fulton, Government Relations Director at Free Press Action, said:

“People are in the streets protesting against brutality and racism. But their calls for justice are being met by the police with violence and dangerous surveillance. We saw this in the 1960s, when civil rights protesters were savagely attacked and programs like COINTELPRO were established to disrupt their movement. We’re seeing it now from town to town as dog-whistle politicians encourage police to use aggressive tactics and technology to ‘dominate’ protesters. The Trump administration has even created a bogus ‘Black Identity Extremists’ category to help justify its ruthlessness and spying. It’s time for Congress to respond with bold plans to defund surveillance and protect the First- and Fourth-Amendment rights of Black people in the United States.”

Today’s letter to Congress, from more than 100 civil rights and civil liberties organizations, demands that members respond with bold plans to protect Black people in America. “Congress’s failure to effectively address systemic police abuse and update privacy laws to protect people from unjust surveillance has allowed us to get to this dangerous point. From the militarization of state and local police agencies to the failure to include significant reforms to massive surveillance programs like those contained in the deeply problematic PATRIOT Act, Congress has failed to take sufficient action to prevent increased surveillance of communities of color and those fighting for equal rights.”

The House Committee on Homeland Security’s December letter to the FBI asked the agency to provide more information about how they are targeting Black activists by labeling them as “Black Identity Extremists,” “Black Racially Motivated Extremists” and/or “Racially Motivated Violent Extremists” by January 31, 2020. Last month, the FBI told Congress that they discontinued the use of “Black identity” designations, despite FOIA documents returned from the agency potentially noting 300,000 pages on open FBI investigations contradicting that statement. 



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