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NEW YORK, Aug. 9, 2019 – Leaked FBI documents were published yesterday shedding light on how the FBI surveils Black people based on the baseless ‘Black Identity Extremist’ designation.
“These documents show the FBI wasted resources to target Black people because of protected First Amendment activities,” said Nusrat Choudhury, deputy director of the ACLU’s racial justice program. “The Black Identity Extremist label is baseless, and earlier this year, bureau director Wray testified that the label is no longer in use. But, based on these documents, it appears that the FBI simply renamed the label. Even more, the documents show the bureau implemented a program, titled ‘IRON FIST,’ to target department resources on spying, surveilling, and investigating Black activists, including through undercover agents.”
“There is no indication that IRON FIST or any other programs used to target Black people for surveillance have been dismantled. Instead, these documents suggest that the FBI under Trump continues to prioritize criminalizing Black dissent while minimizing the threat of white supremacy,” said Steven Renderos, co-director of MediaJustice. “The ACLU and MediaJustice will continue to fight to expose this targeting of Black people for surveillance through our lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. We also call on Congress to use every tool at their disposal to ensure that the FBI revokes and takes steps to correct the harms caused by these groundless designations.”
The ACLU and MediaJustice filed FOIA requests demanding information on the FBI’s 2017 intelligence assessment titled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers.” The intelligence assessment provides no evidence of the existence of a group of so-called “Black Identity Extremists” and appears to wrongly group together Black people who, in the FBI’s own words, “perceive racism and injustice in American society.”
When the FBI entirely refused to search for certain records and disclosed only heavily-redacted documents in response to one portion of the FOIA request, the ACLU and MediaJustice filed a FOIA lawsuit in March of this year.
The ACLU, MediaJustice, and 10 other organizations — including Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Media Mobilizing Project, and MPower Change — have also called on Congress to investigate and release information regarding the BIE designation and how it has been used.