Whenever two or more Black people are gathered, ISIS is in the midst. Well, at least this possibly racist and islamophobic logic made sense to certain United States government offices. A report by the Intercept revealed that the activism surrounding the protests (and riots) in Ferguson and Baltimore drew concern of the FBI and Department of Homeland security. These government agencies allegedly feared that Black protesters would join ISIS.
I have written elsewhere that activism is not the same as extremism. And there needs to be a better delineation between these two categories as it relates to domestic terrorism.
The small numbers of the extremist activity within certain Black nationalist groups, as determined by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), do not compare to the material and ideological influence and mainstreaming efforts from the proliferation of formal White supremacist organizations within the United States.
As much as various individuals with White identities espouse that Black people are on par with the predominance of their racial paranoia and irrational fears, history has proven otherwise.
Tracing a Historical Pattern
The rise of the Ku Klux Klan, after all, arose out of White irrational fears and racial paranoia of Black people. There was no Bro Bruh Band where masses of Black people sought to terrorize White people to maintain Black supremacy post-Reconstruction.
The United States has a lengthy and, for the most part, secret history with using irrational fears to connect Black activists to foreign influences.
Did you know that Martin Luther King Jr. was once considered part of a “Black Nationalist-Hate Group?”
For years COINTELPRO was dismissed by “mainstream” society as fringe racial conspiracy theories. Contrary to these popular beliefs, the FBI created COINTELPRO as a way to target said groups and civil rights leaders like King. According to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, the FBI believed that King could transform into:
…a “messiah” who could unify black nationalists “should he abandon his supposed ‘obedience’ to ‘white liberal doctrines’ (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism” (Senate Select Committee, 180). In the last few months of King’s life, the FBI intensified its efforts to discredit him and to “neutralize” SCLC (Senate Select Committee, 180).
Similarly, J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, linked Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism with communism, especially when King condemned the Vietnam war in a speech.
Likewise, with Operation CHAOS, the CIA was concerned about linking the Black Panther Party and Southern Christian Leadership Conference with foreign influence.
According to Adam Janos, “Despite their diligence, in 1969 the CIA reported to the White House that there was “very little evidence of communist funding and training of such movements and no evidence of communist direction and control.” Operation CHAOS nevertheless remained in effect until 1974.”
In Operation Minaret, the National Security Agency (NSA) secretly spied on outspoken opponents to the Vietnam war. Between 1967 and 1973, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and Jane Fonda were among the 1650 individuals tracked by the NSA.
The Guardian noted that, “Minaret was initially intended for drug traffickers and terrorist suspects, but was twisted, at the request of the White House, to become a tool for tracking legitimate political activities of war protesters.”
Without knowledge of historical patterns and practices by individuals and institutions, we can easily overlook how present-day fear-mongering skewed media stories about people of the Muslim faith draws from past national propaganda based on fears of the “foreigner” taking over America.
The historical patterns briefly mentioned in this post suggest this “America” has been code for White people within the United States of America.
I highlight these examples because unless we trace the legacy of contemporary patterns of thinking and behaviors to their historical origins or even in individual and institutional domains, progress or change will continue to be empty words.
Activism/Protests as a Response
I contend that no matter where you stand in your perspective about the affairs of Black Lives Matter (BLM), to make the leap from BLM to ISIS speaks to irrational.
I want to take this moment to remind us that such protests have often been in response to contemporary life in a racist society. For example, it escapes the cognition of different individuals aligned with White supremacist values (these are people across race), that Black and nonBlack people protested in response to White supremacy via the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville.
When the dominant U.S. societal narrative downplays the legacy of White racial paranoia and ignore the reasons why counter-protests/protests emerge, many of us tend to state things like “both sides” are in the wrong in the Charlottesville terrorist attack without ever decrying White supremacy.
Due to the mainstreaming of White supremacist logic, commonplace arguments against racism assumes an established social equality post-Civil rights era within the United States. This faulty logic persists through the ignoring or minimizing of how various institutions within the nation have been structured to maintain a material, albeit socio-economic, racial hierarchy.
Chiefly, White supremacy in even the most extreme forms continues to receive free passes of free speech, while those who are activists against racism are labeled as “racist,” “divisive,” or “terrorist.”[Note: I prefer that protests and activism do not involve Black people and “ allies” looting and destroying communities. Certainly, my unpopular opinion among liberals and progressives stems from a desire for progress and not identity politics or White saviorism. However, when an already financially struggling city suffers damages in the millions of dollars due to “protest,” I think the civil unrest in the form of rioting can create bittersweet victories filled with both social progression and regression. I have not reached a place where I align with destroying communities in the name of protesting police brutality, illegal arrests, and routinely targeting Black (and other People of Color) people because I liken it to hurting the people the very people you claim to support. Although I understand why one might self-destruct and act out frustrations on others, I do not agree with the actions.]
Closing: A Different Use of Our Social Imaginations
Regardless of people’s decisions to riot or civilly unrest as their choice of protest method, drumming up imaginative tales about Black people teaming up with ISIS is another systematic way of patrolling and controlling Black people instead of working to undo institutional practices and norms that marginalize nonWhite people.
Our social imaginations can be put to better use.
At least a couple of questions come to mind regarding the protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri:
- Why didn’t DHS or the FBI use their imaginations to envision a better world other than the over-policing of Black people to generate government revenue?
- Did they understand that certain practices of the local government, for example, were at odds with the United States’ rhetoric about freedom, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
The racial imaginations of those who have not dealt with the racist messages they have learned from family, community, society, or the media tend to exhibit amplified fear of Black people whenever observing us in even the smallest of groups.
Until at least a critical mass release their resistance to maintaining willful ignorance and patting themselves on the back for their “colorblindness,” it serves Black people to possess awareness of how the world functions according to race.
Many of us are not creating magical narratives for fear of loss of Black advantages and control due to White people joining ISIS.
Black people, by and large, have not received the formal backing of the United States government to carry out investigations into these nonexistent, wild, and imaginatively baseless theories, either.
Universal Design Update: Access to Audio of this Post
I am awaiting more information about the possibility of text to speech options directly on this blog.
Thanks to advances in Universal Design, more tools are available to those who want audio access to this blog, other content at Patheos, or text on the world wide web.
To the best of my knowledge, currently, the following offer a text to speech options for accessing online written content (This is not an exhaustive list):
Safari and Google Chrome
Because computer and digital technology change at a swift pace, please check with the provider of your devices and browsers for the most up-to-date directions to use these features on your computers, laptops, and mobile devices.