The FBI lists nine “persistent extremist movements in the US”: white supremacy, militia, sovereign citizens, anarchists, abortion, animal rights, environmental rights, Puerto Rican Nationalism, and now “black identities.” This new addition to the list understandably raised hackles, given the FBI’s decades-long record of surveillance and dirty tricks, ranging all the way up to assassination, against black activists. The Bureau even had an entire effort—COINTELPRO, for COunterINTELligence PROgram—which sought to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” black activists and organizations, as well as many other groups. COINTELPRO began in 1956, and was officially discontinued in 1971 after it was exposed, though other efforts, identical in all but name, continued long afterwards.
The FBI attempted to use their newly created extremist movement to tie Micah Johnson, who targeted cops in a violent 2016 shooting spree, to activists concerned with police violence. (Balogun praised Johnson in a social media post, which also alarmed the Bureau). The FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit predicted that “perceptions of unjust treatment of African-Americans and the perceived unchallenged illegitimate actions of law enforcement will inspire premeditated attacks against law enforcement”—a prediction that mostly serves to give the Bureau new leeway in going after anyone who is concerned about police violence, including activists like Balogun.
The real reason Balogun was targeted, according to Kilaika Shakur, the spokesperson for the Free Rakem Balogun Defense Committee, has nothing to do with guns, protest chants, or social media.
“He trained people to learn how to use firearms, self-defense, and to create a healthy lifestyle,” she explains. “He was a very strong political activist in the areas of community organizing, self-reliance, self-determination, and things of that nature. He did believe in the right to bear arms, and felt that people should be trained with it, particularly black people. Having him around was a threat to their structure.”
And going after threats to their structure—particularly black ones—is what the FBI has been doing for nearly a century, starting with Marcus Garvey in 1919 and continuing through today’s Black Lives Matter movement.