[Pnews] Is a Court Case in Texas the First Prosecution of a ‘Black Identity Extremist’?

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 1 15:25:31 EST 2018


http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/01/30/is-a-court-case-in-texas-the-first-prosecution-of-a-black-identity-extremist/ 



  Is a Court Case in Texas the First Prosecution of a ‘Black Identity
  Extremist’?

January 30, 2018 - Martin De Bourmont
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Christopher Daniels and his 15-year-old son awoke on Dec. 12, 2017, to 
heavily armed FBI agents outfitted in bulletproof vests and helmets 
pouring into the one-bedroom apartment they shared in Dallas, Texas. The 
pair were hurried outside, where they were separated while Daniels was 
arrested.

Items seized during the raid on Daniels’s apartment included two 
firearms — a Taurus Protector Poly 38 Special and a Norinco AK-style 
assault rifle — items the government says he is prohibited from 
possessing due to a misdemeanor conviction in 2007 for domestic assault 
in Tennessee. Also seized was a book, /Negroes With Guns/ 
<https://www.amazon.com/Negroes-Guns-Robert-F-Williams/dp/1614274118>, 
by Robert F. Williams, a civil rights leader and advocate of armed 
resistance to racial oppression.

Held outside in nothing but his underwear, Daniels was unaware that the 
raid occurring in his home was the product of more than two years of FBI 
surveillance.

Today, Daniels, known to many in his Dallas community as Rakem Balogun, 
stands indicted for unlawful possession of a firearm and has been in 
federal custody since his December arrest. Friends and family of Daniels 
believe the FBI targeted Daniels because of his political beliefs and 
anti-law enforcement rhetoric, rather than any legitimate threat he 
poses. They point specifically to a new government classification for 
domestic terror threats, which the FBI calls “black identity extremists.”

The terrorism classification 
<http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/06/the-fbi-has-identified-a-new-domestic-terrorist-threat-and-its-black-identity-extremists/>is 
used to describe individuals who resort to violence or unlawful 
activities “in response to perceived racism and injustice in American 
society,” according to a copy of the report obtained and published by 
Foreign Policy.

“The [black identity extremist]classification has grown from a report on 
paper, to a national investigation of Black Lives Matter and and black 
gun ownership advocates,” wrote Daniels’s brother, Yafeuh Balogun, in a 
statement on the arrest. “Rakem Balogun has been classified as B.I.E, we 
must defend him.”

“This is a continuation of COINTELPRO in a modern-day form,” Balogun 
said in a telephone interview with FP, referring to J. Edgar Hoover’s 
counterintelligence program, which targeted domestic political 
organizations, particularly those in the civil rights movement.

The FBI declined to comment on any aspect of Daniels’s case, including 
whether he was tracked as a black identity extremist, but in interviews, 
civil rights advocates expressed concerns about the precedent of 
targeting African-Americans, like Daniels, for their political activism, 
and using broad categories anchored in race to potentially criminalize 
speech and political activity.

For those involved in activism, Daniels’s arrest poses the even more 
troubling possibility that his case could be just the first of many.

    For those involved in activism, Daniels’s arrest poses the even more
    troubling possibility that his case could be just the first of many.

Activist and attorney Kamau Franklin said people like Daniels are easy 
targets because of their nonmainstream politics. “This is obviously the 
first of what will be several attempts to begin to criminalize black 
organizing, militant black organizing in particular, and work their way 
down to other types of organizing,” he said.

    For those involved in activism, Daniels’s arrest poses the even more
    troubling possibility that his case could be just the first of many.

Daniels came to the attention of the FBI’s Dallas Division in March 
2015, not for anything connected to weapons or crime, but because of 
InfoWars, a right-wing news website known for publishing conspiracy 
theories.

Video showing Daniels’s appearance at a rally to protest police 
brutality showed up on various outlets including InfoWars, Aaron 
Keighley, an FBI special agent, said at Daniels’s Dec. 15 detention 
hearing. (Keighley did not mention what those other outlets were.)

The demonstration took place in Austin, in front of the Texas State 
Capitol, and was meant simultaneously as a pro-Second Amendment rights 
demonstration and a rally against police brutality. The demonstration 
brought together members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club and Guerilla 
Mainframe, a group that promotes weapons training, fitness, and 
community service.

Daniels is a co-founder of Guerilla Mainframe and a founding member of 
the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, which promotes open carry, in which gun 
owners carry firearms that are visible. Open carry is legal in Texas.

Footage of the demonstration shows openly armed demonstrators chanting 
“oink oink bang bang” and “the only good pig is a pig that’s dead.”

The demonstration, reported 
<http://reason.com/archives/2015/04/30/gun-rights-civil-rights>on by 
/Reason/magazine, was described by the magazine as part of a long, if 
misunderstood, tradition of armed resistance in black communities 
against racial oppression.

Keighley, the FBI special agent, said during the detention hearing that 
Daniels’s Facebook profile “openly and publicly advocates violence 
toward law enforcement.”

During Daniels’s detention hearing, Keighley also referred to Facebook 
posts Daniels made on accounts under the aliases Rakem Khafre Balogun 
and Rakem Khafre, in which he showed admiration for Tremaine Wilbourn, 
who is accused of killing a Memphis, Tennessee, police officer, and 
Micah X Johnson, who killed five police officers in Dallas in July 2016.

In one post, Daniels shared a /Dallas Morning News/article about how 
Johnson’s actions were the result of America’s failure to address 
racism, with the caption, “They deserve what they got. LMAO!”

Another post Daniels shared on the one-year anniversary of the shooting 
bore the caption: “Today, one year ago, one black man brought the Dallas 
Pig Department to their knees. #77.”

Interviews with individuals close to Daniels suggest that the FBI was 
following other black activists he knew. Yafeuh Balogun, who has given 
interviews 
<https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/09/us/black-gun-owners-police-shootings.html>to 
numerous media outlets over the years explaining the right to gun 
ownership as a civil rights issue, told FP that FBI agents visited two 
of his workplaces over the past year.

The FBI investigation of Daniels also appeared to extend to Detroit.

Louis, a friend of Daniels who asked that his last name not be used, 
said that he purchased Daniels’s plane ticket to visit Detroit in 
November. Two days before Daniels was supposed to arrive, a neighbor 
living next to a home address associated with Louis reported that a man 
in a black car arrived in the neighborhood with a picture of Daniels. 
Louis was not there, so the man proceeded to ask the neighbor questions 
about where Louis lived and where he was employed. A few days later, the 
man returned, asking the neighbor similar questions.

Lauren Hagee, the FBI’s Dallas spokesperson, declined to comment on 
Daniels’s investigation. Tim Wiley, the FBI’s Detroit spokesperson, also 
declined to comment.

The FBI surveillance of activists connected to Daniels even extended to 
South Carolina. On Sept. 26, 2016, Johnathan Thrower, who goes by Shakem 
Amen Akhet, found out that two FBI agents, William L. White — of the 
South Carolina Joint Terrorism Task Force — and Clinton F. Pierce, had 
dropped by his mother’s house and left business cards. Thrower, who 
knows both Balogun and Daniels, said he contacted one the agents, who 
told him that he wished to speak with him in order to “close out” an 
investigation.

Thrower agreed to meet with agents that day. During their discussion, 
Thrower was asked to explain a Facebook post supporting open carry and 
suggesting that if open carry came to pass in South Carolina (open carry 
of a handgun is illegal 
<http://lawcenter.giffords.org/open-carrying-in-south-carolina/> in 
South Carolina), local communities would organize militias in order to 
protect themselves from police violence. The agents also seemed 
interested in ideological similarities between Daniels, Balogun, and 
Thrower.

Further questioning centered on what the agents allegedly characterized 
as “anti-police” rhetoric Thrower engaged in during protests 
<https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/charlotte-protests-over-keith-scott-shooting-descend-chaos-2nd-night-n652331>in 
Charlotte, North Carolina, following the killing of Keith Scott by a 
police officer; protests surrounding 
<https://news.vice.com/article/protests-follow-police-slaying-of-walter-scott-in-south-carolina>the 
death of Walter Scott in South Carolina; any connection he may have to 
the New Black Panther Party; and discussions 
<https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/a-secessionist-and-a-black-nationalist-join-forces-after-charlottesville_us_59968acfe4b0a2608a6b75a9>he 
engaged in with James Bessenger, chairman of the South Carolina 
Secessionist Party.

Contacted by FP to verify the details of the meeting, agents White and 
Pierce did not respond. Don Wood, an FBI public affairs official at the 
Columbia field office, which covers the entire state of South Carolina, 
declined to comment.

On Aug. 3, in the midst of of the ongoing investigation into Daniels and 
his associates, the FBI’s counterterrorism division issued an internal 
report for law enforcement agencies warning about “black identity 
extremists.” People affiliated with this movement threatened law 
enforcement officers with premeditated violence, motivated by a desire 
for revenge over “alleged police abuse,” warned the report, which was 
obtained and published 
<http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/06/the-fbi-has-identified-a-new-domestic-terrorist-threat-and-its-black-identity-extremists/> 
by FPin October.

As politicians and the media debated 
<https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/black-lawmakers-meet-fbi-director-over-black-identity-extremists-report-n824801>the 
usefulness and fairness of the “black identity extremist” 
classification, the FBI continued watching Daniels.

Law enforcement scrutiny of Daniels culminated with a trip Daniels took 
to Detroit for what an FBI affidavit describes as a “firearm-related 
training event” scheduled for Nov. 18, 2017. In his affidavit, Keighley 
describes learning that Daniels placed a firearm in his checked luggage 
— in compliance with airline regulations, according to the defense — 
which was then delayed, before being returned to his home address in 
Dallas.

The FBI obtained a search warrant on Dec. 7, based on Daniels’s prior 
conviction, and the raid took place five days later.

In an email to FP, Daniels said his prior conviction was the result of a 
dispute with a girlfriend at the time; he also denied the charge. 
Daniels said that after a traumatizing experience in a small-town jail, 
he allowed a public defender to persuade him to plead guilty.

Daniels told FP he was unaware he was breaking federal law by having a 
weapon, and never tried to conceal his pro-gun stance. (In a motion to 
dismiss the indictment against Daniels filed on Jan. 24, Daniels’s 
public defenders contested the charge, arguing that “domestic assault” 
as codified by Tennessee law does not categorically fit the federal 
definition of domestic violence that would prohibit him from owning a 
firearm.)

During his detention hearing, Daniels’s court-appointed lawyer at the 
time, Lara Wynn, asked agent Keighley whether or not Daniels directed 
another individual to cause harm to a law enforcement officer, or if 
there was evidence Daniels specifically wanted to harm a law enforcement 
officer. Keighely’s response to both questions was no.

The judge, however, found that Daniels threatened community safety and 
ordered that he remain in federal custody.

Residents and activists march in the streets amid heavy police and North 
Carolina National Guard presence as they protest the death of Keith 
Lamont Scott Sept. 23, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Scott, 43, was 
shot and killed by police officers at an apartment complex near UNC 
Charlotte. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Whether or not Daniels is guilty of violating the law for owning a 
weapon, his case is cause for concern among civil rights advocates who 
monitor the FBI’s use of domestic terrorism designations for potentially 
constitutionally protected activities. As far back as 2012, the American 
Civil Liberties Union noted 
<https://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/manufacturing-black-separatist-threat-and-other-dubious-claims-bias-newly>its 
concerns about bias in FBI reports on “black separatists” and training 
materials that juxtaposed controversial speech and beliefs by 
present-day African-American groups with decades-old acts of violence by 
the Black Panthers.

Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, 
and Technology Project, said that speech, even unpopular speech, is 
protected so long as it does not cross the line of creating an immediate 
risk of harm against a particular person or group of people. “Broadly 
giving governments the power to create a second class of people who 
receive more surveillance, more scrutiny, who have no leeway to make a 
single mistake in life, should trouble us,” she said.

John Raphling, a senior researcher on criminal justice for Human Rights 
Watch’s U.S. program, agreed with those concerns, saying that Daniels’s 
political positions were protected under the First Amendment. “It is a 
concern that anyone who puts themselves out with a unpopular viewpoint 
is going to be subject to surveillance, and we don’t know how many other 
people are subject to that surveillance,” Raphling said. “This guy 
happened to get caught having a gun he wasn’t supposed to.”

Daniels’s case also illustrates the large amount of discretion FBI 
agents have in determining who poses a threat, according to Mike German, 
a retired FBI agent and fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice’s 
Liberty and National Security Program.

In 2008, the FBI introduced a new class of investigationscalled 
“assessments 
<https://www.justice.gov/archive/opa/docs/guidelines.pdf>,”which do not 
require a “factual predicate” to commence; it is up to the FBI agent to 
affirm to him or herself that his or her mission is pure. By classifying 
people, such as black activists, as part of a violent group, the FBI can 
tell itself that it’s not profiling them because they’re black or 
engaging in constitutionally protected speech.

“That’s where this black identity assessment is important,” German said. 
“It provides the additional element necessary.”

Not everyone is convinced, however, that the FBI is singling out black 
Americans. JJ MacNab, a domestic terrorism expert, said that rhetoric of 
the sort employed by Daniels and appearing in public or on social media 
with guns would get anyone investigated, regardless of their race or 
affiliation. MacNab added that she was aware of FBI investigations into 
the predominantly white American militia movement, saying that she did 
not believe there was a disproportionate focus on black groups.

But even MacNab said there was a disconnect in Daniels’s case. “If 
someone is that much of a threat, why do you take two years to arrest?” 
she asked. “And then once you arrest them, they’re so much of a threat 
that they can’t possibly be let out … either arrest them sooner or let 
them out pending trial.”

Cases like these also demonstrate the dangers of implicit bias in law 
enforcement and run the risk of criminalizing legal speech, said Paul 
Butler, a former prosecutor and Georgetown University law professor. 
Even if the FBI admitted that they began investigating Daniels because 
they disapproved of his ideology, they would not have violated any 
federal law.

“When law enforcement agents have a large amount of discretion, black 
men will bear the cost of that,” he said.

For the activists who worked with Daniels, the potentially stifling 
effects of his arrest can already be seen.

    For the activists who worked with Daniels, the potentially stifling
    effects of his arrest can already be seen.

In a Jan. 16 email, John Nicholson, Daniels’s court-appointed attorney, 
warned Gina Smith, an attorney who briefly acted as a go-between for 
allies of Daniels and Nicholson, about his concern over supporters who 
held a demonstration outside a federal courthouse.

    For the activists who worked with Daniels, the potentially stifling
    effects of his arrest can already be seen.

Nicholson told Smith such demonstrations — some demonstrators wore masks 
and engaged in legal open carry — would harm efforts to have Daniels’s 
detention order revoked. “The District Court will have to presume that, 
if released, Christopher will go right back to associating with these 
folks,” he wrote.

In response to queries from FP, Nicholson declined to comment on any 
aspect of the case.

On Jan. 24, Nicholson filed another motion appealing the magistrate 
judge’s detention order.

In the motion, Nicholson writes that Daniels’s constitutionally 
protected speech, which he refers to as the case’s “elephant in the 
room,” does not provide any basis for his pretrial detention. The 
government filed an objection to this motion, citing Daniels’s social 
media posts and rhetoric as examples of his “state of mind.”

While not the basis of a charge against him, Daniels’s speech and social 
media postings demonstrate his release would threaten community safety, 
the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued.

Daniels has now spent more than a month in prison, initially at the 
federal detention center in Mansfield, Texas, before being transferred 
to the federal correctional institution in Seagoville, Texas. A trial 
has been set for Monday, March 26.

If convicted, Daniels could face 
<http://www.rip.uscourts.gov/rip/supervision/firearmpossession/FirearmPossessionProhibition.pdf>up 
to 10 years in prison.

In an email to FP from prison, Daniels said that while he cannot predict 
the outcome of his case, he plans to stay away from guns upon release. 
If he does get out, he said, his plan is to return to school and 
continue spending time with his children.

Daniels, who said that he stopped protesting police brutality in 2016 to 
focus his energy on work and other types of community service, expressed 
disbelief at his situation. “I never expected that this would happen to me.”

/______________________________
/

Martin de Bourmont is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. He 
previously worked as a reporter for the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia and 
as a reporting intern for the New York Times in Paris.

-- 
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