In Defense of the FBI’s Surveillance of BAMN

James Slate
Feb 2 · 15 min read

Its been a tough week for the FBI, from the criticism over the arrest of Roger Stone, to now a new Report by the Guardian titled “FBI investigated civil rights group as ‘terrorism’ threat and viewed KKK as victims”. This news has gotten predictable backfire by Radical Groups and Individuals, with Ryan Shapiro saying “At its core, the FBI is, as it has always been, a political police force that primarily targets the left.”

Well lets look into the documents themselves obtained through the group Property of the People through a records request. “Records on the FBI’s targeting of the California-based anti-fascist and social justice organization By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). The records show the FBI investigated BAMN as a terrorist threat for attending an anti-Nazi rally and shouting at a meeting. The records also show the FBI appears to have simultaneously ignored the threat posed by the Nazis and KKK.”

Far From Claims the FBI was “Policing Dissent”, the actual Documents show otherwise:

To respond to the Guardian Article

The FBI opened a “domestic terrorism” investigation into a civil rights group in California, labeling the activists “extremists” after they protested against neo-Nazis in 2016, new documents reveal.

To call BAMN a Civil Rights Group is not exactly the term I would use to say the least. “By Any Means Necessary,” is an organization which has promoted violent means to silence those the group deems “racist” or “fascist.” Ironically, these tactics are inherently fascistic and are being wielded to intimidate and silence anyone. The title “Anarchist Extremism” seems appropriate here. The potential Violations of Federal Law were Conspiracy Against Rights and Riots, nowhere is Domestic Terrorism or 18 U.S.C. § 2331 mentioned. BAMN, the group that organized the anti-white supremacist protest were openly calling for “militant integrated direct action by any means necessary” to shut down the rally and that’s what they did. They weren’t apologetic for bringing violence to the event. It was their goal.

Federal authorities ran a surveillance operation on By Any Means Necessary (Bamn), spying on the leftist group’s movements in an inquiry that came after one of Bamn’s members was stabbed at the white supremacist rally, according to documents obtained by the Guardian.

The Surveillance Operation began after to quote the FBI ‘“it is possible the actions of certain BAMN members may exceed the boundaries of protected activity and could constitute a violation of federal law.” Not just simply after a BAMN member was stabbed at the rally.

The FBI investigated Bamn for potential “conspiracy” against the “rights” of the “Ku Klux Klan” and white supremacists.

Yes, which was appropriate, and given how radical some BAMN members are, not at all implausible. Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241 makes it unlawful for two or more persons to conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person of any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the United States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same). The KKK has a right to protest, just like everyone else under the First Amendment (Brandenburg v. Ohio).

The FBI considered the KKK as victims and the leftist protesters as potential terror threats, and downplayed the threats of the Klan, writing: “The KKK consisted of members that some perceived to be supportive of a white supremacist agenda.”

And the FBI was right to consider the Klan as potential Victims of Civil Rights deprivation, and the FBI never once mentioned the protesters as potential Terror Threats per the documents. Their words, not the FBI’s

The FBI’s monitoring included in-person surveillance, and the agency cited Bamn’s advocacy against “rape and sexual assault” and “police brutality” as evidence in the terrorism inquiry.

Their protesting of Rape and Sexual Assault or Police Brutality was not why that evidence was provided into the Inquiry. Those were simple tags on their website that the FBI documented due to the fact there was a post titled titled “NO ‘FREE SPEECH’ FOR FASCISTS! Mass, militant demonstration shuts down Sacramento Neo-Nazi rally!”

The report ignored “100 years of Klan terrorism that has killed thousands of Americans and continues using violence right up to the present day”, German said. “This description of the KKK should be an embarrassment to FBI leadership.”

The Klan of today is not the Klan of 1920. The Klan today isn’t close to as powerful as it once was and is rarely ever violent. Its not at all implausible for for two or more persons from a radical group such as BAMN to conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person of any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the United States. And given the fact that the FBI had enough evidence to conduct an investigation into possible violations of federal law by certain BAMN members, nothing at all seems improper here.

In this political setting and with the current emotional levels around topics of race, that the KKK is brave or stupid enough to take responsibility for any acts of violence anymore. So, if they are committing crimes, they’re keeping them under wraps and there is very little evidence.

Shanta Driver, Bamn’s national chair, criticized the investigation in a statement to the Guardian, saying, “The FBI’s interest in BAMN is part of a long-standing policy … Starting with their campaign to persecute and slander Dr. Martin Luther King, they have a racist history of targeting peaceful civil rights and anti-racist organizations, while doing nothing to prosecute the racists and fascists who attacked Dr. King and the movement he built.”

This is so bogus that it shouldn’t even deserve a response. And the FBI doesn’t prosecute (facepalm).

The FBI launched its terrorism investigation and surveillance of Bamn after white supremacists armed with knives faced off with hundreds of counter-protesters, including Bamn activists, at a June 2016 neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento. Although numerous neo-Nazis were suspected of stabbing at least seven anti-fascists in the melee, leaving some with life-threatening injuries, the FBI chose to launch a inquiry into the activities of the leftwing protesters.

The Domestic Terrorism Investigation here is appropriate. A Full Investigation of a group or organization may be opened as an Enterprise Investigation if there is an articulable factual basis for the investigation that reasonably indicates the group or organization may have engaged, or may be engaged in, or may have or may be engaged in planning or preparation or provision of support for Domestic Terrorism. As the DIOG makes very clear what Domestic Terrorism is defined as:

That alongside this would justify the FBI’s Investigation

A predicated investigation may be initiated on the basis of any of the following circumstances:

  1. An activity constituting a federal crime or a threat to the national security has or may have occurred, is or may be occurring, or will or may occur and the investigation may obtain information relating to the activity or the involvement or role of an individual, group, or organization in such activity
  2. An individual, group, organization, entity, information, property, or activity is or may be a target of attack, victimization, acquisition, infiltration, or recruitment in connection with criminal activity in violation of federal law or a threat to the national security and the investigation may obtain information that would help to protect against such activity or threat.
  3. The investigation may obtain foreign intelligence that is responsive to a foreign intelligence requirement.

Stabbing is not a Federal Crime and does not fall in the FBI’s Jurisdiction. Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241 — Conspiracy Against Rights is a Federal Crime and does fall under the Jurisdiction of the FBI. The FBI opens hundreds of civil rights cases each year, and it’s a responsibility the Bureau takes very seriously. And as noted earlier, some Counterprotestors were not just simply exercising their Constitutional Rights, per the Attorney General Guidelines, First Amendment protected activities cannot be the basis for a Federal Investigation.

The documents, though heavily redacted, did not include any conclusions from the FBI that Bamn violated laws or posed a continuing threat. Its members have not faced federal prosecution. The FBI declined to comment on Bamn.

“It’s clear the FBI dropped the investigation having no evidence of wrongdoing. It never should have been opened in the first place,” Driver said.

Well yes, thats what the document says, “In the event no such violent activity occurs or is discovered, FBI policy and federal law dictates that no further record be made of the protected activity.” And yes, the Investigation should have absolutely been opened in the First Place, as the Documents show.

The FBI’s report also appeared to obfuscate details about the political affiliations of stabbing perpetrators and victims, saying: “Several people were stabbed and hospitalized.” That’s despite the fact that California police investigators reported that neo-Nazis were seen on camera holding knives and fighting with counter-protesters (who suffered severe stab wounds).

That’s because it was not relevant. It was simply a summary of the events.

The FBI file said its research into Bamn found that the group “lawfully exercised their First Amendment rights by engaging in peaceful protests”, but added that its “members engaged in other activity by refusing to disperse, trespassing in closed buildings, obstructing law enforcement, and shouting during and interrupting public meetings so that the meetings could not continue”.

Bamn has long advocated for racial justice and immigrants’ rights, frequently protesting at public events and organizing rallies.

That does not justify the fact that its members to quote the FBI members “engaged in other activity by refusing to disperse, trespassing in closed buildings, obstructing law enforcement, and shouting during and interrupting public meetings so that the meetings could not continue”. And tons of Whitewashing of BAMN going on here, but I unlike the Guardian will stay on the topic at hand.

The FBI report said it was “possible the actions of certain BAMN members may exceed the boundaries of protected activity and could constitute a violation of federal law”.

The “potential violations of federal law”, the FBI said, included “conspiracy against rights” and “riots”. The FBI cited Bamn’s website, which encouraged supporters to protest against the KKK, featured slogans like “SMASH FASCISM!” and “NO ‘FREE SPEECH’ FOR FASCISTS!”, and celebrated the “mass, militant demonstration” that “shut down” the neo-Nazi rally. The FBI also included screenshots of Bamn pages that referenced a number of the group’s other advocacy issues, including campaigns against “rape and sexual assault” and “police brutality”.

Yes, and the FBI was correct. Their protesting of Rape and Sexual Assault or Police Brutality was not why that evidence was provided into the Inquiry. Those were simple tags on their website that the FBI documented due to the fact there was a post titled titled “NO ‘FREE SPEECH’ FOR FASCISTS! Mass, militant demonstration shuts down Sacramento Neo-Nazi rally!” Its great that Mr Levin is finally catching on.

The FBI files further included mentions of Yvette Felarca, a Bamn member who was stabbed at the rally, but is now facing state charges of assault and rioting. (Her lawyers have argued in court that the police investigators and prosecutors were biased against anti-fascists and worked to protect neo-Nazis).

BAMN, the group that organized the anti-white supremacist protest were openly calling for “militant integrated direct action by any means necessary” to shut down the rally and that’s what they did. They weren’t apologetic for bringing violence to the event. It was their goal.

Driver, who is also Felarca’s attorney, said the FBI should have mentioned that Felarca was “stabbed and bludgeoned by a fascist in Sacramento”. She added: “Instead of finding the person who assaulted anti-racist protesters, the FBI chose to target BAMN, which by their own admission holds demonstrations that are protected by the First Amendment.”

Why would they do that unless she specifically was under Investigation (we don’t know who was specifically due to redactions). Finding those who assaulted BAMN isn’t within the scope of the FBI’s Jurisdiction, defending Civil Rights is. Just as the Guardian says only a few paragraphs ago, “possible the actions of certain BAMN members may exceed the boundaries of protected activity and could constitute a violation of federal law” was the basis for the investigation into BAMN which included included conspiracy against rights and riots.

The bureau’s justifications of the investigation and surveillance were disturbing, said Ryan Shapiro, executive director of Property of the People. “The FBI discovered that these protesters once shouted at a meeting and somehow that evidence was mobilized to support a full-fledged terrorism investigation,” he noted.

A predicated investigation may be initiated on the basis of any of the following circumstances:

  1. An activity constituting a federal crime or a threat to the national security has or may have occurred, is or may be occurring, or will or may occur and the investigation may obtain information relating to the activity or the involvement or role of an individual, group, or organization in such activity
  2. An individual, group, organization, entity, information, property, or activity is or may be a target of attack, victimization, acquisition, infiltration, or recruitment in connection with criminal activity in violation of federal law or a threat to the national security and the investigation may obtain information that would help to protect against such activity or threat.
  3. The investigation may obtain foreign intelligence that is responsive to a foreign intelligence requirement.

This screenshot provides the Justification for the FBI to open an investigation into BAMN.

The standard for opening investigations, and using basic investigative tools, is very low. Higher standards would turn the FBI into a purely reactive agency, waiting for someone to walk in with a set of facts already establishing probable cause. That is not what anyone wants or expects from investigative agencies, particularly those whose mission includes protecting national security. As the Guardian mentioned earlier, The “potential violations of federal law”, the FBI said, included “conspiracy against rights” and “riots”. The FBI cited Bamn’s website, which encouraged supporters to protest against the KKK, featured slogans like “SMASH FASCISM!” and “NO ‘FREE SPEECH’ FOR FASCISTS!”, and celebrated the “mass, militant demonstration” that “shut down” the neo-Nazi rally. That’s far mar then just simply shouting at a meeting.

The “articulable factual basis” for opening an Enterprise Investigation is met with the identification of a group whose statements made in furtherance of its objectives or its conduct demonstrate a purpose of committing crimes or seeming the commission of crimes by others. The group’s activities and statements of its members may be considered in combination to comprise the “articulable factual basis,” even if the statements alone or activities alone would not warrant such a determination.

The FBI’s insinuation that Bamn’s actions could provoke violence was odd, said German, the former FBI agent, who is now a Brennan Center fellow. He noted that it was white supremacists “who have used this tactic for decades” and said the violent provocations of rightwing groups were well known when he worked on domestic terrorism for the FBI in the 1990s. The Bamn report, he said, gave the “appearance of favoritism toward one of the oldest and most active terrorist groups in history”.

BAMN, the group that organized the anti-white supremacist protest were openly calling for “militant integrated direct action by any means necessary” to shut down the rally and that’s what they did. They weren’t apologetic for bringing violence to the event. It was their goal. The FBI’s insinuation wasn’t “odd” by any means.

One has to keep in mind that there wasn’t just one KKK, but at different times in history, several organization used that name.

  1. The was the original KKK founded by Nathan Bedford Forrest, aimed at scaring freed slaves.
  2. Then came the second KKK, in the 1920′, a huge racist, pro WASP organization, opposing colored people and Catholics, like the Irish and Italians.
  3. After the second KKK became bankrupt, the name became public domain and hundred of unrelated organizations use it.

All these organization are unrelated. The only thing they share is the name and their hostility to black people. The current organizations using the KKK name have become quite irrelevant.

He added that the report should have made clear that the “KKK consists of members who have a bloody history of racial and antisemitic violence and intimidation and is known for staging public spectacles for the specific purpose of inciting imminent violence”.

The modern KKK is not one organization; rather it is composed of small independent chapters across the United States

Asked whether the Bamn investigation was ongoing and whether the FBI had opened any equivalent inquiry into the neo-Nazis in California, an FBI spokesperson said the bureau does not confirm or deny the existence of specific investigations. “We cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, natural origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights,” the FBI said in a statement. “The FBI does not and will not police ideology.”
The bureau “investigates activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security”
, the statement added.

Which is correct.

The justice department inspector general previously criticized the FBI for using non-violent civil disobedience and speculation of future crimes to justify terrorism investigations against domestic advocacy groups, German noted, adding that the Bamn files suggest the FBI “seems to have learned nothing from these previous overreaches”.

After more than four years of investigation and an exhaustive review of hundreds of investigative decisions the FBI made after the September 11 attacks, the OIG did not uncover even a single instance where the FBI targeted any group or any individual based on the exercise of a First Amendment right. While the OIG disagreed with a handful of the FBI’s investigative determinations over the course of six years, it did not recommended any significant modifications to the FBI’s authority to investigate criminal conduct or national security threats.

“ Even knowing the FBI’s legacy of going after activists, the report was still shocking, said Shapiro.”

“A bunch of anti-fascists showed up at a Nazi rally and were attacked by Nazis, and the response from the bureau was to launch a domestic terrorism investigation into the anti-fascists,” he said. “At its core, the FBI is, as it has always been, a political police force that primarily targets the left.”

Simply distorting reality here. BAMN, the group that organized the anti-white supremacist protest were openly calling for “militant integrated direct action by any means necessary” to shut down the rally and that’s what they did. They weren’t apologetic for bringing violence to the event. It was their goal.

In 1976, Attorney General Edward Levi and the FBI came up with a series of guidelines on how the FBI should conduct domestic security operations. The key change: to only investigate radicals breaking the law or clearly engaging in violent activity. The reforms had an immediate and far-reaching impact: the number of FBI domestic security cases fell from over 21,000 in 1973 to just 626 by September 1976.

In 1978, partly in response to the Church Committee hearings, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, was enacted. The law set rules for physical and electronic surveillance and the collection of foreign intelligence and established a special court to hear requests for warrants. These changes established clearer parameters for FBI investigations and made agents more respectful than ever of the need to protect constitutional rights. At the same time, the criticism and ensuing reforms had a chilling effect on the Bureau’s intelligence work in the years to come, making the FBI more cautious and more willing to strictly delineate between national security and criminal investigations.

James Slate

Written by

I Defend American Institutions and Foreign Policy from a Neoconservative Perspective

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