READ: Series Exposes the Roles Race and Hate Play in Law Enforcement

By Kenrya Rankin Jan 31, 2017

After obtaining copies of several classified FBI documents, The Intercept published a series of articles today (January 31) that it says reveal the covert actions of the Bureau.

Titled “The FBI’s Secret Rules,” the series details many topics, including how agents can interact with informants (they can deport them when they are no longer useful), just how much leeway they have in choosing to surveil citizens (lots) and their methods for infiltrating political and religious groups (via a loophole).

One of the articles in the series details the Bureau’s investigation into White supremacists inside the nation’s police departments. From that post:

In a heavily redacted version of an October 2006 FBI internal intelligence assessment, the agency raised the alarm over white supremacist groups’ “historical” interest in “infiltrating law enforcement communities or recruiting law enforcement personnel.” The effort, the memo noted, “can lead to investigative breaches and can jeopardize the safety of law enforcement sources or personnel.” The memo also states that law enforcement had recently become aware of the term “ghost skins,” used among white supremacists to describe “those who avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes.” In at least one case, the FBI learned of a skinhead group encouraging ghost skins to seek employment with law enforcement agencies in order to warn crews of any investigations. …

Reforming police, as it turns out, is a lot harder than reforming the military, because of the decentralized way in which the thousands of police departments across the country operate, the historical affinity of certain police departments with the same racial ideologies espoused by extremists, and an even broader reluctance to do much about it.

“If you look at the history of law enforcement in the United States, it is a history of white supremacy, to put it bluntly,” said [sociologist Pete] Simi, citing the origin of U.S. policing in the slave patrols of the 18th and 19th centuries. “More recently, just going back 50 years, law enforcement, particularly in the South, was filled with Klan members.”

Norm Stamper, a former chief of the Seattle Police Department and vocal advocate for police reform, told The Intercept that white supremacy was not simply a matter of history. “There are police agencies throughout the South and beyond that come from that tradition,” he said. “To think that that kind of thinking has dissolved somehow is myopic at best.”

Stamper said he had fired officers who expressed racist views, but added, “It’s not likely to happen in most police departments, because many of those departments come from a tradition of saying the officer is entitled to his or her opinions.” Whether the First Amendment protects an officer’s right to express racist, white supremacist views—or even to associate with organizations that endorse those views—is something that remains a subject of debate, Stamper said. “You can fire someone. Whether the termination will stand up under review is the real question.”

Another article in the series explores how the Bureau allegedly ignores anti-profiling rules and consider race and religion when evaluating potential suspects.

One of the Obama administration’s high-profile criminal justice reform efforts was a new policy that purported to ban racial profiling in federal law enforcement. But internal policy guidelines The Intercept has obtained show that the FBI has left its racial profiling practices virtually unchanged, and that the bureau still claims considerable latitude to use race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion in deciding which people and communities to investigate.

The issue of profiling by federal law enforcement and immigration authorities has taken on new urgency with the inauguration of Donald Trump, who as a candidate called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals and was slow to denounce white supremacist supporters. Among his first moves in office has been an executive order banning immigration from a list of majority-Muslim countries.

The FBI updated its policy on racial profiling as recently as March 3, 2016, in a section of its main governing manual, known as the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. (The Intercept is publishing the 2011 edition of the DIOG in its entirety, along with the updated section on profiling.) The guidelines make clear that when an FBI agent is deciding whether or how to investigate someone, he or she can consider factors like race, nationality, or ethnicity so long as these factors are clearly relevant and coincide with other reasons for suspicion. And when the FBI selects communities on which to gather intelligence — in order to generate what the bureau calls “domain awareness”—it also allows itself to take such factors into consideration.

The only policy change on profiling added in the five-year gap between the manuals—and in the wake of former Attorney General Eric Holder’s anti-profiling initiative—is that the new version reflects an expanded definition of profiling, which covers not just race and ethnicity but also gender identification, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation.

Read the massive series of reports here.