When militarized FBI agents clad in tactical gear raided the home of Rakem Balogun in December 2017—forcing him and his 15-year-old son outside in their underwear on the cold and windy night as agents ransacked his residence—he thought it had to be a mistake.
In an exclusive report by The Guardian, Balogun explains that he was stunned to later learn that he was under investigation for “domestic terrorism” and had been under law enforcement surveillance for years. Incredibly, Balogun’s arrest and the FBI raid on his home were partially due to a simple, and constitutionally protected, Facebook post that was critical of police.
“It’s tyranny at its finest,” Balogun, 34, told the Guardian. “I have not been doing anything illegal for them to have surveillance on me. I have not hurt anyone or threatened anyone.”
Balogun was imprisoned for five months and denied bail while US attorneys attempted to frivolously prosecute him on accusations of being an illegal gun owner and a threat to law enforcement—only later to be exonerated on both trumped up allegations.
Foreign Policy reported that the entire case has ominous implications and overtones of 60s/70s style COINTELPRO, as Balogun is believed to be the first person prosecuted, and known to have been targeted, under a secretive US surveillance effort to identify and track suspected “black identity extremists”—a broad and nebulous term that civil rights advocates warn can be used to target and chill constitutionally protected political activism.
According to the exclusive report from The Guardian:
In a leaked August 2017 report from the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit, officials claimed that there had been a “resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity” stemming from African Americans’ “perceptions of police brutality”.
The counter-terrorism assessment provided minimal data or evidence of threats against police, but discussed a few isolated incidents, notably the case of Micah Johnson who killed five officers in Texas. The report sparked backlash from civil rights groups and some Democrats, who feared the government would use the broad designation to prosecute activists and groups like Black Lives Matter.
Not so coincidentally, Balogun is a long-time political activist as the co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club and Guerilla Mainframe; both groups advocate for the rights of black gun owners and fight against police brutality.
It was revealed when special agent Aaron Keighley testified in court that the FBI began surveillance of Balogun after he participated in a rally against police violence in Austin, Texas in March 2015. The FBI first became aware of the protest from a video posted by Infowars, Keighley said.
Balogun said he was stunned to learn that information from InfoWars was used as the basis for their investigation: “They’re using a conspiracy theorist video as a reason to justify their tyranny? That is a big insult.”
Ironically, no mention of any specific actions by Balogun was ever brought up by Keighley, who instead testified about protesters’ anti-police statements, such as “oink oink, bang bang” and “the only good pig is a pig that’s dead.”
The Guardian reports that despite making no mention of Balogun’s actions at the rally in court, Keighley did discuss Facebook posts by Balogun in which he called a suspect in the killing of a police officer a “hero” and expressed “solidarity” for the man accused of killing police when he wrote, “They deserve what they got.”
Keighley was later forced to admit that despite his fear-mongering about Balogun’s free expression of thought on social media, the FBI did not have evidence of any specific threats about harming police.
Balogun told the Guardian that at the time he made those Facebook posts he was “venting” about the anger he felt surrounding the numerous unjustified killings of unarmed black men and women. He said that out of being disgusted with media largely portraying these killings as justified, he wrote those posts to “mimic their reactions to our killings.”
In a jailhouse letter to the Guardian, Balogun wrote that he was a “prisoner of war on free speech and the right to bear arms” who had been “abducted” by the FBI. He noted that he was not targeted for being a violent threat, but for promoting black community groups and battling “government abuse,” adding, “Violence is the method of our oppressor, our method is hard work, love, and unity.”
While the prosecution’s case against Balogun completely unraveled, it is an ominous indicator of a renewed and brutal assault against political activism by government forces.
“They were really desperate,” Balogun said. When his home was raided, police confiscated his .38-caliber handgun, an unloaded AK-style assault rifle and his book, “Negroes with Guns” by the civil rights leader Robert F. Williams, according to The Guardian.
“This is pretty much like Stalin 1950 – ‘You show me the man. I show you the crime.’”
The entire idea of a “black identity extremism” (BIE) movement—a term coined by law enforcement—is unsupported by the government’s own data. But that has never stopped the government from persecuting political activists; especially ones espousing black empowerment ideology.
The failed prosecution and clear persecution of Balogun have drawn clear parallels to previous efforts by the U.S. government to discredit, disrupt and monitor political activists during the civil rights-era, particularly the FBI counterintelligence program called COINTELPRO, which targeted Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, the NAACP and the Black Panther party.
Michael German, a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program and former FBI agent, said the BIE assessment was “extraordinarily overbroad,” but that the idea was being spread to state and local law enforcement agencies across the U.S.
The targeting of activists through police harassment and surveillance for espousing a disfavored ideological stance is immoral to the core and morbidly insidious. The Guardian reports that while authorities have not said publicly that Balogun has been labeled a BIE, “their language in court resembled the warnings in the FBI’s file.”
German revealed that the federal government utilized a “disruption strategy,” which is a tactic where the FBI attempts to target lower-level arrests and charges as a means of causing a disruption in their targets’ lives while the agency attempts to build a case.
“Sometimes when you couldn’t prove somebody was a terrorist, it’s because they weren’t a terrorist,” German said, adding that prosecutors’ claims that Balogun was too dangerous to be released on bail were “astonishing.”
“It seems this effort was designed to punish him for his political activity rather than actually solve any sort of security issue,” he said.
This is exactly what was done to Balogun as he has lost his vehicle, job, and home. His son was also forced to move and transfer schools and Balogun missed much of the first year of his newborn daughter’s life.
This man’s life is in shambles due to being targeted for his political activism. When the state persecutes you for attempting to empower others, you are dangerously close to tyranny.