Black folks know all about the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It’s a history dipped in the ongoing harassment, surveillance and unmitigated unconstitutional destruction of black life and leadership. And so, the eleventh-hour, October-surprising relaunch of one of the fakest political scandals in recent memory wasn’t unusual behavior for the agency. Former Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray, for example, tells us all about federal law-enforcement intervention in elections and how it happened to him as recently as 2014.
Which is why we shouldn’t fall for the dimwitted notion posed by mainstream journalists that FBI Director James Comey somehow found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place in the decision to revive Hillary Clinton’s email investigation only days before the election. Offering Comey the benefit of the doubt falsely presumes the head G-man is coming from a good nonpolitical place on this—several months after he insisted that he had put it to bed.
This is where the nation could probably use a good refresh on FBI history for context. Reteaching COINTELPRO in the classroom is a good start. Even Comey himself admitted FBI missteps in what was (at the time) viewed as a heartfelt “hard truths” speech last year: “[L]aw enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty. At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced … a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”
Not that he’s doing anything about this, since the FBI is still overwhelmingly a white-male-dominated institution where the percentage of black agents actually declined from 4.5 percent to 4.37 percent in two years (and funny how the report is now unavailable). That the FBI headquarters are still named after J. Edgar Hoover speaks volumes to a quiet pride in the infamous former director’s obsessive war on black social movements and legacy leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. And during times when the FBI should have put its energy into investigating and prosecuting flagrant violations of the Voting Rights Act—like what’s happening now—it’s been on a yearslong rampage of disproportionately probing black elected officials.
Some will quickly counter that race has nothing to do with emails. But when it comes to the FBI and the white male privilege accoutrements that come along with it, here’s why it does:
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Throwing the Black Female Boss Under the Bus
It just so happens that the FBI director’s boss is a black woman: Attorney General Loretta Lynch. And, conveniently, Comey decides to make a historically unprecedented move on a highly sensitive matter without checking in with his boss about it. Shady enough that Comey felt the need to give Congress public notice of an investigation just days before a major election—and then act stupidly innocent as if he didn’t know what he just did. But in a classic white-male-privilege move, Comey flatly ignored his black female superior as if she didn’t exist. Considering the proven “double jeopardy” burden of being a black female manager in a highly white corporate environment, Comey appeared to take full advantage of the moment.
Pressure From the Old Boys Club
Comey’s move was like a scene out of the TV-sitcom classic Cheers: chauvinistic, implicitly biased white dudes breaking each other’s testicular fortitude over how hard it is dealing with “chicks,” blacks and the impending doom of their obsolescence. From what we’ve gathered, that’s how it was for Comey—an endless line of suits hazing him into submission over Clinton and her emails.
More should be made of the fact that as a Republican and former employee of rabid Donald Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani, the FBI director seems to have wilted under enormous internal and external pressure from his Trump-cheering white male colleagues, including his not-so-subtle former boss. And, so, as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) made clear the other day, “Americans don’t have a clue as to how hard the Republicans, particularly on my committee, have been on the FBI.”
Political Workplace Bullying and the Sexism of Selective Timing
It seems that, for the first time in U.S. political history, Republicans have a thing for our Russian counterparts. In this case, Comey reportedly refused to release information that Kremlin-sponsored hackers were poking around in Democratic National Committee emails and Democratic campaign correspondence out of concerns … wait for it … about the pre-election “timing” of the announcement. Huh? But yet he was itching at the trigger to release incomplete, inconclusive intel on emails that probably won’t tell us anything we haven’t already been relentlessly tortured with.
But that’s not surprising, given the Republican boys club’s penchant for deranged priorities. It’s also the norm in most organizational environments: Sixty-two percent of workplace bullies are men, and 58 percent of bullied victims are women, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. When the choice was between targeting the tirelessly victimized career woman and the cocky tyrannical white dude in Eastern Europe, the white nationalist fraternity got global.
Brownnosing a Future Boss
It’s safe to assume that Comey, with seven years left in a 10-year term running the FBI, likes his gig—and wants to keep it. But with Clinton being subjected day in and day out to one of the most ridiculous and wasteful federal investigations ever mounted in U.S. history, Comey’s days as FBI director could be numbered if she wins the presidency. Wouldn’t you fire dude, too?
So, if you’re Comey, you do what most brownnosing, shrewd, career-saving white dudes in an office setting do: You manipulate the environment to hedge bets in favor of a new boss who’s more favorable to your employment terms. For Comey, that would easily be Trump, a serial narcissist who is remarkably talented at forcing loyalty out of folks (from Ben Carson to Ted Cruz to Omarosa Manigault) he’s humiliated and reamed in public.
Comey’s epiphany on emails is nothing more than job preservation, the long-embraced and chronic ritual of doing whatever it takes to stay on the promotional track: power lunches; hours on the golf course; weird, half-naked meetings in the steam room; and cigar-munching trips on the fishing boat. Here’s where Comey’s white male membership has all its privileges—and where he’s doing whatever it takes to maintain it at all costs … even if it means ruining an American election in the process.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.