Last year, just nine days before white supremacists stormed Charlottesville, Va., the FBI released a report citing “black identity extremists” as a growing threat to law enforcement. In the report, first obtained by Foreign Policy, the FBI claimed that police attacks on black Americans could spur “premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence” against the police.
Now The Guardian has spoken to a man believed to be the first prosecuted under the FBI’s effort to track “black identity extremists”: a man who spoke out against police brutality and became a federal target because of it.
FBI agents first appeared on Rakem Balogun’s doorstep on Dec. 12, 2017. Balogun told The Guardian that the agents said they had been monitoring him for years and were arresting him that day in part because of Facebook posts Balogun had written criticizing the police.
He was detained for five months as FBI agents tried—and failed—to establish Balogun as a domestic terrorist.
The details that have emerged surrounding Balogun’s arrest and five-month detainment are deeply unsettling. At the time of his arrest, Balogun was working full time for an information technology company. He was also a longtime activist, co-founding Guerrilla Mainframe and the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, two organizations that fight police brutality and advocate for black gun owners’ rights.
Balogun first appeared on the FBI’s radar through a video posted on Infowars, a far-right site run by professional conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The video showed Balogun at a March 2015 rally in Austin, Texas, protesting law enforcement.
Balogun told The Guardian he was shocked by the FBI’s reference to Infowars in its case against him.
“They’re using a conspiracy theorist video as a reason to justify their tyranny? That is a big insult,” he said.
But in all their time monitoring Balogun, federal investigators couldn’t cite a single instance of him making a specific threat against law enforcement.
From The Guardian:
[FBI special agent Aaron] Keighley made no mention of Balogun’s specific actions at the rally, but noted the marchers’ anti-police statements, such as “oink oink bang bang” and “the only good pig is a pig that’s dead.” The agent also mentioned Balogun’s Facebook posts calling a murder suspect in a police officer’s death a “hero” and expressing “solidarity” with the man who killed officers in Texas when he posted: “They deserve what they got.”
Despite having made no specific threats against police, however, Balogun was denied bail over his five months of imprisonment.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment to The Guardian, which notes—as many other legal experts have—that the impetus for targeting “black identity extremists” is on profoundly shaky ground:
In addition to an overall decline in police deaths, most individuals who shoot and kill officers are white men, and white supremacists have been responsible for nearly 75 percent of deadly extremist attacks since 2001.
In the end, the only charge against Balogun was one count of illegal firearm possession. Prosecutors argued that a 2007 misdemeanor domestic assault case in Tennessee disqualified Balogun from having a firearm.
That charge was thrown out by a judge this month, and Balogun was finally released from custody last week.
But much has changed for the father of three since his detainment. The Guardian reports that Balogun has lost his car, his job and his home. His son has had to move and transfer schools, and Balogun was absent for much of his newborn daughter’s first year.
“This has been a nightmare for my entire family,” he told the paper, adding that he was still adjusting to being a free man again. “It was like living like a dog confined to a small backyard.”
Balogun is aware that he will likely never be truly free—that the government will continue to monitor him even as its case against him failed. Still, Balogun vows to keep up his activism and organizing.