(ANTIMEDIA)Texas — Last December, Rakem Balogun and his 15-year-old son were startled awake when a team of heavily armed FBI agents stormed into their apartment in Dallas, Texas. Wearing nothing but their underwear, Balogun and his boy were forced outside and separated as agents searched the apartment.
Balogun, 34, assumed it was all a misunderstanding. Following his arrest that night, however, the father of three was shocked to learn the agents were investigating “domestic terrorism” and that the raid on his home was the end product of more than two years of targeted surveillance.
Seized during the search of Balogun’s apartment were two firearms — a .38 caliber handgun and an AK-style assault rifle — as well as a book, Negroes with Guns, written by civil rights leader Robert F. Williams, a man who advocated armed resistance to racial oppression.
Ultimately, Balogun, who is African-American, was charged with a single count of illegal firearm possession. That charge stemmed from a 2007 misdemeanor domestic assault case in Tennessee in which Balogun pleaded guilty.
Though it was only a misdemeanor offense that occurred more than a decade ago, federal prosecutors used the incident to successfully deny Balogun’s bail for five months while they tried to prove the man posed a threat to law enforcement.
Those attempts failed, however, with the judge eventually ruling that the Tennessee case didn’t apply. Balogun was released from prison last week and shortly after spoke to the Guardian about his ordeal.
“It’s tyranny at its finest,” Balogun, whose legal name is Christopher Daniels, said in the interview. “I have not been doing anything illegal for them to have surveillance on me. I have not hurt anyone or threatened anyone.”
What Balogun has been for years, though, is vocal and proactive in the campaign against police abuse. And it’s this, he says — far more than any actual threat he posed to cops — that put him on the federal government’s radar.
Balogun is the co-founder of Guerrilla Mainframe, a group dedicated to weapons training and community outreach, and a founding member of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, which promotes the open carrying of firearms.
Additionally, Balogun participates in protest rallies and isn’t shy about expressing his views on social media. In fact, one of the FBI’s own agents, Aaron Keighley, admitted in court that surveillance only began on Balogun after an online video showed him attending a 2015 rally against law enforcement.
And while Keighley testified that Balogun’s Facebook profile “openly and publicly advocates violence toward law enforcement,” the agent couldn’t point to a single instance where Balogun made an actual threat against anyone.
It’s believed that Balogun is the first individual targeted under a government surveillance effort to track so-called “black identity extremists.” This relatively new classification originated from an August 2017 report from the FBI.
The report, marked for official use only but obtained by Foreign Policy, asserts that the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was the catalyst for widespread anger in the black community and that subsequent perceived incidents of police abuse have further fueled that anger.
From the report:
“The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.”
“The FBI assesses it is very likely incidents of alleged police abuse against African Americans since then have continued to feed the resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity within the BIE movement.”
As the Guardian noted on Friday, the use of such language in an official document has many drawing comparisons to “the government’s discredited efforts to monitor and disrupt activists during the civil rights movement, particularly the FBI counterintelligence program called Cointelpro, which targeted Martin Luther King Jr, the NAACP and the Black Panther party.”
Despite Balogun’s eventual acquittal, today’s rights activists are concerned about the precedent set by his case.
“This is obviously the first of what will be several attempts to begin to criminalize black organizing, militant black organizing in particular, and work their way down to other types of organizing,” attorney and activist Kamau Franklin toldForeign Policy back in January.
While Balogun may now have his freedom, he certainly had to pay a hefty price for it. During his nearly half-year of incarceration, Balogun lost his job, car, home, and even the chance to witness the first months of his newborn’s life.
Former FBI agent Michael German, now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Guardian these ancillary effects, in themselves, appear to be part of a larger “disruption strategy” the FBI sometimes employs. The idea, German says, is to chip away at the suspect’s personal life while the agency builds a case.
As mentioned, part of that case was rooted in using Balogun’s social media presence to paint him as a violent cop hater. For instance, while in court the FBI’s Keighley highlighted Facebook posts in which Balogun expressed sympathy for people accused of killing police officers. Regarding this, Balogun told the Guardian he was simply “venting” his frustrations.
Particularly, Balogun says, he was infuriated by the way media and law enforcement portrayed the high-profile killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile as justified. The posts, he says, were a reflection of this.
“I just mimicked their reactions to our killings,” Balogun told the Guardian.
The feds’ attempt to keep Balogun in a cage lived and died within the context of a larger narrative, one purporting a “war on cops” exists in the United States. As Anti-Mediapointed out last week, however, the government’s own data shows that law enforcement deaths are actually on the decline, suggesting such a notion is, at best, an agenda-driven myth.
Further, the numbers clearly show that the vast majority of violent attacks against law enforcement — and domestic terror attacks, in general — are carried out by white males. This largely undermines the idea of a steadily building threat from a government-labeled “black identity extremist” movement.
All of this is of little comfort to Rakem Balogun, who confessed to the Guardian that if the FBI did indeed employ a “disruption strategy” against him, it had the desired effect:
“This has been a nightmare for my entire family. It was like living like a dog confined to a small backyard.”
Still, and with the assumption that the government will continue to monitor him in the days to come, Balogun says he has no intention of backing down:
“As long as my community needs me to serve them, I’ll be there.”