They’re in the trees! Is there anyone left that the FBI doesn’t consider a terrorist?

Anarchist extremists” are targeting US government entities in Arizona, according to a memo circulated by the FBI’s Phoenix office that was published by Yahoo News earlier this week. These dangerous miscreants are “increasingly arming themselves and using lethal force to further their goals and in confrontations with ideologically opposed groups,” the agency warns – with the caveat that it has “low confidence” in that assessment, and that most of these “extremists” content themselves with property crimes, if they break the law at all.

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Still, the memo warns, the “anarchist extremist” threat “likely will grow in intensity and frequency in the near to mid-term,” necessitating the surveillance of all protest groups at the border, just in case. Border protesters thus join animal rights protesters, environmentalist protesters, and “black identity extremists” on the FBI’s terrorist list, eligible for special surveillance for nothing more than their beliefs.

Extremists” on both Left and Right are increasingly discussed as “terrorists” by the FBI and other law enforcement. Even though the vast majority of left- and right-wing activists are nonviolent, the FBI has a long history of infiltrating activist groups with agents provocateurs, who are frequently held up by the media as proof that a movement is up to no good. And where they can’t smear a group with its worst members, law enforcement is increasingly attempting to make protesting itself illegal, as several states did following the Standing Rock anti-pipeline protests. In 2010, the agency was reprimanded by its own Inspector General for classifying nonviolent acts of civil disobedience as “acts of terrorism,” and little has changed in the intervening nine years, except that they’ve gotten bolder. 

The anti-anarchist memo dates from late May, around the same time a similar memo issuing from the Phoenix field office warned agents that “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” posed a hitherto-unheeded threat to the national order. These dangerous individuals were being radicalized by what they read on social media, the memo warned – as well as the troubling tendency of the rich and powerful to actually conspire behind the scenes – and needed to be closely watched lest they read one Pizzagate post too many, snap, and shoot up their local Wal-Mart.

Studies have found most Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory, whether that the government is concealing information about 9/11, more than one person was involved in the JFK assassination, or that the military is hiding evidence of alien contact. While there’s probably some overlap between the conspiracy theorists and left- and right-wing activists, as more and more groups are targeted with FBI surveillance (and likely infiltration), it seems everyone is a potential terrorist in the current law enforcement climate. The Department of Homeland Security even deemed returning veterans to be domestic terror threats – ten years ago. 

The FBI’s terrorist watchlist was declared unconstitutional earlier this week, but it still has over 1.2 million names on it, names that could have been added for reasons as innocuous as learning Arabic or having the wrong combination of religious practices, associates, and travel patterns. Americans on the terror watchlist don’t know they’re there until they’re turned down for a professional license or barred from boarding a plane – and even then they’re rarely told the reason for their rejection. This is how secret police operate in authoritarian regimes.

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Ironically, this terror paranoia comes at a time when the actual crime rate is at historic lows. For all the media frenzy over mass shootings, violent crime has fallen 49 percent since 1993, according to the FBI’s own statistics. That includes gun violence, which is also at generational lows across the US. But if it got out that all of the US’ policing agencies weren’t required to keep the peace, citizens might start protesting the surveillance state and the wholesale theft of their civil liberties. And protesting is something only terrorists do.

Helen Buyniski


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