As Democrats lashed out at the administration of President Donald Trump and demand the appointment of an independent special prosecutor to investigate the firing of FBI Director James Comey, a potentially more ominous question emerging among Black politicians and community organizers is who would be the next FBI director?
The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, arguably the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet, has always had a very unique and tenuous relationship with the Black advocacy and political community. When the FBI’s name is mentioned in the annals of Black history, it is with a profound sense of trepidation and animus. It was the FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, that engineered sinister surveillance and prosecutorial programs like the infamous COINTELPRO which relentlessly targeted and imprisoned prominent Black activists, revolutionaries and outspoken critics of the U.S. government.
Given the Trump administration’s brazen hostility towards the civil rights community, many observers and advocates are bracing for an FBI director that could be, in many respects, the resurrection of Hoover in attitude and distaste. Or, to many observers, much worse.
“We can expect it to be a horrible appointment,” says Melina Abdullah, one of the original founders of the Black Lives Matter movement and a professor and chair of Africana Studies at California State University. “If we think about the way the administration has encouraged every unit of government to go after Black organizers, we should expect the very worst.”
That calculus also worsens, say many observers, given the president’s demand for undying loyalty to his agenda. Even when the position requires someone impartial and independent as the nation’s top law enforcement official, Trump will undoubtedly demand the next FBI Director bend to his will and the will of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I think it’s a matter of what we do, when we look at the pattern of appointments over the past several months and what’s coming down,” says Abdullah. “We know that every single appointment is a really horrible person. Every person in every position is the antithesis of what they’re supposed to do. The FBI Director will clearly be someone who pushes for injustice and the targeting of folks who are engaging in the democratic process.”
Independent hip hop artist and national activist Jasiri X also expects a much harsher regime escalated by a Trump-driven director. Jasiri said that recent movements have always been targeted by government law enforcement on all levels, even indicating that it was already happening under the Obama administration. In 2015, FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano admitted the agency was tracking the movements of people protesting against police violence. Several activists in Cleveland claimed they were visited by FBI agents ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention.
“A recent FBI internal report attempted to draw a connection between recent police killings and the Black Lives Matter movement’s critique of police brutality, despite the fact most assailants were White,” says Jasiri X. “With Sessions already calling for harsher sentences for non-violent drug offenses, and Trump revisiting the failed ‘Stop and Frisk’ [policy], we can only conclude the attacks on advocates will be more widespread and severe.”
Names under consideration that have surfaced don’t offer much comfort to observers and Trump critics watching the process unfold. Whispers in Washington last week pointed to controversial and rather cantankerous figures like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Others include Former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who pushed for constant surveillance of Muslim activists and mosques after 9-11. Republicans in Congress briefly floated the idea of nominating Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court who was never given a hearing in Congress, but Garland, who is currently a federal judge, declined.
But, recent short list reports have pointed to more political appointees, such as former Michigan Congressman and House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers (R-MI) and current Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). Critics blasted the Trump administration for tapping into partisans for the FBI Director slot and for having Sessions – who had recently “recused” himself from the Trump-Russia investigation – lead interviews for the position.
Most names mentioned have been White males, with the recent addition of two White females to the short list: former Bush Administration officials Alice Fisher and Frances Townsend.
Either way “[w]e should be loud and say this is what’s happening and oppose it,” says Abdullah. “We have to do work and strategize around our own ways of operating. We have to be very clear that it’s a targeting of Black organizers and putting down the BLM.”