FBI says it does not label groups as extremist two weeks after Proud Boys report
UPDATE: On Dec. 5, the FBI sent KATU the below statement saying the agency does not label groups as extremist. A KATU reporter contacted an FBI spokeswoman on Nov. 20, the day this story originally aired, and she sent him a statement saying among other things that the agency does not police ideology. The Nov. 20 statement, which KATU reported, did not refute the report from the Clark County Sheriff's Office saying the FBI had categorized the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.
Statement Gerald Dezsofi, an FBI spokesman, sent on Dec. 5:
"The FBI does not designate groups as extremist. The FBI does analyze and investigate violence and criminal activity committed by an individual or by a group of individuals engaging in a criminal conspiracy. Examples of past FBI investigations of such violent conspiracies include the white supremacist group The Order and the environmental group The Family, both of which engaged in significant violence and/or criminal activity in the region.
The FBI briefing provided to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office provided an overview of the FBI’s domestic terrorism program. The briefing provided historical information regarding past criminal activity or violence by white supremacists, anarchists and militias. The briefing did discuss the Proud Boys, noting ties to white nationalism and violent acts by individuals self-identified as Proud Boys.
(Special Agent in Charge Loren) Cannon noted that while he understood how the language and context of the briefing led representatives from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to draw the conclusion noted in their report, the FBI does not designate groups such as the Proud Boys as extremist and did not intend to do so during the briefing."
Following is the story KATU published and aired on Nov. 20:
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A government watchdog group calling for more transparency is suing the FBI, saying it should share more information about what it's doing to monitor white supremacists and other hate groups.
The non-profit watchdog group, Property of the People, also uncovered a bombshell report about the Proud Boys. It says the FBI considers the far-right organization to be extremist with links to white nationalism.
Jason L. Van Dyke, a Proud Boys spokesperson who's also worked as a lawyer for the group, adamantly claimed they're not racist before a KATU reporter asked him about a racist tweet.
On their website the Proud Boys claim to be the "world's greatest fraternal organization" saying they're "Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”
But a newly uncovered document from the Clark County Sheriff's Office in Washington says, "The FBI categorizes the Proud Boys as an extremist group with ties to white nationalism. ... The FBI has warned local law enforcement agencies that the Proud Boys are actively recruiting in the Pacific Northwest."
The Proud Boys disagree.
Van Dyke sent KATU a statement saying in part:
" ... Our position is unchanged: Racism of any kind – including white nationalism – is unwelcome in our fraternity. We believe in western culture - which includes principles such as limited government and individual rights. These same idea (sic) were considered extremist in 1776."
But what about that racist tweet?
The website Bernardmedia.org and other sources posted a screen grab of a tweet Van Dyke allegedly put up during a dispute with an African-American user. It shows a noose and says, "Look good and hard at this picture you f---ing (N-word). It's where I'm going to put your neck."
After a KATU reporter sent the tweet to Van Dyke he responded via email saying, "I decline to respond. Thank you."
"They are plain and simply a white power group," said Gunita Singh, a lawyer for Property of the People, which first obtained the document mentioning the Proud Boys from the Clark County Sheriff's Office.
"We have numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, also known as FOIA requests, in with the FBI for records on the Proud Boys and other neo-fascist alt-right groups," Singh explained.
Singh said her group is suing the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department in part because they took too long to respond to records requests.
"It's important to understand what kinds of resources they are allocating toward combating white power because for decades the FBI and the intelligence community have been squandering resources on profiling the left and squashing leftist social justice movements," she said.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department said the agency declines to comment on the lawsuit. A spokeswoman for the FBI said it doesn't comment on pending litigation.
That document from the Clark County Sheriff's Office was mainly focused on the investigation into former Deputy Erin Willey. She was fired after the Columbian published a photograph of her wearing Proud Boys-affiliated clothing.
Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Portland, sent KATU the following statement on Nov. 20:
"The FBI can never initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights. Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security. When it comes to domestic terrorism, our investigations focus solely on criminal activity of individuals—regardless of group membership—which appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce the civilian population or influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion. The FBI does not and will not police ideology.
The various levels of intelligence analysis and investigative activity that the FBI can undertake—as well as the thresholds required to reach them—are laid out in our Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG). In addition to reading through that, we would encourage you to keep in mind that there is no federal, domestic terrorism criminal statute.
The FBI regularly assesses intelligence regarding possible threats and works closely to share that information with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners. The FBI’s top priority remains protecting the United States from terrorist attacks, both international and domestic. Through our threat review and prioritization process, FBI Headquarters operational divisions and our 56 field offices identify and prioritize national and local threat issues, develop strategies to counter these threats, and appropriately allocate resources. We utilize all necessary resources to support terrorism investigations, drawing on expertise across all divisions as well the skills and authorities of our partners on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces – and, when we become aware of a specific threat of violence, we will surge the full strength of the FBI’s resources to the investigation."
Following is the entire statement sent to KATU by Van Dyke:
"The Proud Boys has not been able to independently confirm this classification. Nevertheless, our position is unchanged: racism of any kind – including white nationalism – is unwelcome in our fraternity. We believe in western culture - which includes principles such as limited government and individual rights. These same idea were considered extremist in 1776. If those same principles are again considered “extremist” in 2018 then perhaps it’s time for our us as nation to take a good long look at the philosophical heights from which we have fallen.
We also recall the release of an FBI file about Martin Luther King Jr. about a year ago that falsely characterized Dr. King as a communist who engaged in orgies with prostitutes. In both that case, and their supposed classification of the Proud Boys, we believe that the actions by the FBI could be characterized as 'extremely careless.'"