Black Nationalist Groups on the Rise in U.S., May Have Inspired Police Killers in Dallas and Baton Rouge

Members of the New Black Panther Party protest near the site of the Republican National Convention on July 16 in Cleveland. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Members of the New Black Panther Party protest near the site of the Republican National Convention on July 16 in Cleveland. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Micah Xavier Johnson, who killed five police officers in Dallas, was increasingly drawn to black nationalist ideology and attended several meetings of the People’s New Black Panther Party.

Gavin Eugene Long, who killed three officers in Baton Rouge, said he belonged to the Washitaw Nation, an obscure black nationalist group that claims ownership to the huge swath of the United States obtained in the Louisiana Purchase on the belief that they are descended from a U.S. indigenous group.

The People’s New Black Panther Party and the Washitaw Nation have vastly different ideologies and no direct ties to each other, but they are part of a broad landscape of black nationalist groups playing a role in the country’s violent summer 2016.

“There are a few big groups and a lot of little ones, and they are growing in an echo chamber where all they hear is ‘anger, anger, anger, anger, anger,’ ” said J.J. MacNab, an author and George Washington University researcher who specializes in extremism.

Some of these entities espouse extremist, anti-government views, and their numbers jumped from 113 groups in 2014 to 180 last year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremism.

Ryan Lenz, an SPLC analyst, said that increase has partly been a response to a rise in white supremacist and white nationalist activity amid the racially charged environment of the past two years, including the 2016 presidential campaign. For example, SPLC figures show that the number of Ku Klux Klan chapters increased from 72 in 2014 to 190 last year.

“There is tremendous racial tension in this political environment,” Lenz said. “The idea of an ‘us-versus-them’ ideology is being pushed very heavily no matter what political camp you are from.”

Analysts said it is impossible to determine exactly how many people are involved in black nationalist groups. But officials at both the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League, which also tracks extremism, said the numbers are probably in the hundreds at most. A former FBI official who supervised domestic terrorism cases in recent years also said, “We are talking dozens of people.”

A numbers game

Most of the black nationalist groups have formed in response to a perception that U.S. society is deeply racist against black people. However, how they organize and what they do to achieve their goals vary greatly.

Some seem to exist only as online forums for expressing rage, often against police. One group Johnson had “liked” on Facebook was the African American Defense League, which has a photo of an arsenal of guns as its profile picture.

Even though the group has more than 1,000 likes on Facebook, Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, called it “one guy with a Facebook page” and limited influence.

Following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., the Anti-Defamation League said the site featured a photo of Wilson with this notation: “When you find Darren Wilson you know what to do! Whoever finds him knows what must be done! Take everything that he took from Mike Brown.”

A similar group, the Black Riders Liberation Party, which calls for armed revolution against racism in the United States, has a Facebook page with more than 9,600 likes. It is run by a man who calls himself General T.A.C.O. — short for “Taking All Capitalists Out” — and who calls police “pigs.”

This month, the group posted on its Facebook page in response to police killings in Louisiana and Minnesota: “It’s on in 2016! R.I.P. to Alton Sterling in La and Philando Castile in Minnesota! We need recruits everywhere! Arm yourself of Harm yourself!”

Segal said those smaller groups “orbit around” the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense (NBPP), a black militant separatist group started in Dallas in 1989, but that they do not directly coordinate their efforts with them.

Other groups are larger and more formally organized, holding meetings and attending rallies, often wearing the classic militant uniform of black clothes and a black beret. In some cases, they carry weapons.

Analysts said some of those groups, particularly the NBPP and the People’s New Black Panther Party, an offshoot formed two years ago, attempt to take prominent roles at demonstrations to create the impression that they are bigger than they actually are.

The NBPP and other black nationalist groups have attended protests over the highly publicized deaths of black men at the hands of police in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore, and most recently Louisiana and Minnesota.

Washington Post reporters covering protests at last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland saw a small group of protesters wearing Black Panther logos on their clothes, but they were not armed.

The People’s New Black Panther Party and a sister organization, the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, hold semi-regular demonstrations in the Dallas area, in which members often carry long guns and dress in military clothes in a display of strength against the oppression of blacks in the United States and “to let people of color know that it is legal to carry weapons,” said Babu Omowale, who said he is the group’s “minister of defense.”

“We want every black man and woman throughout the country to legally arm themselves,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. Omowale said Johnson, the Dallas shooter, came to several of the group’s social meetings but never attended any of those armed events.

Omowale said his group and its supporters see the police as “basically a military unit inside the black community,” so when they are in public facing off in a protest against a white supremacist group, as Omowale said they did a few months ago to defend a local Nation of Islam mosque, they carry guns.

Omowale and other party members and supporters, some bearing arms, were marching at the peaceful demonstration in Dallas on the evening that Johnson started shooting.

“A few of the comrades who are part of the community got arrested — and they were basically arrested because they had on military-looking clothing,” Omowale said. “One of the brothers had a flak vest. But all of these things are perfectly legal.”

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SOURCE: Kevin Sullivan 
The Washington Post