Three years ago, a gun-loving Texan attended a protest against public employees who violate their constituents’ constitutional rights. He then made multiple politically incorrect Facebook posts. In response to these actions, the FBI raided his house in the middle of the night and jailed him for five months (without giving him the opportunity to post bail), while they tried to prosecute him on terrorism charges.
The terrorism case fell apart. Eventually, the Feds resigned themselves to busting the man for illegally owning a firearm; a judge found that charge to be bogus. He was freed; but while the government had kept him locked up for the crime of expressing an affection for guns — and opinions the deep state didn’t like — he lost his car, job, home, and the opportunity to witness the first year of his newborn’s life.
While all this was happening, the National Rifle Association did not raise a peep of protest — in fact, it spent copious time and money rallying public support for the administration’s approach to combating crime and terrorism. And the Texan’s case was rarely cited by America’s most prominent advocates for free speech, who focused their fire on decrying the threat that anti-racist protesters posed to the freedom of AEI fellows to deliver well-remunerated speeches on college campuses (without being heckled).
You will be shocked to learn that said Texan had dark skin, and that the public employees he took issue with were cops.
As the Guardian’s Sam Levin reports:
Rakem Balogun thought he was dreaming when armed agents in tactical gear stormed his apartment. Startled awake by a large crash and officers screaming commands, he soon realized his nightmare was real, and he and his 15-year-old son were forced outside of their Dallas home, wearing only underwear.
Handcuffed and shaking in the cold wind, Balogun thought a misunderstanding must have led the FBI to his door on 12 December 2017.
… Investigators began monitoring Balogun, whose legal name is Christopher Daniels, after he participated in an Austin, Texas, rally in March 2015 protesting against law enforcement, special agent Aaron Keighley testified in court.
The FBI, Keighley said, learned of the protest from a video on Infowars, a far-right site run by the commentator Alex Jones, known for spreading false news and conspiracy theories … The agent also mentioned Balogun’s Facebook posts calling a murder suspect in a police officer’s death a “hero” and expressing “solidarity” with the man who killed officers in Texas when he posted: “They deserve what they got.”
Keighley, however, later admitted the FBI had no evidence of Balogun making any specific threats about harming police.
The argument that a police officer deserved to be murdered simply because he was a police officer would surely strike the vast majority of Americans as hateful and offensive. But it is not illegal to express hateful and offensive sentiments in the U.S. — as so many conservative commentators have observed when decrying the left’s attempts to “no-platform” alt-right figures. Further, in his interview with the Guardian, Balogun suggests that his intention was at least partially satirical:
At the time of his Facebook posts, Balogun said he was angry and “venting” about the high-profile cases of police killing innocent black men and women in America, including Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. He was particularly disgusted with the way the media and law enforcement officials portrayed the killings as justified and said that when he wrote those posts “I just mimicked their reactions to our killings.”
Balogun appears to be the first American prosecuted as part of the Justice Department’s program to counter violence from “black identity extremists” (BIE). When word of that program leaked last August, many progressives and civil libertarians warned that it sounded like an excuse for the FBI to criminalize African-American dissent (as has been its wont, historically speaking). After all, there is little evidence that black nationalists assassinating police officers is a leading threat to public safety in the United States, let alone one that justifies the government subjecting African-American activists to surveillance en masse. While there have been lamentable, high-profile instances of such killings in recent years, said killings were national news stories precisely because they are unusual. Overall, police deaths in the U.S. are in decline, and white “identity extremists” commit orders of magnitude more terroristic violence in the United States than black ones do.
Needless to say, nothing about Balogun’s case dispels the fear that the BIE program is doing less to promote public safety than it is to stifle left-wing dissent.
And BIE might not be the only vehicle through which the Trump administration is doing the latter. Immigration-rights groups are currently suing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for allegedly targeting outspoken immigration advocates for surveillance and deportation, so as to discourage such political speech. Meanwhile, the Justice Department spent most of last year trying to prosecute 200 people who were apprehended in the vicinity of Inauguration Day protests in January 2017 — a group that included journalists who were on the scene to cover the demonstration, not to participate in it, let alone to participate in the property destruction that was committed by a small group of protesters. In December, a jury acquitted six of these defendants, but nearly 200 others are still facing prosecution.
One can make reasonable critiques of the campus left’s views on free speech. There are plenty of reasons to object to a mode of progressive politics that emphasizes suppressing reactionary views rather than rebutting them. But it is still difficult to defend the amount of space that American media outlets have devoted to the threat posed by left-wing activists trying to exercise the heckler’s veto against Charles Murray relative to the amount of space they’ve allocated to the U.S. government trying to prosecute protesters and journalists for dissent.
And it’s more than a bit ironic that, while leading free-speech advocates were decrying the excesses of those who insist that systemic racism pervades American life, president Trump’s FBI was prosecuting a black man for acts of dissent that would have made him a conservative hero, were his skin a lighter shade.