by Jeremy Miller
On Jan. 6, 2021, when the United States Capitol was stormed by violent “Trump or Die” types, the Red, White and Blue true believers were stunned at the apparent pregnability of their “Citadel of Democracy.” For those less taken by the national mythos but still benefiting from the structure enough to avoid its most glaring violences (here I am referring primarily to the so-called “progressives”), there was likewise a stupefied gaze at the level of vertical integration of white patriarchal supremacist radicalism into the halls of power itself.
This was exposed by chicken-hawking members of Congress and the former president egging on the assault as well as by Capitol police literally opening the gates to let the marauding ideologues in. The FBI began making arrests within hours of the assault and to date has arrested and charged 173 people out of an alleged 400 “suspects.”
One month after the attack, and subsequent to the tense but successful completion of a transfer of the U.S. presidency, there has been a relative return to normalcy. There are no longer daily threats of “armed insurrection” pumped out in the 24-hour news cycle.
Notwithstanding the impending Trump Senate trial, the legendarily fickle U.S. attention span has largely turned elsewhere and the endemic political amnesia has returned with a vengeance. No clearer indication of this can be found than by watching the dangerously evolving flirtation between those who would construe themselves as “anti-fascists” and the FBI.
When you drive across the Bay Bridge these days, you will be accosted by a digital billboard featuring the seal of the FBI. It says in bold letters (clearly more important than keeping your eyes on the road) “SEEKING INFORMATION U.S. CAPITOL VIOLENCE REPORT TIPS fbi.gov/U.S. Capitol.” Below it lists the innocuous number 1-800-CALL-FBI.
This is not unique to the San Francisco Bay Area. In the last few weeks these digital appeals for crowd sourced denunciations of “insurrectionists” have become ubiquitous across the nation. In addition, article upon article on every major platform is debating ad-nauseum what the FBI could and should have known or done with regards to intelligence that would constitute early warning for the events of Jan. 6.
In May of 2020 the FBI opened more than 300 domestic terrorism investigations, the majority of which were not specifically linked to white identity or militia movements. They also arrested nearly 100 people this summer in Portland alone, not to mention dozens of racial justice activists around the country. Many of these investigations are still open and ongoing.
On social media platforms, people usually critical of law enforcement have begun to debate amongst themselves whether they are serving some greater social good by dropping dime on their local angry Peckerwood. The thread that ties these things together is an understated assumption that the FBI is here to protect us, and somehow Jan. 6 was a failure of that protection.
The implication is that the FBI must therefore be reified with our help so that we can become safe again, and all in the name of fighting white supremacy. The PR coup here is extraordinary … and dangerous.
Tempting as it might be at this point to take a trip down the COINTELPRO rabbit hole, the truth is that there is more than enough evidence of the hostility of the FBI available by just focusing on 2020. For example, on June 26, 2020, former Attorney General William Barr announced the inception of a new task force on “violent anti-government extremists.” This was an inter-agency initiative, but the FBI was and is the dominant enforcement agency.
And much as one might think to associate this task force with, say for example, investigating Proud Boys, such activities were more of a footnote than a centerpiece of their work. What this task force was really designed to do was to consolidate the ongoing surveillance and repression of largely Black and Brown leftist activists who were on the move for racial justice after the assassination of George Floyd. A partial history of this racial preference is presented in a Guardian op-ed by former FBI agent Mike German which was published the same day as Barr’s announcement.
This cognitive dissonance – if you believe the FBI is justice oriented – can also be seen in the fact that starting in May of 2020 the FBI opened more than 300 domestic terrorism investigations, the majority of which were not specifically linked to white identity or militia movements. They also arrested nearly 100 people this summer in Portland alone, not to mention dozens of racial justice activists around the country. Many of these investigations are still open and ongoing.
And all this despite the fact that as recently as Sept. 17, 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated to the House Homeland Security Committee that “the majority of those, of the racially-motivated violent extremist acts, are fueled by some kind of white supremacy.”
A final note on this point is that Barr’s “violent anti-government extremists” task force was run by two Trump appointed U.S. attorneys, Craig Carpenito of New Jersey and Erin Nealy Cox of Texas. Carpenito announced his resignation on Dec. 14, 2020, and Cox announced hers three days later on Dec. 17. These were to go into effect on Jan. 5, 2021, for Carpenito and Jan. 8, 2021, for Cox. I don’t think it takes a conspiracy theorist to connect these resignations to the Capitol assault on Jan. 6.
“Either way, I wasn’t about to let someone get ‘Mike Brown’d’ here on Haight Street.”
But if the clearly velvet-gloved treatment of the most violent (non-police) domestic extremists on account of their skin privilege at the same time as those of us “pigmented people” are overly-targeted for enforcement is not enough to make one question the FBI, perhaps attempted murder will do the trick. Let’s flashback to February of 2020 and the under-reported case of Tad Crane.
On Feb. 8, 2020, shortly before midnight in San Francisco at the iconic intersection of Haight and Ashbury, a few locals were doing what they do. That is to say, on the most famous Hippie block in the world, a few street kids were rolling a joint and playing a guitar!
When one person “skimmed a little weed” from the joint and passed it to the only Black man who was partaking, a stranger in street clothes suddenly appeared from across the street slamming the brother into the wall while fraudulently (and arguably illegally) claiming to be police. Because this stranger did not show a badge and there were known to have been recent incidents of individuals falsely claiming to be law enforcement to facilitate robbery, Tad Crane (who had been playing guitar) confronted the assailant, accusing him of being a “fake cop.”
The assailant at this point in time pulled out a firearm and began brandishing it indiscriminately towards multiple people and animals present. Within moments he had the gun fixed on Mr. Crane, who continued to ridicule the now armed assailant. Mr. Crane allegedly set his guitar down and told the man, “Dude, take your BB gun to your momma’s house.”
Tad then clearly showed he was unarmed by lifting his shirt with both hands, at which point the stranger stumbled backwards and shot Mr. Crane twice in the chest and abdomen. It is nothing short of miraculous that Tad Crane survived the night.
The subsequent investigation revealed that Mr. Crane’s assailant was in fact an off-duty FBI agent who witnesses have suggested may have been drinking prior to the murderous assault. I spoke with Tad at San Francisco General Hospital roughly a week after the shooting, and he reiterated to me his belief that he was dealing with a civilian as opposed to law enforcement, but added surreptitiously, “Either way, I wasn’t about to let someone get ‘Mike Brown’d’ here on Haight Street.”
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, there was quite a bit of local energy pushing for accountability from the FBI, but just as the momentum was building, a fresh catastrophe jutted up. On March16, Mayor London Breed announced the first novel coronavirus shelter-in-place order for any major city in the country.
The pandemic understandably overtook the news of an FBI shooting and also introduced mass confusion as to what constituted safe and legitimate association under the new conditions. The combination of these two factors dealt a one-two punch to the efforts for accountability, and that amnesia set in again.
If we are truly to take away a lesson from the violence of 2020, it must be that the rot in this country is primarily institutional, not insurrectional, and that Audre Lorde was prescient when she wrote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
When the George Floyd assassination happened a couple months later, this case was overlooked because despite the renewed activity in the streets against state violence, between Tad Crane being white and the fact that no media source reported the altercation had originated with the FBI assaulting a Black man whom Tad had intervened to protect, it did not appear to fit the globally galvanizing narrative.
Now as the gaze returns to the FBI one year later, we can correct this omission. As we are being openly solicited to contact the agency about capitol violence, ostensibly in the name of our protection from violent white supremacists, we should ask them why a potentially inebriated white agent who assaulted a Black man and nearly murdered his white defender, a clear example of capital violence (18 U.S. Code § 242 – Deprivation of rights under color of law) has gone unaddressed?
When will Tad Crane receive justice? More generally, when will we face the hard truth that statistically the most dangerous white supremacists within and without the Capitol wear badges? If we are truly to take away a lesson from the violence of 2020, it must be that the rot in this country is primarily institutional, not insurrectional, and that Audre Lorde was prescient when she wrote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
If we overstand this, then we can forget the fake benevolence of the FBI and start the much more difficult work of seeing each other, holding each other – across racial, gender, class, religious and other lines – and embodying the exhortation of Dr. King, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools.” If we choose the later path, no agency or government will ever be able to save us.
Jeremy Miller is co-director of the Idriss Stelley Foundation, part of the POOR Magazine family, organizer with the Black Alliance for Peace and a graduate of San Francisco State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.