Rakem Balogun, a Dallas activist arrested by the FBI in December after two years of government surveillance, is a free man.
The case of Balogun, whose legal name is Christopher Daniels, drew national attention as supporters questioned whether he was being prosecuted as a “black identity extremist,” a relatively new government term coined in the wake of protests in Ferguson, Mo., for what the FBI deems a growing domestic terror threat. Balogun was only charged for unlawful possession of a firearm—he was convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault in Tennessee in 2007, and guns were seized during the FBI raid of his home in Dallas. A federal judge dismissed that charge this month, and Balogun was released from federal custody days ago.
But Balogun’s supporters, and the FBI itself, in a hearing following Balogun’s detention, say that he was initially targeted for his participation in an anti-policy brutality rally in Austin in 2015, and for social media posts Balogun made praising the killings of police officers, including one that said the Dallas police officers shot in July 2016 “deserve what they got.” The FBI, a federal agent testified, had first been hipped to the protest by videos posted on the right-wing conspiracy website Infowars.
Civil rights and privacy advocates rallied around Balogun as a case of the FBI violating free speech, and a federal agent conceded that Balogun had made no actual threats of violence. Other advocates say the “black identity extremist” term used by federal authorities is not only inaccurate—there is little evidence of any kind of coordinated movement of black radicals threatening violence against law enforcement—but is being used to target activists for little more than their race.
Balogun, in an interview with The Guardian after his release, says he lost his job and home while he was in federal custody. He assumes he will remain under FBI surveillance, but intends to continue his activism in Dallas, where he works with the black activist groups the Huey P. Newton Gun Club and Guerilla Mainframe.