Let’s not act stupid and be provoked into self-destructive forms of protest that morally and politically undermines our precious BLM movement.
We must guard against infiltration by agents provocateurs, including the boogaloo movement. We must reject all forms of violence perpetrated by anyone in our name. And we must reject so-called allies who seek to hijack our movement for their own purposes, including activists who traffic in anti-Semitism, harness the power of BLM to delegitimize Israel as a nation state, or who seek to promote other unrelated causes or alliances.
These agents hurt our movement, damaging and undermining the enormous popular support we have built throughout our country, support that we require to succeed.
We must reject the temptation to adopt violent tactics and political agendas that are antithetical to our core moral vision and imperative strategic goals: to redeem the soul of America, to overcome the legacy of chattel slavery and systemic racial injustice in our nation, to end all forms of police violence and brutality in Black communities and all communities of color, and to carry out the further the structural transformation Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned when he called for a “revolution of values” in our country.
The meaning of the Black Lives Matter movement today
No domestic political social protest movement since Reconstruction, 1863-1877, following our Civil War and the subsequent civil rights movement in the 20th century under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 20th century has been as transformative as the Black Lives Matter movement. As a consequence, there is an enormous burden and challenge that confronts all of us who support our extraordinary movement, similar, but qualitatively different and greater in magnitude then any of the two political movements referenced above.
Like you, I can only read books and watch movies about the civil war, and about Reconstruction and its failure in 1877. But, unlike most of you, at least many of you, I was actively involved in the leadership of the Black Freedom Movement of the 1960s led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. I am honored to have joined Dr. King and many other American men and women, Black and white, whose participation made it possible to secure the extremely important success that we achieved, including the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the dismantling of Jim Crow segregation, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. But Dr. King made it clear at the 1963 March on Washington that “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” Nor can our movement be complete when our nation continues to be poisoned by mass incarceration, by extreme economic oppression, and gun violence, scourges that disproportionately victimize Black Americans.
What has occurred under the political leadership banner of the Black Lives Matter is historically unparalleled. Started as a protest movement in Ferguson after the shooting by police of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the BLM ignited a broad base of active protesters, Black, Brown and white Americans unprecedented in the history of social and political movements within the United States, to complete the unfinished work of our past struggles, and to mobilize the radical transformation necessary to finally achieve racial justice in our country.
It is precisely because of the current magnitude and quality of the broad-based BLM and it’s protests against police brutality against Black men and women that we have a moral obligation and political responsibility to require and maintain a level of discipline in our leadership and methods unparalleled before in our country.
Don’t let our movement be hijacked or derailed
Nonviolent mass movements such as ours have always been infiltrated by “agents provocateurs” seeking to derail and destroy the movement by inciting violence, or to hijack the movement for their own purposes which are antithetical to the movement’s core mission, values and goals. This was our experience during every major campaign of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Under Dr. King’s leadership, we were engaged in a constant struggle to adhere to our movement’s values, strategic objectives, and commitment to disciplined nonviolence.
Agents provocateurs come from the far right and from the far left, and potentially from law enforcement agencies themselves. Some have been paid by government officials or third party political entrepreneurs to infiltrate and sabotage nonviolent protests. From 1956 through 1979, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program used undercover agents to infiltrate and initiate covert actions to attack and undermine a wide range of organizations deemed by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to be subversive, including the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, the movement opposing the Vietnam War, feminist organizations and other political organizations on the left. I was personally subject to illegal surveillance and wiretapping by FBI agents for several years, and I can attest to the poisonous effects. Racial justice campaigns led by Dr. King were also infiltrated by Black individuals and groups who sought to initiate violence against police and local small business owners, and the struggle to keep our protests disciplined and nonviolent, in order to protect our movement, was unceasing.
We should not be surprised to be facing similar problems today. The success of our BLM movement today depends on addressing comparable threats and challenges with discipline, moral clarity, and strategic focus.
Today, I see two primary forms of “Agents Provocateurs”: those who would provoke and seek to undermine our commitment to nonviolence by injecting violent methods into our protests against police brutality and abuse. These include right-wing racist groups such as the so-called “Boogaloo” movement and other anti-government and white supremacist agitators. The other very serious threat comes from a political left who want to make support for the BLM conditioned upon equally supporting the “delegitimization” of the State of Israel. This occurs in the form of saying or proclaiming that the BLM movement is not authentic unless it embraces and incorporates a protest against the “criminal” State of Israel in alliance with the Palestinian boycott, divest, sanctions (BDS) movement.
I want to make clear that I am committed to the human rights of Palestinians. I am strongly opposed to proposals by the government of Binyamin Netanyahu to annex large portions of the occupied West Bank, and I strongly endorse the creation of a Palestinian state on those lands.
I am approaching my 90th birthday. Throughout all of my adult years, I have been devoted to supporting the state of Israel and criticizing it when I thought it was appropriate to do so. This never diminished my commitment to working in coalition with my many colleagues and friends within the Jewish community on several issues of importance to them, even while opposing Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land. This comes from a simple act of Remembrance and acknowledgement that the civil rights movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., in spite of his extraordinary abilities and talents and the unprecedented mobilization of Black activists and grassroots organizations, could not have been successful without the active support of the American Jewish community. It also comes from the painful recognition that neo-Nazi and other extreme white supremacy organizations use anti-Zionist rhetoric to mobilize support for racism against Jews and to inspire acts of anti-Semetic violence as we have tragically seen increasing in recent years, including the murder of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg.
The efforts of some activists in the BLM to focus our limited strategic resources to attacking Israel, or to merge BLM with the BDS movement, must be resisted and fought. The BLM is about police brutality against the Black community in the United States, and dismantling systems of structural racism in our country, period. Full Stop. Failure to maintain our disciplined focus on this transformative goal places at risk the greatest coalition of social and political protest in the history of our country.
Dr. King believed and publicly stated that anti-Zionist rhetoric was often a dog-whistle for anti-Semitism, which he always saw as a morally despicable form of white supremacy, no less poisonous and evil than anti-Black racism.
Of course one can oppose the policies of the Israeli government without being anti-Semitic, although we must be vigilant to exclude those elements that wish to inject anti-Jewish tropes, images, and chants.
Those who oppose Israel’s actions can continue to protest. As a personal matter, if the Netanyahu government carries out planned annexation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank, I might endorse or join these protests, because I am concerned that annexation would make it impossible for Palestinians to achieve self-determination by establishing a viable state side by side with Israel. However, I would only support such protests if they are focussed, disciplined and nonviolent, and they are not targeting Israel’s right to exist within its own secure borders; if I hear “Death to Israel” or other such chants I will vehemently denounce them, and remove myself from any connection to such protests, even if the vast majority of those participating are nonviolently defending Palestinian human rights.
To all of us who care deeply about the success of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States: Do not allow the BDS movement or individuals who are pursuing their own anti-Israel or anti-Jewish agendas to preempt or hijack the unprecedented domestic legitimacy of the BLM in our country today. Nor can we allow anti-government agitators on the right, including so-called “Boogaloo” groups, to damage our movement by their violent actions.
Our absolute commitment and strategic focus must be on the mobilization of disciplined mass nonviolence to protect Black communities and Black lives throughout the United States. This requires us to address the public health emergencies in our Black and other communities of color, whether the disproportionate affliction of Covid-19 or the scourge of gun violence in Atlanta, Chicago and other cities leading to the destruction of far too many Black lives.
The moral and political integrity of our movement depends on our ability to achieve systemic reforms in the criminal justice system, to end police brutality and create new and more humane forms of policing and public safety free of racism, and to purge from our communities violence, dehumanization and killing in all forms.
As I have said several times before: If not us, who? If not now, when?
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!
Clarence B. Jones
July 7, 2020