Forget about the war of words (and tweets) between President Trump and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Decisions and revelations made since Friday leave me with the discomfiting sense that the president is really at war with the American people. Wait, let me be specific. It would appear the president of the United States is at war with women, immigrants, African Americans or lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgender (LGBT) men and women.
Moments before sitting on a political panel for a National Public Radio event in Los Angeles last Friday, The Post reported that the Trump administration issued new rules that “significantly widen the range of employers and insurers that can invoke religious or moral beliefs to avoid the ACA requirement that birth control pills and other contraceptives be covered by insurance as part of preventive care.”
Then, on the heels of that bombshell, came news of the religious-freedom directive from the Justice Department. The 20 principles laid out by Attorney General Jeff Sessions reads more like a manual for those who want to use religious beliefs as an invisibility cloak for bigotry, especially numbers two, three and four.
2. The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.
The Free Exercise Clause protects not just the right to believe or the right to worship; it protects the right to perform or abstain from performing certain physical acts in accordance with one’s beliefs. Federal statutes, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”), support that protection, broadly defining the exercise of religion to encompass all aspects of observance and practice, whether or not central to, or required by, a particular religious faith.
3. The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.
The Free Exercise Clause protects not just persons, but persons collectively exercising their religion through churches or other religious denominations, religious organizations, schools, private associations, and even businesses.
4. Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government.
Constitutional protections for religious liberty are not conditioned upon the willingness of a religious person or organization to remain separate from civil society. Although the application of the relevant protections may differ in different contexts, individuals and organizations do not give up their religious-liberty protections by providing or receiving social services, education, or healthcare; by seeking to earn or earning a living; by employing others to do the same; by receiving government grants or contracts; or by otherwise interacting with federal, state, or local governments.
The impact this will have on LGBT Americans is entirely predictable and potentially dangerous. Forget about tussles over cakes. What about the LGBT person denied medical care by someone invoking religious freedom? That’s just one example of how the holier-than-thou could display their moral bankruptcy. The instability in the lives of LGBT Americans this will cause is akin to the instability in the lives of “Dreamers” instilled by the Trump administration.
The “hard-line immigration principles” released by the White House late Sunday is but the latest policy lurch by the president and adds to the terrifying uncertainty that now clouds the lives of those relying on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Yeah, yeah, Dreamers are undocumented. Their parents brought them here illegally. But, for many if not most of them, this nation is the only home they know. They are American in their hearts. Would that Congress had the moral clarity to make them American by law. Deporting them would be a moral failing and national disgrace.
All of these actions are chilling. But the headline for a bombshell story in ForeignPolicy.com (of all places) turned my blood to ice: “The FBI’s new U.S. terrorist threat: ‘Black identity extremists.’” The 11-page report looks at six “targeted attacks” against police officers that have occurred since 2014. And in a linguistic sleight-of-hand rebrands “black separatist extremists” into “black identity extremists” (BIE).
The FBI has previously reported on BIE retaliatory violence against law enforcement in two products, both of which had findings consistent with this assessment. The 23 March 2016 FBI intelligence bulletin, titled “(U//FOUO) Black Separatist Extremists’ Call for Retaliation in Response to Police-Involved Incidents Could Incite Acts of Violence against Law Enforcement,”….
I’ve heard of black separatist movements and their penchant for violence before. But the new “black identity” designation is so broad it could sweep up anyone protesting police-involved shootings of unarmed African Americans. Just look at this blanket statement on page 4.
The FBI judges it is very likely BIE perceptions of police brutality against African Americans have become organizing drivers for the BIE movement since 2014, resulting in a spike of BIEs intentionally targeting law enforcement with violence.
Without question, real police brutality against African Americans have become organizing drivers for blacks and others horrified by the videos of African Americans dying at the hands of law enforcement. Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott and so many others moved people to their feet in vocal protest. Even shootings that don’t get caught on video have engendered protest.
Folks have been protesting in St. Louis since Sept. 15 when then-police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted in the December 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Hundreds have been arrested, including 143 people on Oct. 3 when they blocked a local highway. In light of the FBI’s report, the photo on The Post’s Google+ account on Sept. 18 (see above) was as unnerving as the caption that went along with it: “St. Louis officers chant ‘whose streets, our streets’ while arresting protesters against police killing.”
Now, read the FBI’s “Outlook” at the end of the report.
(U//FOUO) The FBI assesses it is very likely that BIEs’ perceptions of unjust treatment of African Americans and the perceived unchallenged illegitimate actions of law enforcement will inspire premeditated attacks against law enforcement over the next year. This may also lead to an increase in BIE group memberships, collaboration among BIE groups, or the appearance of additional violent lone offenders motivated by BIE rhetoric. The FBI further assesses it is very likely additional controversial police shootings of African Americans and the associated legal proceedings will continue to serve as drivers for violence against law enforcement. The FBI assesses it is likely police officers of minority groups are also targeted by BIEs because they are also representative of a perceived oppressive law enforcement system.
(U//FOUO) Possible indicators for BIEs posing a violent threat to law enforcement include advocating for violence against law enforcement, violent anti-white rhetoric, attempts to acquire illegal weapons or explosives, and affiliations with others in both the BSE and sovereign citizen extremist movements.
The implications of using six targeted killings of law enforcement to issue a sweeping assessment of peaceful protesters are frightening to consider. “Individual acts do not a legitimate law enforcement categorization make,” a former justice department official told me. “White supremacists are historically and contemporaneously to be viewed as a law enforcement concern – they act as violent units. Young black people taking to the streets and having meetings is quite different.”
Once again, Charlottesville was set upon by Richard Spencer and other white supremacists (read, bigots) over the weekend. “We will be back,” they chanted. Their numbers were much smaller than the tiki-torch bearing, Nazi-saluting rabble that terrorized that city and killed Heather Heyer in August. But they wouldn’t feel liberated to parade around unmasked in the first place if a strong voice rooted in moral authority were emanating from the Oval Office. If the president of the United States weren’t at war with his own people.
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