Tracking Hate Crimes, Tracking the FBI’s Crimes

Over the last month since the horrific tragedy in Oak Creek, WI, Sikh civil rights organizations and other leaders in the community seem to have come to a consensus on what our collective demand should be to move forward — getting the FBI to track hate crimes against Sikhs.  A few weeks ago Valarie Kaur wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, “Sikhs deserve the dignity of being a statistic,” in which she convincingly articulates the basic argument that many are making:

The FBI tracks all hate crimes on Form 1-699, the Hate Crime Incident Report. Statistics collected on this form allow law enforcement officials to analyze trends in hate crimes and allocate resources appropriately. But under the FBI’s current tracking system, there is no category for anti-Sikh hate crimes. The religious identity of the eight people shot in Oak Creek will not appear as a statistic in the FBI’s data collection. As a Sikh American who hears the rising fear and concerns in my community, I join the Sikh Coalition and Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) in calling for the FBI to change its policy and track hate crimes against Sikhs.

We’ve all probably gotten numerous action alerts to sign petitions, call our Senators, and, most recently, to attend tomorrow’s Senate hearing on hate violence in Washington, DC.  The Sikh Coalition’s email advisory today about tomorrow’s hearing begins, “Be Present and Request that the FBI Track Hate Crimes Against Sikhs.”

It seems like a sensible request.  The FBI is a government agency responsible for investigating hate crimes, so of course they should be looking specifically at attacks targeting Sikhs and have a category to enable them to do so.  While I am sympathetic to this cause, I am a bit troubled by it, or have some questions about it, as well.

While I am not necessarily against the idea of a Sikh box for the FBI to check in the case of a hate attack against a Sikh, I am very skeptical of the FBI being an agency capable of working in the best interests of our community.  To put it directly, I don’t trust them.  And I’m not sure there is any reason for our community at large to trust them.  Isn’t trust a prerequisite to inviting someone with a whole lot of power and resources into your homes, your schools, your houses of worship?

So, why don’t I trust the FBI (and perhaps why shouldn’t you trust them either)?  In a word: COINTELPRO.  COINTELPRO was the FBI’s secret (and illegal) program to spy on, intimidate, infiltrate, and ultimately, undermine groups and individuals working for racial, social, and economic justice in the 1960s and 1970s — by any means necessary, including planting false documents, wrongful imprisonment, and even assassination. Groups and individuals targeted include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., NAACP, American Indian Movement, Students for a Democratic Society, and of course, the Black Panthers (to name a few).  This one minute video encapsulates it well:

Whether you are familiar with this ugly history of the FBI or not, you might be thinking — well things are different now.  The FBI is not led by a repressive, perhaps fascist, ideologue like J. Edgar Hoover any more.  This is 2012, and Barack Obama is our president!

However, the FBI’s track record in the domestic War on Terror illuminates the sobering reality that things perhaps aren’t so different today than in the days of COINTELPRO.  The target, in this case, has by and large been Muslims.  The FBI has extensively spied on Muslims in their mosques and community centers in the last several years, sometimes even in the name of “community outreach.”  In one documented case, the FBI even got a Sikh man to do their dirty work in a mosque in Iowa, as Jodha previously wrote about.

Perhaps their most controversial tactic is entrapment — when they send in an informant (who is basically bribed by the FBI) to create anti-American fervor amongst their targets and convince someone to get involved in a fake terror plot.  A recent episode of This American Life tells the story of an informant — posing as a Muslim convert — who showed up at a mosque in Orange County, CA, just after the FBI publicly visited the mosque to assure Muslims community members that they weren’t being spied on and to encourage a cooperative relationship.  I highly recommend checking out the podcast to get a very real sense of the FBI’s tactics in the present day.

The FBI has even been caught in entrapment schemes targeting the Occupy movement.  A recent article in Rolling Stone describes a case from Cleveland, OH involving Occupy activist preparing for May Day actions:

The guy who convinced the plotters to blow up a big bridge, led them to the arms merchant, and drove the team to the bomb site was an FBI informant. The merchant was an FBI agent. The bomb, of course, was a dud. And the arrest was part of a pattern of entrapment by federal law enforcement since September 11, 2001, not of terrorist suspects, but of young men federal agents have had to talk into embracing violence in the first place.

If this is not enough to be skeptical of the FBI, consider their role in the secret detentions of Muslims in the United States post-9/11.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the FBI conducted indiscriminate roundups of mostly Muslim men in the United States. About 1,200 people were arrested. According to the Migration Policy Institute , the government “refused to release their names or their place of detention” and the detainees “were barred from contacting their lawyers.” Furthermore, the institute states, “many detainees taken into custody in connection with investigations subsequent to the attacks were arrested without warrant, held without charge for long periods, detained despite an immigration judge’s decision to release them on bond, and detained even after a final determination of their cases.” Many of the people arrested after 9/11 were deported back to their countries of origin.

There is a bitter irony to all of this when we reflect upon the root causes of such white supremacist atrocities like that of August 5th in Oak Creek.  We turn to our government for support, we turn to the FBI for support, when their very policies have helped make the vilification of Muslims the status quo in post-9/11 America.  This vilification, which has so often been the cause of much of the hatred and violence we Sikhs have experienced in the last 11 years.  I’m not saying Wade Page walked into that gurdwara because of the FBI, but I’m saying we have to look at the bigger picture when trying to understand white supremacist violence.  We are quick to assume agencies like the FBI are on our side, but when we look at their policies of spying, entrapment, and detention — not only targeting Muslims but also social justice activists — does it seem like they’re on our side?  Do they seem worthy of our trust, of our cooperation?

It may not seem like Sikhs are the target of these policies of repression now, but who’s to say we won’t be in the future?  (And does it even matter if we are the target if other communities are being targeted, given our commitment to sarbat da bhala?)  Government spying and repression is nothing new for Sikhs — indeed, I seldom meet a Sikh activist who would ever trust the Indian government.  So again I ask, why are we so quick to trust the US government, and even more specifically, the FBI?  Whether we get our Sikh check box or not, whether we get to be a legitimate FBI statistic or not, I hope we can begin to ponder these questions as a community.

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81 Responses to “Tracking Hate Crimes, Tracking the FBI’s Crimes”

  1. Gurpreet Singh says:

    totally agree, all these orgs needs to do more research before involving elected members. These orgs are doing great work but at the same time they are always out there to grab limelight and work with 'we did it first' attitude which defeats the basic Sikh principle of selfless sewa

  2. Bostonvala says:

    Need to work with the system and then work to change it. At a high level brooklynwala makes sense. But when we engage with filth, but remain detached like the lotus flower, there is a potential to cleanse the filth and reveal the beautiful and clean. Running away from an opportunity to do so is shirking from our responsibility. Another perspective is, and I'm a big believer in that because of my engineering and business experience – you can't improve something that you can't measure, and you can't measure something you don't track. So its plain an simple – government needs to track hate crimes in all categories to figure out where to allocate resources to improve the situation. Finally, this is America – the wheel that squeaks the most gets the oil. Sikh haven't used our prowess at asserting ourselves here in the US. Now is the time!

  3. brooklynwala says:

    a friend just brought this news to my attention– an 18-year-old just arrested in Chicago in another case of FBI entrapment:

  4. I think it is right to ask such questions, but I'm finding this post a little bit problematic. My sense is that we are conflating two issues related to the FBI and in doing so are "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

    The reporting of hate crimes statistics is a separate issue from clandestine or questionable FBI tactics. The data is already being collected and what is being asked is that it be collected more precisely. I don't consider the data aspect as harmful to Sikhs or other minorities, and quite the opposite, it provides leverage for action. And, while the Oak Creek shootings brought this conversation to a greater audience, the issue of reporting categories has existed well before it was recently taken up in a higher profile way after Oak Creek. Looking more broadly, hate crimes reporting is but one aspect to the hate crimes issue that needs to be addressed.

    And, in a certain way, it is a small step towards the greater point of this post: holding the FBI accountable for their actions.

  5. jodha says:

    @AmericanTurban – so one can assume that hate crime statistics are collected for Muslim and Arab groups. What have they received from this information? What is the end goal for those taking part in this call?

    I think the real problematic conflations is that of 'dignity' and 'statistics'. I have always thought those two words were as far as can be from one another.

  6. Tejinder says:

    Thought regarding “Sikh” based civil rights orgs.
    These are great orgs. I think they lack one thing and I could be mistaken that is the understanding of the American assimilation machine and its framework. What these groups are doing is beneficial to the community, but we are a religious based community not like Mexicans or Vietnamese etc. which are nation based lack of the understanding of the assimilation machine will result in distortion of Sikh ideology in America in the long run.

    Conspiracy theory?
    Here are some thoughts I have been having since the shooting in Wisconsin and the amount of political and media attention Sikh have gotten.
    India and China are predicted to grow faster than the USA economically and both states are nuclear powered. One tactic most governments use against each other specially Russia, USA, UK and France. That is decentralizing the governments from within. As India grows more powerful economically and military wise, and is aligning with China and Russia I believe under “Changhi alliance” in order to make sure at least India is destabilized Sikhs can be easily used in the north as a tool to make this happen and in the south the Tighers. All this government needs to do is fund the Khalistan movement from the Sikh end which is easy to do through Pakistan.

  7. nuanceishard says:

    Nuance is hard.

    The call here is for utter alienation from the mainstream of our society. American turban is much more realistic.

    All-good vs all-bad, all the time.

  8. nuanceishard says:

    And bostonvala.

  9. naunce says:

    When all you have is a hammer everything is a nail. Anglo can mean whatever it does in your subjective reading, it says more about how you see questions of law politics and choice.

    You choose alienation and what you see as resistance to the power structure which ironically is always an other to fear and hate or at best tolerate- white straight rich male anglo capital power. If this wasn’t a sikh site i would like to think i would let it go. But thing is at the end of the day the same jot is in the white rich straight fbi male and if you are trying to get us to fear and mistrust the outer label and not the inner jot it’s not the same sikhi I’m trying to get closer to.

  10. naunce says:

    one question implicity asked is which federal security agency might be most amenable to reform. In some respect it’s a question of rule of law. Does rule of law obtain such that it’s reasonable to become part of a process of reform. You seem to suggest no and I’m saying that would be an error. You suggest that the program you reference is proof of your claim. I would say you are in error because of the standard of rule of law in the us and other anglosphere nations is such that reform is possible and a better position than the inchoate call for resistance described here. And also this call is only appropriating sikhi

  11. A few final comments that I'd like to add…

    I think we also shouldn't conflate individual equality/liberty with broader human rights concerns. They are not mutually exclusive. For Sikhs to work with the FBI or have the right to join the US military does not necessarily endorse human rights issues related to the FBI or actions by the military. There is room to address both aspects. We needn't surrender one aspect in the cause for the other. Instead, we should campaign for justice on both fronts.

    Let us also not forget that despite the government atrocities against Sikhs and the general population, and the personal losses of his great-grandfather, father, mother, four sons and thousands of Sikhs at the hand of the Mughal emperor and rule, even Guru Gobind Singh had made the journey south with the intent to meet with Aurangzeb and engage in dialogue. At the same time, the Guru also led his effort to empower the people. The Guru used a multitude of approaches – dialogue with the oppressor was one of them. Perhaps this was an expression of optimism in chardi kala.

    This could just by my interpretation of history. However, I believe there is a precedent directly connected with the Gurus to engage with government/rulers to promote peace and equality, and we shouldn't lose sight of those lessons today.

  12. naunce says:

    Completely dubious account of a what and how Guru Gobind Singh interacted with Banda Bahadur on. You are creating scenes to justify your inquilabi myth story. Present the full story of Bandas campaign and let people decide if that was a fully faithful campaign to the message in gurubani

  13. Sher says:

    Amusing versions (read twist) of how Banda Bahadur came to avenge Guru's humiliation and save Sikhi/Tat Khalsa in the process. The neo-Khalsa posters are, in my opinion, write from a supremacist perspective. If there were such potent "plan B" in place, 'Plan A' would not have failed so miserably. And yes, let there be a discussion on the "full story of Banda's campaign".

    Why stop there, would someone dare to comment whether the current reverence of extremists, ruthless killers in Gurudwaras a true reflection of the Gurbani.

  14. Confu-Singh says:

    "Everywhere the white man go he bring misery. All throughout history, look it up … Every government he set up, it be corrupt. " – Dead Prez

    Human first, Gendered-Man after, White-gendered-man most recent.

    The FBI, Police, Army, etc… all propogate violence, xenophobia, etc….to the utmost- its called job duty and security. Yes there are individuals who decide to live and act otherwise, but these individuals are not the majority.

    The Nation/State is a corporate entity with a security force. The security force might even "help people/individuals/communities" but usually that is a by product. The security force is there to protect the interests of the corporation- financial and otherwise.

    Im all for tolerance amongst all beings, I just dont think the FBI is gonna be the guide that get's us there.

    I love the internet, I can ramble my jumbled thoughts, and appreciate my own narcissism.

    Thanks for the article- Did you talk to members of the orgs you mentioned above? Have you talked to Valarie Kaur and Groundswell about the talking to FBI? You know SALDEF is gonna celebrate her accomplishments together at their Gala. One of the first things they recognize is her work with getting the FBI to track hate crimes.

    The Ivy League Elites within the Sikh Community are gonna have the most "influence" as "leaders" in the community. Nothing new in the assimilation machine. Whats their response to your writing?

    Wait we always have Jindal and Randhawa to hold it down for the Sikhs in politics, so dont worry.

  15. naunce says:

    No no the internet is where you stake claim to rev cred by saying ridiculous things that you have no intention of ever examining in light of another perspective but your own echo chamber hot house self righteous ideology

  16. Ram Sahai Singh says:

    One thing that most people don't do well when they feel passionate about an issue is balanced fair thinking that embodies absolute equality. Remember we are all the same, the FBI is no different. They are human and make human error and yes have been known to be heavy handed at times. However many that criticize the agency are the same and have been known to do the same. I do not agree with all of their techniques and operations and neither do others that have been in or are in law enforcement to include the FBI agents themselves. I think the major issue is that the agency is too big to manage efficiently. There are three distinct types of investigatory functions that could be separated into 3 more manageable agencies.

  17. Ram Sahai Singh says:

    Now yes we should expect perfection from our government, however governments are made of people and error does occur and the agency does have remedy procedures for error. Some have been in the news and others have not. Ask yourself what have you done to smooth the energy so that their minds increase and find success in a peaceful manner. Do you add to the noise or do you provide a wave of peaceful vibration so that their minds find the right thing to do in difficult situations. A persons willpower is known however the effects of that willpower over others is still a grey area to most, in the mainstream of society today. However those of us that study ancient religious/social texts and/or have a mystical connection in that area know all too well the effects of such association karma. Such association karma when strong in its way of disruption has been called spells and black magic. The battle of wills is actually a battle of disruptive karma. The course that we are to take as Gurusikhs is one of peace and empowerment. Chant the Naam, Chant the Naam, Chant the Naam and when you are finished Chanting the Naam, Chant the Naam again… Unless you are looking for "your" plan to manifest over the Lords….. However with that said, the Lord's plan is always manifesting, no matter what any one being chooses to do… Waheguru…

  18. Ram Sahai Singh says:


  19. Confu-Singh says:

    @singh, groundswell isnt alone in its efforts for fbi trackin, what i want to express is saldef is honoring groundswell and its efforts in making it happen (and thus why it might be important to hear the orgs response to the brookly-wale’s thoughts). Not giving credit or(blame?) to groundswell or any org. Honestly, Do u represent any of those orgs?

  20. nuanceishard says:

    Just make sure you stay within the lines of acceptable discourse and agree with confused singh and dead prez and that way he treat you respectfully. Otherwise, watch out. He's a tiger.

  21. nuanceishard says:

    And hopefully you are not an Ivy league assimilationist. I wonder if Immortal technique has a rap song about the ivy league assimilation machine? Best of all, please be a human first, gendered male second and (?) white most recent. down with the man up with the people! Let's get free.

  22. Confu-Singh says:

    Nuance that is Ali G funny. U from Britain? i love the attention u are giving me, it makese feel eben more important, but really lets talk cointel pro.

  23. nuance says:

    Yeah Ali g is funny…is it cos he is black? Never mind i’ll guess you answer is yes.

  24. Confu-Singh says:

    Ali g is Sasha Cohen who is Jewish, and no he is not funny to me.

  25. nuance says:

    You do know that was a quote from ali g right? Ali g is a character by cohen who attributed every criticism of him as due to anti black racism because he was black, even though the character was not black. So if someone said ali g your joke is bad he would say is it cos i is black? Can’t really believe that needs to be explained but just in case

  26. nuance says:

    Your self righteousness is all world

  27. Confu-Singh says:

    Haha, I love your Passion….Christ like.

  28. nuance says:

    Wow. Call me Bobby next. Your worldivew is really blinkered. Is this the caliber of thought in favor here?

  29. nuance says:

    Can you begin to see ridiculous that kind of thinking is on a sikh website? Y’all have gotten lost in the valley and it makes sense now. Was blind but now i see.

  30. Confu-Singh says:

    We, are friends?

  31. Amit__ Singh says:

    So whatever happened to that tracking hate crimes thing? Are all of our "advocacy groups" too busy raising money now?

  32. Sundari says:

    A couple of things: This "hate crimes thing" is still being pursued. Just over a week ago, the Sikh Coalition and 150 supporting organizations organized the US Senate Hearings on Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism. Like any other civil rights change, this will not be achieved overnight. It will take consistent dedication from our Sikh orgs to make sure this occurs (and i can tell you it continues to be a priority). The second point being that Sikh organizations, just like other civil rights organizations, need to have resources and funding to get this work done. So yes, fundraising is an important part of the work. Anyone who thinks that fundraising is not needed to do advocacy work is disillusioned. It's frustrating that individuals within the community cannot make that connection.

  33. Amit__ Singh says:

    Oh ok…good to hear…I didn't know the great organization and "150 supporting organizations organized the US Senate Hearings"….I thought this post was about something else. And also didn't know that nothing is done overnight. Just like the army "case," the "kirpan bill," and the huge legal battle of bullying in schools which for some reason has been on such a rise after the turning point of nine eleven.

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  51. Nice Post, it was a good read, thanks

  52. Rob says:

    I really believe hate crimes could become so much less once we all move to Mr Brian's concept of multi family offices. People would just work together in peace.