FBI Director James Comey was fired on Tuesday, March 9. The
unpresidented unprecedented move left Washington and national news media reeling, with Trump’s critics raising the obvious question of what firing the man overseeing the investigation of the President’s alleged ties to Russia could entail. Even Trump’s Republican allies struggled for words, perhaps best exemplified in Senator Marco Rubio’s immediate urge for everyone to just “move on.”
The conversation of the day has largely focused on what this means. Many have assessed this move as a consolidation of power and an obvious attempt to undermine the FBI’s investigation into interference by Russian intelligence during the 2016 Presidential election. Parallels to Watergate have been drawn, the only other time a sitting President fired the person leading an investigation against him. Some have declared this moment the end of American democracy itself. All around, nervous speculation proliferates as people fear for the future.
What has been less discussed are the implications of this decision beyond the Russia probe. Some have noted that the Trump administration moved forward on the decision to fire Comey without finding a suitable replacement. Whether this is genius, arrogance, or simple incompetence is unimportant because on a base level, the outcome will be the same: Trump will likely appoint a yes-man who will reign the FBI’s activities back into the President’s comfort zone. This could possibly derail the Russia investigation, and would also result in Donald Trump having the firmest grip over the FBI of any US President in history.
The particular danger this presents to communities of color arises from a combination of factors: the President’s unabashedly racist policy goals, his volatile temperament, and the utter disdain he and members of the Republican administration have displayed for social movements advocating for communities of color such as BlackLivesMatter and NoDAPL. The FBI, like all law enforcement organizations, has a long history of harassing, surveilling, and terrorizing activists of color that continues to this day. Though it might be difficult to imagine how much worse the FBI could possibly get, the truth is that it can always get worse. Especially if the FBI transitions from an independently operated arm of the state to the President’s personal domestic police.
Though any predictions as to the eventual outcome of this moment are purely speculative, these are considerations that social movements, especially in the American Left, cannot afford to ignore. Trump has already ordered the Department of Homeland Security to direct resources away from investigating White nationalist terrorism. Could the FBI be asked to do the same? What would this mean? What would FBI investigations and campaigns against organizers of color look like if they were guided by Trump’s whims and personal opinions rather than the (albeit still-racist and still-violent) existing bureaucracy? What lines might the FBI begin to cross that it had previously avoided? What are the strategic and tactical implications of such changes on our movement(s)?
America has never been a friendly place for those who have demanded liberation and dignity for all. Although no one can say for sure what lies ahead, what is certain is that these changes will not make the work easier or safer. If we are to eventually succeed, or at the very least, live to fight another day or another presidency, we will have to be prepared for the worst eventualities, which may be coming sooner than we think.