FBI Voter Suppression Then, FBI Voter Suppression Now

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The FBI, apparently unsatisfied with the torrent of criticisms they have faced for allegedly intervening in the election, has now decided to pay visits to Muslims-Americans of Afghani and Pakistani national origin in eight states days before the election. According to the FBI, these individuals are being questioned in relation to an alleged pre-election day terror plot by al-Qaeda. In their usual style, the FBI is being rather vague as to what this plot consists of.

The close proximity to the election and vague nature of the visits (sound familiar?) has led some to claim what the FBI is doing is akin to voter suppression.

Hassan Shibly, Executive Director of the Council of Islamic American Relations-Florida, had this to say on the matter,

“The FBI actions . . . to conduct a sweep of American Muslim leaders the weekend before the election is completely outrageous and . . . borderline unconstitutional. That’s the equivalent of the FBI visiting churchgoing Christians because someone overseas was threatening to blow up an abortion clinic. It’s that preposterous and outrageous.”

This is not the first time the FBI has been accused of voter intimidation. In his 2010 book, The Dangers of Dissent: The FBI and Civil Liberties Since 1965, Ivan Greenberg recounts a now little remembered incident when in 1984 FBI agents descended across Alabama’s black belt to investigate “voter fraud.” In Greenberg’s account, 80 FBI agents were involved, they seized ballots, and questioned over one thousand voters. Others were questioned before an all-white grand jury. The offices of civil rights workers were raided and while eight individuals were indicted, all were acquitted of any major charges.

Greenberg situates this sweep as part of a “campaign against black electoral activity” whose targets “included supporters of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential election.” He goes on further to situate this incident in a pattern of the FBI’s spying on African American elected officials.

Emory University’s website features a 1985 article by Randall Williams which details the incident further. Williams’ article focuses on the “not guilty” verdicts of three civil rights workers and situates their trials within the “the Reagan Justice Department’s effort to help local white officials reverse the electoral gains of black voters in many rural counties of the South since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”

The FBI is no stranger to accusations of political meddling, which is why Congress desperately needs to investigate not only their activities during this election, but their rampant political spying, as well.