This September 11, law enforcement officials are reportedly on high alert for attacks on white people and police officers — attacks that conservative media is warning will come from Black Lives Matter activists. But the threat is mostly imaginary. And there's no evidence that they come from Black Lives Matter.
That hasn't stopped the Daily Caller, a conservative site, from reporting that several law enforcement agencies were sending out "BOLO" (Be On the LookOut) alerts for "Black Lives Matter attacks" on police. Their evidence that activists were planning to attack police: an online video declaring "open season on white people," recorded by one of the organizers of a group called "F**k Yo Flag" — which is encouraging people to hold rallies on September 11 to burn the US flag, in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and around the country.
The Daily Caller and other conservative sites like Breitbart portray "F**k Yo Flag" as an outcropping of the Black Lives Matter movement — and since "Black Lives Matter" is a lot more well-known, other outlets are running with the "Black Lives Matter attacks" narrative. But the evidence connecting the two is more or less nonexistent — and says a lot more about the willingness of some people to believe that protests against police brutality are inherently dangerous than about the actual state of the Black Lives Matter movement.
What is "F**k Yo Flag"?
#FuckYoFlag is what it sounds like: a rejection of America and its flag in the name of rejecting white supremacy. Essentially, the supporters of #FuckYoFlag are taking the sentiments many people feel toward the Confederate flag — that it's a symbol of racist oppression that doesn't deserve respect — and arguing that America is also a white supremacist nation and, thus, the same logic applies.
The hashtag appears to have started this spring, after college student Eric Sheppard was photographed stepping on an American flag at a protest, and was subsequently charged with carrying a firearm in his backpack while on campus.
The firearms charge appears to be justified, but some people believed Sheppard was being targeted because of his actions — which are, of course, protected under the First Amendment. So some people on social media took up the "Eric Sheppard Challenge," which involved posting photos of themselves stepping on American flags. The #FuckYoFlag hashtag appears to have grown out of that challenge.
It's really hard to tell how many people are actually affiliated with "Fuck Yo Flag" (sometimes also spelled "Fuk Yo Flag"), or how many participated in the Eric Sheppard Challenge. But because some conservatives were riled up by the very idea of the Eric Sheppard Challenge — and by particularly provocative photos showing people using the American flag as toilet paper — the challenge got a certain amount of media play.
The FYF "movement" does exist; there is a website (that implausibly claims "FUCK YO FLAG (#FYF911) is the most powerful movement in the world right now"), and the online radio show 2 Raw 4 TV has adopted the movement as a cause. But it's difficult to tell how many of the people following the movement's organizers on social media are legitimately interested and how many are white conservatives looking for a fight.
Conservatives and conservative media have been tracking FYF for a while, and painting them as a violent splinter group of the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the summer, Breitbart News reported that a white military veteran who'd gotten on an FYF conference call was accused of being an infiltrator and that FYF members threatened to kill his pregnant wife; there doesn't appear to be evidence of this beyond the veteran's word, and the host of 2 Raw 4 TV released a video saying those were "false rumors with no truth whatsoever."
What is #FYF911?
This summer, the organizers of FYF started calling for people to hold protests on September 11 to burn "the American flag, Confederate flag, British flag, KKK hood, police uniform and/or any other symbol of organized colonialism, racism or imperialism."
Why September 11? There's clearly a bit of 9/11 trutherism mixed in with the FYF movement; the website says, "We recognize that these imperial powers attacked their own citizens on 9/11 in an attempt to gain more power from its people," and the host of 2 Raw 4 TV tweeted:
IF YOU THINK 9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB HASHTAG #FYF911 NOW!— Palmetto_Star (@Palmetto_Star) September 10, 2015
Is F**k Yo Flag plotting to kill white people on 9/11?
On August 30, King Noble, one of the leaders of FYF, posted a cellphone video to YouTube in which he talked about several recent shootings of police officers, and declared it "open season" on white people and police officers. The video doesn't actually tell viewers to do anything, and it doesn't explicitly tie the "open season" to the 9/11 protests (though in a subsequent video, King Noble "announced the secret location" of the Atlanta protest to be Stone Mountain).
A conservative YouTuber posted an edited selection of the audio from King Noble's video as "#blacklivesmatter #fyf911 Open season on killing whites and cops." The YouTuber (whose handle is Illwriteit.com) said the audio came from an online radio show affiliated with FYF hosted on blogtalk.com. That appears inaccurate: 2 Raw 4 TV is hosted on blogtalk.com, and King Noble is a frequent guest, but it doesn't appear to have posted an episode on the day Illwriteit claimed. In any event, the audio is identical to sections of King Noble's original YouTube video.
Illwriteit's YouTube video, with the edited version of King Noble's remarks, is the one law enforcement officers picked up on, according to the Daily Caller. Law enforcement started sending out alerts this week to be on the lookout for black anti-police violence on September 11. The Daily Caller sees the story as evidence that Black Lives Matter is more dangerous than people think; when I read the story on their site, I got this overlaid on the story's text:
No hate crimes against police officers or white people have been reported as of this writing.
How is Black Lives Matter involved with all of this?
There is a big, big difference between "some dude on the internet says it's open season on police" and "the Black Lives Matter movement is planning to attack police officers." Conservative media outlets vacillate between calling FYF a "splinter group" of Black Lives Matter, and portraying the two as the same (as the phrases "Black Lives Matter attacks" used by the Daily Caller and Raw Story, and "Black Lives Matter 9/11 Anniversary Threat" used by the International Business Times, imply). But they're insistent on establishing a connection.
Because Black Lives Matter is such an amorphous movement — even people extremely active within the movement have disagreed about who gets to "represent" it in meetings with presidential candidates — it's impossible, and foolish, to try to define what "affiliated" means. The YouTuber who posted King Noble's edited audio — and referred to it as "#blacklivesmatter #fyf911 open season" — based the association on a segment of King Noble's video that said this:
the Black Lives Matter movement wasn't enough. We tried to appeal to them, to let them know that this kind of thing would happen. They thought they were indestructible and invincible...and now they got black men out there who just can't. Take it. Any. More. And they're willing to act out.
The YouTuber claims this means "#blacklivesmatter admits to being affiliated." And sure, the use of "we" could imply that King Noble considered himself a part of Black Lives Matter, but now thinks black people need to go further. But it's also possible to read it as a rejection of Black Lives Matter.
What King Noble personally feels about Black Lives Matter, however, doesn't establish whether what he says can be attributed to the movement at all. And there just doesn't seem to be any attention paid to him, or to #FYF911, by known Black Lives Matter members. There has been some discussion on Twitter about what 9/11 should mean in the context of Black Lives Matter. Some people see the "Never Forget" attitude toward the attack and its victims as the type of respect Americans are all too willing to give to innocent people killed by nonwhites but all too unwilling to give to nonwhite people killed by white people; others point out that black people were killed in 9/11 too. But FYF, let alone "open season," simply hasn't been a public topic of discussion among the people who have emerged as leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Black Lives Matter tends to get blamed for anti-police violence
This is far from the first time people have connected Black Lives Matter to violence in general and anti-police violence in particular. In August — after the shootings of police that King Noble was talking about — Fox News wondered aloud whether Black Lives Matter should be considered a "hate group."
Some of this is straightforward: Many Americans believe that police deserve respect by default, and that protesting them is unfair at best and dangerous at worst. Law enforcement officers are extremely eager to promote the idea that protests against police are threats to their safety. They claim that activists who call attention to police use of force are encouraging other people to hate the police — and might inspire some of them to react violently against them.
In New York, after the murder of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in 2014, one police union allegedly evoked the old high-crime era of the 1970s and 1980s in warning officers not to patrol unless they had to — resulting in a two-week-long "slowdown" over the last weeks of that year. Their implication: Police are the reason that crime is so much lower now than it was then, and if you turn on police, crime will shoot back up.
The man who killed Liu and Ramos did, in fact, invoke the names of black men killed by police on social media, implying that he was seeking revenge. Similarly, the man who killed two local television reporters during a live broadcast in August left a rambling note that alleged that whites wanted a "race war" and he would give them one (a reference to the alleged shooter in Charleston, South Carolina, who told police he hoped to instigate a race war). So these men were both using ideas that were in the public eye. But there's also substantial evidence to suggest that both of them were severely emotionally disturbed in other ways. It's very hard to say that something is the "true motive" for a violent act, as opposed to a convenient justification hit on by someone grasping for meaning.
But there's also a very big difference between saying an individual act perpetrated by a sole actor was inspired (in whole or in part) by a movement, and saying the movement in general encourages those acts — much less that it's looking to perpetrate them. The latter only makes sense if you see Black Lives Matter as inherently anti-white and anti-police. And that's more complicated.
Why do so many people conflate "Black Lives Matter" with anti-white radicalism?
The YouTuber who reposted the audio of King Noble's "open season" remarks prefaces it with a claim that he's not interested in attacking all African Americans — just people who are willing to practice violence on those who are different. While the narrator is saying this, the screen shows a series of social media posts and profiles from people who call themselves "black supremacists" and make comments about how you can't be pro-black without being anti-white. (Many of these are jokes about how the only thing that's both pro-black and pro-white is a zebra.)
Those profiles aren't calling for violence. But they explain why the YouTuber (and the conservatives and police officers who treated his video as evidence of "Black Lives Matter"-coordinated attacks) are so willing to see King Noble as representative of Black Lives Matter. They think Black Lives Matter is an inherently anti-white slogan and movement, so other activists must agree with King Noble's goals — whether they agree with his tactics is just haggling over the details.
That's exactly why "all lives matter" has come up as a response to "black lives matter," as well as a slogan among racists looking to share stories about how black Americans are the true threats. Many people have a great deal of difficulty understanding why anyone would say "black lives matter" if they didn't think white lives mattered less.
This is circular: The reason "black lives matter" became a slogan to begin with was that activists felt that some people needed to be reminded that black lives mattered as much as white lives, because no one needed to be reminded white lives mattered. They were reacting to a system that assigned different levels of value to lives based on race. But by making a difference explicit, they've been hit with the charge that they're the ones who created that difference to begin with.