Keeping up the tradition of seasonal scares, theNew York Post(10/26/15) published a story about a potential “Halloween Revolt”: an attack by anarchists on police nationwide.
A group known as the National Liberation Militia, the Post reported, has been planning to dress up in masks like normal trick-or-treaters and use this disguise to sneak up on and assault cops in some coordinated fashion. The story was quickly picked up by CBS News, Fox News and NBC News, all of whom breathlessly alerted the public about this spooky-themed threat to police.
A couple points before dissecting the journalistic efficacy of disseminating these vague, half-assed threats. Firstly, it’s odd that the New York Post is and continues to be the sole source of this bulletin. The FBI typically posts major threats on its website, but this one, according to the FBI press officer FAIR contacted, was “meant for law enforcement and not to be disseminated.”
The paper reported that the NYPD is monitoring the threat. The report of the threat comes at a time of unease between many police departments and the neighborhoods they patrol. The weekend before the threat was reported, Patrick Lynch, the head of the NYPD’s union, called for a boycott of Quentin Tarantino’s films after the director took part in an anti-police rally in the city’s Greenwich Village neighborhood….
The rally was held days after New York City Police Officer Randolph Holder was shot dead while pursuing a bicycle thief in East Harlem.
This was soon followed by a TV segment on Fox News—that pinned the threat on an “offshoot of the Black Panthers”:
The FBI is saying a potentially dangerous anarchist group known as the National Liberation Militia; it was founded by former Black Panther members. Well, that group has proposed what it calls a “Halloween revolt”; it encouraged supporters to ambush police officers. That group is also asking members to wear Halloween masks and use bricks, bottles and firearms to attack our nation’s police officers.
There’s no mention of the Black Panthers in the New York Post piece–but they do come up in a piece of wild speculation offered by Republican congressmember and Fox News contributor Allen West after a short visit toGoogle:
A quick search online yields no information about a group called “National Liberation Militia,” although there is a known group called the “New Black Liberation Militia.” Is this politically correct, selective editing by the FBI?
FAIR reached out to the FBI for specifics on the threat, but via email it declined to do so.
Why was this “alert” subsequently carried by a dozen mainstream media outlets without anyone questioning the core substance? Even the claim of an “anarchist” group with “national” in its name is manifestly dubious–since anarchists, by definition, decry nationalism.
The fundamental problem with FBI terror warnings, as I’ve discussed before, is that there’s no downside. FBI terror warnings are polluted with moral hazard: Don’t warn and something happens, you’re in trouble. Warn, and nothing happens, no one cares. Warn and something happens—which it never does—and you’re a hero.
Especially in the context of increased scrutiny over police abuse, the incentives for the FBI to mindlessly issue warnings of lurking police killers are great–providing police with PR cover in the coming weeks and sowing the “war on cops” narrative in the hearts of scared, low-information viewers and tabloid consumers.
If fear is the currency of control, then this never-ending string of FBI warnings is a blank check that never needs to be cashed. Is there an “anarchist revolt” scheduled for Halloween? Unlikely. But millions of Americans now think there is, and ultimately that’s all that matters.
Adam Johnson is an associate editor at AlterNet and writes frequently for FAIR.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @adamjohnsonnyc.
Messages to the New York Post can be sent to [email protected] (or viaTwitter: @NYPost). Remember that respectful communication is the most effective.