First of all, here's Yahoo's summary of the main thrust of the document, dated May 30, 2019. And bear in mind that the FBI's Director, Chris Wray (yes, he's a waste of space) has recently stated that Antifa is not a terrorist organization because he doesn't think it's an organization. So:
The FBI for the first time has identified fringe conspiracy theories as a domestic terrorist threat, according to a previously unpublicized document obtained by Yahoo News. (Read the document below.)
The FBI intelligence bulletin from the bureau’s Phoenix field office, dated May 30, 2019, describes “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists,” as a growing threat, and notes that it is the first such report to do so. It lists a number of arrests, including some that haven’t been publicized, related to violent incidents motivated by fringe beliefs.
The document specifically mentions QAnon, a shadowy network that believes in a deep state conspiracy against President Trump, and Pizzagate, the theory that a pedophile ring including Clinton associates was being run out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant (which didn’t actually have a basement).
“The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts,” the document states. It also goes on to say the FBI believes conspiracy theory-driven extremists are likely to increase during the 2020 presidential election cycle.
So, anti-Establishment type conspiracy theories are now a terrorist threat, a growing threat, likely to emerge, spread, and evolve, and likely to increase during the 2020 election cycle. Yikes! That's really concerning! Maybe it's time to abrogate most of the Bill of Rights and drastically increase the FBI's budget!
But wait, shall we first look at the evidence that the Bureau's Phoenix office has assembled?
The document lists conspiracy theory type incidents extending from 2013 to 2018--5 years. How many? Eight (8). Does that sound like an emerging, spreading, and evolving terrorist threat to you? Me neither. And you really have to read the individual examples to get the full flavor for what the FBI sees as conspiracy theory based terrorism. Historian David Garrow jumps all over this hanging curve ball:
Historian David Garrow, the author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Martin Luther King Jr. who has worked extensively with FBI archives, raised doubts to Yahoo News about the memo. He says the FBI’s default assumption is that violence is motivated by ideological beliefs rather than mental illness. “The guy who shot up the pizza place in D.C.: Do we think of him as a right-wing activist, or insane?” Garrow asked.
Garrow was similarly critical of the FBI’s use of the term “black identity extremists” and related attempts to ascribe incidents like the 2016 shooting of six police officers in Baton Rouge, La., to black radicalism. He said the shooter, Gavin Long, had a history of mental health problems. “The bureau’s presumption — the mindset — is to see ideological motives where most of the rest of us see individual nuttiness,” he said.
Read the examples and you'll see where Garrow is coming from.
Of course, the FBI has an answer for critics like Garrow:
The FBI acknowledges conspiracy theory-driven violence is not new, but says it’s gotten worse with advances in technology combined with an increasingly partisan political landscape in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. “The advent of the Internet and social media has enabled promoters of conspiracy theories to produce and share greater volumes of material via online platforms that larger audiences of consumers can quickly and easily access,” the document says.
But we've seen that 8 incidents over 5 years is hardly a trend--and that quality of the evidence is no stronger than the quantity. Here's what one expert said about that:
Joe Uscinski, an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami, whose work on conspiracy theories is cited in the intelligence bulletin, said there’s no data suggesting conspiracy theories are any more widespread now than in the past. “There is absolutely no evidence that people are more conspiratorial now,” says Uscinski, after Yahoo News described the bulletin to him. “They may be, but there is not strong evidence showing this.”
If the FBI is seriously churning out such dodgy "analysis" as this--and, as I say, you really have to read it--the possiblity has to be considered that your average FBI employee is capable of believing just about anything. In fact, if you read the rantings of a non-average former FBI employee like Andrew McCabe--who inspired such loyalty on the 7th floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building--it's hard to avoid that conclusion. Consider, for example, his texts with Brit spook Jeremy Fleming, then of MI5, now head of GCHQ. Those two seemed to think Brexit and Trump were part of some global Putin led intel offensive! That looks like a reflexive turn to conspiracy explanations for anything anti-Establishment political movement.
So I ask the question: Is it possible that the FBI itself has devolved into a conspiracy driven organization--a sort of Deep State guardian cult that sees its enemies everywhere, emerging, spreading, and evolving in terrorist directions? Could this explain the readiness of people like Strzok and Page to buy into conspiracy theories about Russia and Putin and Trump and adopt an end-justifies-the-means approach to their duties?
That's a scary thought. What is Chris Wray doing to address this?
UPDATE 1: Zerohedge picked up on this very quickly: FBI: Conspiracy Theories Are Now A Domestic Terrorism Threat. He's quick to point out that one confirmed false conspiracy theory that seems to be pretty explicitly excluded from consideration is ... the Russia Hoax! Yeah, I know, you guessed that already.
UPDATE 2: Oh my! It turns out that the FBI was citing sources such as Snopes and Wikipedia in their "analysis". Not too impressive. I have no problem with almost any initial source, but in a report of that sort you must follow to the origin and verify that.