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The dome of the U.S. Capitol is visible as a sign that reads "Black Lives Matter" hangs on an overpass on North Capitol Street in Washington on June 2, 2020. (AP) The dome of the U.S. Capitol is visible as a sign that reads "Black Lives Matter" hangs on an overpass on North Capitol Street in Washington on June 2, 2020. (AP)

The dome of the U.S. Capitol is visible as a sign that reads "Black Lives Matter" hangs on an overpass on North Capitol Street in Washington on June 2, 2020. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 30, 2020

No, Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist organization

If Your Time is short

  • The State Department keeps a list of foreign groups that have been formally designated terrorist organizations. Black Lives Matter, a domestic organization, is not on it.

  • There is no legal process for designating domestic groups as terrorist organizations.

  • Black Lives Matter is not listed as a perpetrator group in a global database of nearly 200,000 terrorism incidents.

A Facebook post that spins BLM as "Burn Loot Murder" shares an image that shouts this claim in all-caps:

"BLACK LIVES MATTER IS A TERRORIST ORGANIZATION."

Earlier in July, a city councilor in Massachusetts made the same attack, and Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, said Black Lives Matter "will be shown to be a terrorist organization." 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The claim isn’t entirely new. In 2016, a petition asking President Barack Obama’s administration to designate Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization received 140,000 signatures in two weeks.

Sympathizers of Black Lives Matter have warned the movement to do more to discourage violence at its protests. But Black Lives Matter does not fit the federal definition of a terrorist organization, nor does it appear as a terrorist group in an extensive database that tracks terrorism attacks globally.

"Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist organization nor a terrorist movement, and no responsible source would describe it as such," David Sterman, an international security senior policy analyst at  the New America think tank, told PolitiFact.

Foreign terrorist groups

Black Lives Matter, a domestic group, has not been designated as a terrorist organization on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. 

When reviewing potential targets for designation, the department "looks not only at the actual terrorist attacks that a group has carried out, but also at whether the group has engaged in planning and preparations for possible future acts of terrorism or retains the capability and intent to carry out such acts."

"None of those criteria are descriptive of Black Lives Matter," Sterman said.

Domestic terrorist groups

National security experts have told PolitiFact there is no legal process for designating domestic groups as terrorist organizations.

While what constitutes terrorism has been debated for years, federal law defines domestic terrorism as acts dangerous to human life that violate the criminal laws of the United States or of any state, and which appear to be intended to:

• intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

• influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion: or

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• affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

Other terrorism measures

Black Lives Matter is mentioned in four incidents in the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, which includes 200,000 terrorist attacks dating back to 1970, but the group is not listed as a perpetrator group in any incidents in the database. Here are the four cases in which the group is mentioned:

• Assailants opened fire on a Black Lives Matter rally in Minneapolis on Nov. 23, 2015, injuring five people. No group claimed responsibility for the incident, but "sources attributed the attack to white supremacists and identify one of the assailants as a member of the Sovereign Citizen movement. Four individuals were arrested in connection with the attack."

• Lakeem Keon Scott claimed responsibility for opening fire on police officers and civilians in Bristol, Tenn., on July 7, 2016. One person was killed and four others, including a police officer and the assailant, were injured. Witnesses reported Scott shouting, "Police suck! Black lives matter!" during the attack. Law enforcement at the time said Scott, who served in the U.S. Army and was a National Guard reservist, acted alone.

• Also on July 7, 2016, Micah Xavier Johnson claimed responsibility for opening fire on police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. Five police officers were killed and nine people, including officers and civilians, were injured. Johnson stated that he "wanted to kill white people" before being killed during a standoff with police. Johnson was an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan who told investigators he acted alone

• "An unknown anti-police extremist group claimed responsibility for" a person throwing an incendiary device at a parked police vehicle in Daytona Beach, Fla., on July 17, 2016, and "in a note left at the scene and stated "’Black Lives Matter.’" 

The fact-checking organization Snopes reported in July on a claim that a "convicted terrorist" has served as a leader of an organization that provides fundraising and fiscal sponsorship for the Black Lives Matter Global Movement. Snopes found that Susan Rosenberg was an active member of revolutionary left-wing movements whose illegal activities included bombing U.S. government buildings and committing armed robberies, and that in 1985 she received a 58-year prison sentence that was commuted by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

"That's not to suggest that no one associated with BLM — or any particular movement — never engages in some criminal behavior," Joshua Geltzer, a former senior director for counterterrorism and former deputy legal advisor, both at the National Security Council, told PolitiFact. "But the relevant question is whether the organization itself engages in the type of activity laid out by statute. And, on that, there's been no evidence provided to indicate as much."

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors addressed the experience of being called a terrorist in "When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir."

She wrote:

"I carry the memory of living under that terror — the terror of knowing that I, or any member of my family, could be killed with impunity — in my blood, my bones, in every step I take. And yet I was called a terrorist. The members of our movement are called terrorists. ...We are not terrorists. I am not a terrorist."

Also in 2018, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza said in an interview:

"Not only are Black Lives Matter activists not terrorists, but fundamentally what we are trying to do is point out the failings in the basic premise of the founding of this country, that there would be liberty and justice for all. We are pulling back the curtains on really despicable deeds."

Black Lives Matter advocates against state-sanctioned violence against Black people. "We embody and practice justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another," it says in its online statement of beliefs.

Our ruling

A widely shared Facebook post claimed: "Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization."

We didn’t find any evidence of this. Black Lives Matter advocates against police-sanctioned violence against Black people. It does not fit the federal definition of a terrorist organization, nor does it appear as a terrorist group in an extensive database of terrorist attacks.

We rate the statement False.

Our Sources

Facebook, post (archived here), July 26, 2020

PolitiFact, "Despite Trump talk, antifa has not been designated as a terrorist organization," July 21, 2020

PolitiFact, "Trump wants to designate antifa as a terrorist organization, but lacks legal authority for it," June 1, 2020

Department of State, Foreign Terrorist Organizations, accessed July 29, 2020

Email, David Sterman, an international security senior policy analyst at New America, July 29, 2020

The Economist, "Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist organisation," Aug. 29, 2018

Snopes, "Did a ‘Convicted Terrorist’ Sit on the Board of a BLM Funding Body?", July 14, 2020

Email, Carnegie Mellon University politics and strategy professor Colin Clarke, a former senior political scientist at the RAND Corp. who focused on terrorism, July 29, 2020

Email, law professor Joshua Geltzer, executive director, Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, Georgetown University; former senior director for counterterrorism and former deputy legal advisor, both at the National Security Council, July 30, 2020

PolitiFact, "Terrorism in the United States: key facts, patterns and trends," Dec. 5, 2019

University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database, perpetrator group search, July 30, 2020

University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database, July 7, 2016 incident, accessed July 29, 2019

University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database, July 7, 2016 incident, accessed July 29, 2019

University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database, July 17, 2016 incident, accessed July 29, 2019

University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database, Nov. 23, 2015 incident, accessed July 29, 2019

Email, Erin Miller, program manager, University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database, July 30, 2020

Obama White House archives, petition and response, accessed July 30, 2020

The National Interest, "The Black Lives Matter Movement Must Solve Its Violence Problem," June 29, 2020

PolitiFact, "What's the definition of 'terrorism'?", July 9, 2013

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No, Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist organization

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