The connection between law enforcement and white supremacy has never been clearer. At least 18 of the 100 people arrested in the Capitol Hill riots were former police officers, firefighters, and military members, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The FBI has known about the links between law enforcement and white supremacists for decades yet have not implemented a plan or policy to weed out the bad law enforcement officers.
The FBI wrote an intelligence assessment in 2006 that examined the “white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement from perspectives of both strategic infiltration by organized groups and self-initiated infiltration by law enforcement personnel sympathetic to white supremacist causes.”
Former FBI agent Michael German wrote in an article for the Guardian that there have been more than a dozen states since 2000 where law enforcement has been tied to militant activities and hundreds of police officers have been caught posting racist social media content. Yet, little action has been taken as law enforcement has not prioritized these crimes.
When white nationalists commit deadly attacks like the El Paso shooting, these crimes fit the statutory definition of domestic terrorism. Terrorism remains the FBI’s top priority. It ranks hate crimes fifth and organized crime sixth, however. So, when FBI agents or federal prosecutors initially label far-right violence as hate crimes, or gang crimes, they de-prioritize these cases, limiting the available resources and narrowing the scope of the investigations.
Worse, as a matter of policy, the justice department defers the vast majority of hate crimes to state and local police and prosecutors, who are often ill-equipped or uninterested in pursuing these cases. Justice department crime victim surveys estimate there are approximately 230,000 violent hate crimes annually, yet federal prosecutors charge only about 25 hate crimes defendants each year. State and local law enforcement, however, are not picking up the slack. Only about 12% of state and local law enforcement agencies report hate crimes occurring in their jurisdictions, and in some states, reported hate crimes are rarely prosecuted as such.
Hate crimes also get underreported because victims are afraid of law enforcement officers and don’t want to have to deal with them.
Despite German working undercover in the 1990s to help address the problem in law enforcement, German said in an interview with Mother Jones that not enough data has been collected and the extent of the problem is still widely unknown.
Unfortunately we don’t have a sense of the scope of the problem because no entity has made it their mission to identify the scope. But the FBI regularly warns its agents who are investigating white supremacists and far-right militants that the subjects of those investigations will often have active links to law enforcement, and that they need to alter their methodology to protect the integrity of their investigations.
If the FBI knows this is a problem of such significance that it has to alter its methodologies of investigating cases, I would argue it also has to have a strategy to protect the public from these white supremacists and far-right militants who carry a badge. The fact that they don’t even document who these police officers are shows an inexcusable lack of attention to their mission to enforce the civil rights laws of this country as well as the counterterrorism laws.
The main reason for the FBI and police departments looking the other way is the lack of public pressure to remove white supremacists from law enforcement duties.
German mentions instances where officers would go to public white supremacist events representing themselves as police officers. The membership to these groups was known to law enforcement, but no action was taken until the public learned about it. Then, and only then, did the police department address these issues.
But the reluctance to take action immediately has hurt the ability to remove racist law enforcement officers from their jobs German said to Mother Jones.
If the police department knew about your involvement with this white supremacist group for five years but is now trying to fire you, you can argue: “I’m not being fired because of the conduct, because the department knew about the conduct; I’m being fired because the public demanded it, and that’s not appropriate.”
German, who now works for the Brennan Center for Justice studying infiltration of white supremacists into the police department, gave some advice for intelligence agencies and policymakers in a Guardian article.
Policymakers and intelligence analysts need better data regarding the scope of white supremacist violence in this country and around the world in order to craft more effective responses. A number of pending bills require the justice department to provide this information.
Our latest Brennan Center report urged Congress to find ways the federal government can fund programs designed to repair the communal injuries that hate violence inflicts, by building social inclusion through investments in education, social services, and employment. When white supremacists use violence to divide us, our response should be designed to empower the victimized communities, not just the police.
Despite the connections between white supremacy and law enforcement, German-made it clear that it is still only a small percentage of law enforcement and the vast majority are “consummate professionals.”
However, that small number needs to be dealt with appropriately and removed from law enforcement positions.
About Ryan Lipton
Ryan is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in Business Journalism. He has written in the past for SB Nation’s Silver and Black Pride, USA Today Sports Media Group, North Carolina Business News Wire, the Daily Tar Heel, and has worked with Ice Cube’s BIG3 basketball league. Ryan is also a regular contributor to MeidasTouch.com