Stephen Bannon is using Trump to further Bannon’s own goals for an Alt-Right attack on democracy. Part of that his Bannon’s taking a position on the National Security Council, to which he has brought some ominous changes: There will no longer be a paper trail of NSC deliberations and actions, and the CIA Director, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Energy Secretary (who is responsible for the nuclear arsenal, from small tactical nukes on up) will not be present for some sessions. Why those three are not viewed as vital to a national security discussion is unclear, but Bannon/Trump doesn’t trust the CIA.
If Bannon does engineer or take advantage of some domestic crisis or attack, he certainly can call on many supporters in the armed services, police departments, Border Patrol, and apparently in the FBI as well (e.g., James Comey).
White supremacists and other domestic extremists maintain an active presence in U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies. A striking reference to that conclusion, notable for its confidence and the policy prescriptions that accompany it, appears in a classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015, obtained by The Intercept. The guide, which details the process by which the FBI enters individuals on a terrorism watchlist, the Known or Suspected Terrorist File, notes that “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers,” and explains in some detail how bureau policies have been crafted to take this infiltration into account.
Although these right-wing extremists have posed a growing threat for years, federal investigators have been reluctant to publicly address that threat or to point out the movement’s longstanding strategy of infiltrating the law enforcement community.
No centralized recruitment process or set of national standards exists for the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, many of which have deep historical connections to racist ideologies. As a result, state and local police as well as sheriff’s departments present ample opportunities for white supremacists and other right-wing extremists looking to expand their power base.
In a heavily redacted version of an October 2006 FBI internal intelligence assessment, the agency raised the alarm over white supremacist groups’ “historical” interest in “infiltrating law enforcement communities or recruiting law enforcement personnel.” The effort, the memo noted, “can lead to investigative breaches and can jeopardize the safety of law enforcement sources or personnel.” The memo also states that law enforcement had recently become aware of the term “ghost skins,” used among white supremacists to describe “those who avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes.” In at least one case, the FBI learned of a skinhead group encouraging ghost skins to seek employment with law enforcement agencies in order to warn crews of any investigations.
That report appeared after a series of scandals involving local police and sheriff’s departments. In Los Angeles, for example, a U.S. District Court judge found in 1991 that members of a local sheriff’s department had formed a neo-Nazi gang and habitually terrorized black and Latino residents. In Chicago, Jon Burge, a police detective and rumored KKK member, was fired, and eventually prosecuted in 2008, over charges relating to the torture of at least 120 black men during his decadeslong career. Burge notoriously referred to an electric shock device he used during interrogations as the “nigger box.” In Cleveland, officials found that a number of police officers had scrawled “racist or Nazi graffiti” throughout their department’s locker rooms. In Texas, two police officers were fired when it was discovered they were Klansmen. One of them said he had tried to boost the organization’s membership by giving an application to a fellow officer he thought shared his “white, Christian, heterosexual values.”
Although the FBI has not publicly addressed the issue of white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement since that 2006 report, in a 2015 speech, FBI Director James Comey made an unprecedented acknowledgment of the role historically played by law enforcement in communities of color: “All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty.” Comey and the agency have been less forthcoming about that history’s continuation into the present.
In 2009, shortly after the election of Barack Obama, a Department of Homeland Security intelligence study, written in coordination with the FBI, warned of the “resurgence” of right-wing extremism. “Right-wing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African-American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda,” the report noted, singling out “disgruntled military veterans” as likely targets of recruitment. “Right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.”
The report concluded that “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent right-wing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.” Released just ahead of nationwide Tea Party protests, the report caused an uproar among conservatives, who were particularly angered by the suggestion that veterans might be implicated, and by the broad brush with which the report seemed to paint a range of right-wing groups.
Faced with mounting criticism, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano disavowed the document and apologized to veterans. The agency’s unit investigating right-wing extremism was largely dismantled and the report’s lead investigator was pushed out. “They stopped doing intel on that, and that was that,” Heidi Beirich, who leads the Southern Poverty Law Center’s tracking of extremist groups, told The Intercept. “The FBI in theory investigates right-wing terrorism and right-wing extremism, but they have limited resources. The loss of that unit was a loss for a lot of people who did this kind of work.”
“Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the ATF — are aware that extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups,” said Daryl Johnson, who was the lead researcher on the DHS report. Johnson, who now runs DT Analytics, a consulting firm that analyzes domestic extremism, says the problem has since gotten “a lot more troublesome.”
Johnson singled out the Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association for their anti-government attitudes and efforts to recruit active as well as retired law enforcement officers. “That’s the biggest issue and it’s greater now than it’s ever been, in my opinion.” Johnson added that Homeland Security has given up tracking right-wing domestic extremists. “It’s only the FBI now,” he said, adding that local police departments don’t seem to be doing anything to address the problem. “There’s not even any training now to make state and local police aware of these groups and how they could infiltrate their ranks.”
A spokesperson for DHS declined to comment on the 2009 report or on the agency’s specific concerns about white supremacist and right-wing groups.
In 2014, the Department of Justice re-established its Domestic Terrorism Task Force, a unit that was created following the Oklahoma City bombing. But for the most part, the government’s efforts to confront domestic terrorism threats over the last decade have focused on homegrown extremists radicalized by foreign groups. Last year, a group of progressive members of Congress called on President Obama and DHS to update the controversial 2009 report. “The United States allocates significant resources towards combating Islamic violent extremism while failing to devote adequate resources to right-wing extremism,” they wrote. “This lack of political will comes at a heavy price.”
Critics fear that the backlash following the 2009 DHS report hindered further action against the growing white supremacist threat, and that it was largely ignored because the issue was so politically controversial. “I believe that because that report was so denounced by conservatives, it sort of closed the door on whatever the FBI may have been considering doing with respect to combating infiltration of law enforcement by white supremacists,” said Samuel Jones, a professor of law at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago who has written about white power ideology in law enforcement. “Because after the 2006 FBI report, we simply cannot find anything by local law enforcement or the federal government that addresses this issue.”
Pete Simi, a sociologist at Chapman University who spent decades studying the proliferation of white supremacists in the U.S. military, agreed. “The report underscores the problem of even discussing this issue. It underscores how difficult this issue is to get any traction on, because a lot of people don’t want to discuss this, let alone actually do something about it.” Simi said that the extremist strategy to infiltrate the military and law enforcement has existed “for decades.” In a study he conducted of individuals indicted for far-right terrorism-related activities, he found that at least 31 percent had military experience.
After a series of investigations uncovered substantial numbers of extremists in the military, the Department of Defense moved to impose stricter screenings, including monitoring recruits’ tattoos for white supremacist symbols and discharging those found to espouse racist views.
“The military has completely reformed its process on this front,” said the SPLC’s Beirich, who lobbied the DOD to adopt those reforms. “I don’t know why it wouldn’t be the same for police officers; we can’t have people with guns having crazy ideas or ideas that threaten certain populations.” . . .