For years and years, black people and people of color all over America have been calling for white supremacist terrorism to be given the same energy as Islamic terrorism. Recently, our concerns have been vindicated as we’ve seen report after report after report of government officials, on both the state and federal levels, finally coming to glory on the matter and elevating the threat level of white nationalist extremism. Now the U.S. State Department appears to be following suit.
At the top of the list of neo-Nazi terrorist organizations that former U.S. officials and counterterrorism analysts agree should be prioritized as recognized foreign terrorists is Atomwaffen, a group that was founded in the United States but has expanded into the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Estonia.
The move on Atomwaffen comes after the FBI arrested five alleged members of the far-right extremist group in February and eight members of “The Base,” another known neo-Nazi group with foreign ties, in January. According to NPR, In February, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers that his agency has “elevated to the top-level priority racially motivated violent extremism so it’s on the same footing in terms of our national threat banding as [the Islamic State terrorist group] and homegrown violent extremism.”
And in a congressional hearing last October, Wray said, “We can always use more tools. You’re never going to find a law enforcement or intelligence professional who wouldn’t like more tools. And I can imagine situations where what you’re describing would be very helpful for us to have as a tool.”
National security experts believe that designating groups like Atomwaffen and The Base as foreign terrorist organizations will aid federal prosecutors in charging suspected group members with providing material support to terrorists. What that means is if the suspect has trained with foreign terrorist groups or offered them advice, personnel or funding, it will be much easier to charge them with serious crimes. law enforcement would also be able to “fill in some of the puzzle pieces” on the organizations by monitoring Americans who go overseas to train with the designated white supremacist groups, according to Mollie Saltskog, a senior intelligence analyst at the Soufan Center, Politico reports.
“There are 68 groups on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations, and not one is a violent white supremacist group,” said Joshua Geltzer, a counterterrorism expert who served on the National Security Council from 2015 to 2017, Politico notes. “We don’t use national security tools just to be symbolic, but I think finally adding to this list a white supremacist organization would really show that the U.S. recognizes the threat these groups pose, is willing to confront them using appropriate tools, and is now awakened to their distinctly transnational nature.”
Gelzer and the Soufan Center aren’t the only experts who have been speaking publicly on the issue and pushing to include white supremacist organizations on the FTO list. According to Politico, a number of lawmakers and civil society groups —including Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.) and the Anti-Defamation League— have pushed this for months.
In a congressional hearing last September, senior vice president at the Anti-Defamation League Sharon Nazarian told the State Department, “Our federal legal system currently lacks the means to prosecute a white supremacist terrorist as a terrorist.”
Rose, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism, introduced a resolution to the State Department last week that would “would further empower law enforcement and intelligence officials to better address the growing threats they pose to the homeland.” The resolution specifically mentions groups that were born from AttomWaffen including Sonnenkrieg in the U.K., AWD Deutschland in Germany, Northern Order in Canada, and Feuerkrieg Division in the Baltic States.
“I’m hopeful the administration will follow through and make this designation official,” Rose told Politico on Monday, “because the people on the front lines deserve every tool possible to protect the American people from terrorists.”
State Department officials hope to have the designation finalized by next week.