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5 things to know about white supremacist groups

White supremacy has moved from the dark corners of the internet into American streets, bringing the threat of violence along with it


By PoliceOne Staff

The largest U.S. public gathering of white supremacists in decades occurred earlier this month in Charlottesville, Virginia. A vehicle terror attack during the rally left one person dead and dozens hospitalized. While the violent gathering of white supremacists, neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups shocked the nation, it is only the latest in a troubling trend of violence from these fringe groups. Here are five things all cops should know about this extremist threat. For information about antifa, which has also become a violent presence at rallies across the United States, click here.

1. White supremacy is on the rise.

This Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 image shows s white supremacist carrying a NAZI flag into the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
This Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 image shows s white supremacist carrying a NAZI flag into the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

White supremacists, as well as other hate groups, are growing.

According to a 2016 report, the SPLC identified 130 KKK camps, 43 neo-Confederate groups, 99 neo-Nazi groups, 100 white nationalist groups, and 78 skinhead groups currently active in the U.S. Overall, the number of hate groups in America has increased 17 percent since 2014. The Daily Stormer, one of the most infamous white supremacist websites, expanded from one chapter in 2015 to around 30 last year, according to ABC News. Icons in the movement both old, like David Duke, and new, like Richard Spencer, are a regular presence at rallies.

“Since the era of formal white supremacy – right before the Civil Rights Act when we ended [legal] segregation – since that time, this is the most enlivened that we've seen the white supremacist movement,” Heidi Beirich, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), told ABC News.  

And it’s not just the numbers that are cause for concern. As evidenced in Charlottesville and other cities, where much of the violence has stemmed from clashes with the violent far-left-leaning group antifa, white supremacy has moved from the dark corners of the internet into American streets, bringing the threat of violence along with it.

2. White supremacists are responsible for more ATTACKS than any other current domestic extremist movement.

According to a May 10 intelligence bulletin obtained by Foreign Policy, the FBI and DHS warned that white supremacists “were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016 … more than any other domestic extremist movement” and that these groups “likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year.”

The mass killing at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church carried out by Dylann Roof, the deadly train stabbings in Portland by suspect and “known white supremacist” Jeremy Christian, the mass shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple, which was carried out by white supremacist Wade Michael Page, and the aforementioned violence in Charlottesville – in which attendees were instructed by prominent white supremacist figures like Mike “Enoch” Peinovich and The Daily Stormer to bring weapons – are just a few of the more well-known incidents.

White supremacist Christopher Cantwell received widespread attention after being filmed in a Vice documentary about the Charlottesville rally, in which he’s quoted as saying: “These people want violence, and the right is just meeting a market demand." Cantwell has a history of violent threats that also extends to law enforcement.

He has called for overthrowing the government and advocated killing “government agents.” He celebrated the ambush killings of NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos and said he once considered going on a bloody rampage like Vegas police ambush killer Jerad Miller.

Recently, news broke that federal investigators uncovered what they believed to be a “credible threat” to the public by neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division. While investigating the murder of two members by another member who converted to Islam, police found materials for explosives in the garage of their residence.

Devon Arthurs, the suspect in the murders, told police his victims were planning a terror attack "because they want to build a Fourth Reich."

3. Who are these groups?

Although white supremacist, white nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups number in the hundreds, there are some that have received particular attention in the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville.

One you may be most familiar with is Vanguard America. VA’s slogan, “Blood and Soil,” was heard among the chants in Charlottesville during the torch march the night prior to the rally that turned deadly. And James Alex Fields, the suspect in the car attack that killed Heather Heyer, was seen posing with VA at the rally prior to the killing (the group later denied that Fields was a member). VA’s leader, Dillon Irizarry, said earlier this year that the group had around 200 members, with representation in 20 states.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, at a rally with other white supremacist groups in April, VA became a member of the Nationalist Front – an umbrella organization led by Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Workers Party and Jeff Schoep of the neo-Nazi Nationalist Socialist Movement (Cantwell is also associated with these two groups). Among other groups in the NF alliance: the KKK, Aryan Nations, and Phineas Priesthood.

Heimbach is considered one of the most prominent faces of the modern white supremacist movement. He founded the Traditionalist Youth Network in 2013 and also had a leadership role in the neo-Confederate League of the South. The aforementioned Traditionalist Workers Party is a political offshoot of TYN created to run in local elections, which Heimbach says will happen in 2018. Heimbach was a major presence at the “Unite the Right” rally and helped promote it. He also made headlines for shoving a protester at a Donald Trump rally last year and subsequently suing Trump for indemnity in connection with the assault.

When asked if the outcome of Charlottesville was what he had hoped for, Heimbach told the New York Times:

“We achieved all of our objectives. We showed that our movement is not just online, but growing physically. We asserted ourselves as the voice of white America.”

The TWP was also responsible for putting on the rally in Sacramento last year that led to mass stabbings and other injuries during a clash between white supremacists and antifa.

4. The federal government previously expressed concern about the possibility of a growing threat.

The FBI has investigated potential infiltration of white supremacist groups into law enforcement. In a 2006 report obtained by The Intercept, the agency detailed its discovery of a white supremacist group that was encouraging “ghost skins” (defined as “those who avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes”) to join the ranks of police agencies as a way to give white supremacist groups advance warning of any investigations into their activities.

In 2009, a DHS report titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” stated that “The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.” The report sparked a political backlash, and in response, DHS “cut the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism unrelated to Islam, canceled numerous state and local law enforcement briefings, and held up dissemination of nearly a dozen reports on extremist groups,” according to the Washington Post.

The government continues to divert resources from investigations into white supremacist groups. Earlier this year, the DHS cut grant funding to “Life After Hate,” an outreach and intervention organization focused on white supremacists.

5. How is the issue being combated now?

In the wake of Charlottesville, some states have introduced legislation that would classify white supremacist groups as terrorists and politicians from both sides of the aisle have come out on social media to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

And police agencies are beefing up manpower at rallies where white supremacist groups are expected to show. In San Francisco, for example, every single officer in the city was on duty in anticipation of an Aug. 26 “free speech” rally, which was eventually canceled by its organizers.

In the private sector, tech companies like Google, GoDaddy, Spotify, Apple, PayPal and Facebook have made moves to cut white supremacists out of their platforms.

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