The gorilla in the room—the thing no one wants to acknowledge, but has grown too big to ignore—of our national discussion over the need for police reform, amid the seemingly endless violent mishandling of Black people by arresting officers, is their nakedly preferential treatment of right-wing extremists. This is accompanied by vicious retaliation against marching citizens in too many street clashes, particularly since police brutality protests broke out when George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers on May 28. This cooperation only deepens the growing suspicions that not only are police officers sympathetic to white supremacists, but that too many cops may in fact be active hate group members themselves.
“Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses”—a line from the song “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine—is a common adage among leftist protest groups. Now, a report by the Brennan Center for Justice authored by a respected law enforcement analyst and former FBI agent—titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement”—confirms that those suspicions are very well-founded, indeed.
The author of the report, Michael German, worked undercover on cases involving far-right extremists in the 1990s for the FBI, and since then has been involved in analyzing federal counterterrorism efforts for the ACLU and the Brennan Center; he served as an adviser to the recent Reveal News/Type Investigations report on domestic terrorism during the Trump years that revealed a rapidly amassing violent white nationalist terrorist trend.
German recently testified before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing ostensibly directed at “protecting speech” from “anarchist violence” (chaired by a prevaricating Sen. Ted Cruz), warning the senators: “We’re all concerned about protest violence, but framing the issue as a problem of anarchist violence only spreads misinformation that puts law enforcement officers and the communities they serve at greater risk. It also distracts from the police accountability and anti-discrimination issues that millions of Black Lives Matter supporters come into the streets to support.”
Later in the hearing, he discussed how too many police departments—including those in Portland, where ongoing protests against police violence are continuing daily—rely on a model of protest control from the 1960s that has been long discredited and displaced with more temperate models that rely less on the use of force.
“It’s very important to look at the research and develop our tactics for reducing police violence based on objective research, and not adopt tactics that were discredited decades ago,” he said.
In his report on the presence of white supremacists in police ranks for the Brennan Center, German explained that ”only a tiny percentage of law enforcement officials are likely to be active members of white supremacist groups.” However, the evidence of “overt and explicit racism within law enforcement” is also well established:
Since 2000, law enforcement officials with alleged connections to white supremacist groups or far-right militant activities have been exposed in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and elsewhere. Research organizations have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in racist, nativist, and sexist social media activity, which demonstrates that overt bias is far too common. These officers’ racist activities are often known within their departments, but only result in disciplinary action or termination if they trigger public scandals.
The report goes on the explore the utterly inadequate response within the ranks of law enforcement, or the officialdom charged with oversight of them, to known affiliations with white supremacist and militant groups by law enforcement officers. He noted the FBI’s 2015 counterterrorism policy “indicates not just that members of law enforcement might hold white supremacist views, but that FBI domestic terrorism investigations have often identified ‘active links’ between the subjects of these investigations and law enforcement officials.”
The response to the exposure of those links is instructive: Agents are instructed simply to use a website function that would screen potential subjects of investigation from knowledge of FBI scrutiny—and its only concern is that its agents be shielded from culpability for those active links.
This has been going on a long time, and is “hiding in plain sight,” as German’s report details. He identifies three core problems:
- A lack of mitigation policies to protect communities against biased police officers
- A failure by the Department of Justice to vigorously police law enforcement misconduct, as is its duty
- The behavior of police departments in protest situations inflamed by police violence has only inflamed further violence, and reveals a deep bias within law-enforcement departments
The latter, as German notes, directly undermines police safety, security, and lives, especially considering how often far-right militants have killed police officers: “The overlap between militia members and the Boogaloo movement—whose adherents have been arrested for manufacturing Molotov cocktails in preparation for an attack at a Black Lives Matter protest in Nevada, inciting a riot in South Carolina, and shooting, bombing, and killing police officers in California—highlights the threat that police engagement with these groups poses to their law enforcement partners.”
In a follow-up piece for The Guardian, German observed how blinkered our national culture—not just within law enforcement, but within the halls of officialdom and in the national media—has become about the real threat posed by white nationalists:
If the government knew that al-Qaida or Isis had infiltrated American law enforcement agencies, it would undoubtedly initiate a nationwide effort to identify them and neutralize the threat they posed. Yet white supremacists and far-right militants have committed far more attacks and killed more people in the U.S. over the last 10 years than any foreign terrorist movement. The FBI regards them as the most lethal domestic terror threat. The need for national action is even more critical.