Representative Elissa Slotkin last week sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking him to take the unprecedented decision to designate 13 extremist movements as foreign terrorist organizations, saying that such a decision “will help apply more stress to reduce these violent organizations ”and the ability of their leaders to operate their groups. “
But of the 13 groups listed in his letter, which his office provided to BuzzFeed News, at least four are missing, one is an American club founded in California that broke up and rebranded, and another changed the name used in Slotkin’s letter six years ago. when he became part of the national guard of an allied nation.
“It was a great list – in 2018,” Matthew Feldman, director of the London-based Center for Analysis of the Radical Right, told BuzzFeed News. “Each of the [the listed groups] was active. Everyone was dangerous.
Feldman praised Slotkin’s efforts and the motivation behind the list, saying they were a step in the right direction. But he also said it served as an example of the U.S. government’s slowness in recognizing the threat posed by violent far-right extremists at home and abroad.
Biden has signaled his intention to fight domestic violent extremists – especially white supremacists like those who were part of the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and whom the FBI sees as a major threat. The head of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, told lawmakers last month that domestic violent extremism “constitutes the deadliest and most persistent terrorist threat to the homeland today”.
But experts say it’s also important to tackle foreign extremist groups, which often communicate, coordinate and inspire their American counterparts.
If the Biden administration were to list groups like those suggested by Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat, as Official Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), or even the slightest designation of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs), it would help curb them. dangerous white supremacist organizations, The congressman argued in his letter, which had previously been reported by Reuters.
“It would also give the United States government more tools to engage and report Americans who contact, support, train and join. [white supremacist extremist] groups, ”Slotkin wrote.
But Elizabeth Neumann, former deputy secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security under the Donald Trump administration, told BuzzFeed News the process was long and difficult.
“The FTO process is a pretty high bar,” she said. “I was frustrated that we could only get the Russian Imperial Movement. This is not the only group we have looked at. “
In April 2020, the United States appointed RIM and three of its SDGT leaders – the first time such a classification was used.
When asked about Slotkin’s letter, a State Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, “In general, we do not comment on Congressional correspondence or comment on nominations or deliberations related to potential nominations.” But Blinken told MSNBC Meet the press Sunday, that the designation of overseas white supremacist groups as foreign terrorist organizations is “something we are considering.”
A former CIA analyst who focused on foreign terrorist organizations in the Middle East, Slotkin wrote that she was “struck by the threat posed by these white supremacist groups, the number of contacts they have with them. extremists in the United States, minimal intelligence and diplomatic reports. we have on these groups, and the relative lack of scrutiny taken by the US government. “
Among those Slotkin said deserved terrorist designations is the National Action Group, a neo-Nazi organization founded in the UK and banned in 2016 that targeted British youth. A 2018 US counterterrorism report described it as a terrorist group promoting violence against politicians and minorities. A Metropolitan Police officer named Ben Hannam was convicted of membership on April 1.
Another is the Neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, which the same 2018 US report described as an anti-Western transnational organization behind violent attacks, including against Muslims and left-wing groups.
But not all of the groups she has asked the government to focus on are currently active.
Kacper Rekawek, a Slovakia-based researcher with the non-profit Counter Extremism Project, said Slotkin’s list was the type of list someone looking for far-right extremist groups on Google could put together.
“Representative Slotkin’s effort is commendable. The designations, underused in the European context, should help counter the threat of violence from far-right organizations, ”Rekawek told BuzzFeed News. “However, this needs to be informed by a careful analysis of local far-right scenes which include a plethora of actors who talk often, but don’t work as far as violence is concerned.”
The neo-Nazi groups Division Feuerkrieg, Division Sonnenkrieg, Division Atomwaffen Deutschland and Northern Order – all on Slotkin’s list – are gone, Rekawek and Feldman said. Members of the groups – all inspired by the American Atomwaffen division and the “siege culture” of American neo-Nazi James Mason – were linked to violence or violent plots in the UK, US, Germany, Canada and elsewhere.
Rise Above Movement (RAM), a white supremacist fighting club founded in southern California and linked to neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine and the Balkans, was also more or less disbanded after three of its members were jailed for participating in the Unite the Right rally. in Charlottesville in August 2017. RAM founder Robert Rundo, a native of New York City, was indicted in another federal violence case during several protests across California. The charges were dismissed in June 2019 but reinstated last month.
He is now said to have gone into hiding from the Bosnian authorities after being banished from Serbia following a report by Bellingcat that said he was trying to plant roots in the country.
After this article was published, Slotkin staff clarified that they are including RAM on the list in order to identify the group’s foreign affiliates.
Another problematic group on Slotkin’s list is the Ukrainian Azov Battalion. The paramilitary force was formed in 2014 by far-right extremists who volunteered to take up arms against Russian-backed forces when war in eastern Ukraine broke out. In January 2016, he became a member of the country’s National Guard and has since been known as the Azov Regiment.
Its political wing, the National Corps, has been called a “nationalist hate group” by the State Department. But designating the regiment as a foreign terrorist organization is likely to pose challenges, not least given its commitment to the state and the fact that Ukraine is an ally of the United States.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Slotkin for comment on the list. An aide said they were made aware of Azov’s status and the disbanded groups after the representative’s letter was reported by Reuters. But, the assistant said, they plan to move forward with at least the groups on the list that remain active.
“We are confident that we can get a certain level of designation,” the assistant said.
Read Slotkin’s full letter.