MP Elissa Slotkin sent a letter to Foreign Minister Antony Blinken last week calling on him to take the unprecedented step of designating 13 extremist movements as foreign terrorist organizations and their leaders’ ability to run their groups. “
But of the 13 groups listed in their letter their office provided to BuzzFeed News, at least four have died, one is an American club founded in California that has been split up and renamed, and another has changed its name Used in Slotkin’s letter six years ago when it 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 listed groups] was active. Everyone was dangerous. “
Feldman praised Slotkin’s efforts and motivation behind the list, saying it was a step in the right direction. But he also said this was an example of how the US government has been slow to recognize the threat posed by right-wing violent extremists at home and abroad.
Biden has signaled his intention to tackle violent extremists domestically – especially white supremacists such as those who were among the mobs that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, which the FBI sees as the greatest threat. Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas told lawmakers last month that domestic violent extremism “poses the deadliest and most persistent terrorist threat to the homeland”.
However, experts say it is also important to seek out foreign extremist groups that often communicate, coordinate, and inspire their American counterparts.
If the Biden administration were to list groups such as those suggested by Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat, as Official Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) or Lesser Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT), it would help contain dangerous white supremacist organizations. The member of Congress argued in her letter previously reported by Reuters.
“It would also give the United States government more tools to engage and identify the Americans who contact, support, train, and join them [white supremacist extremist] Groups, ”wrote Slotkin.
But Elizabeth Neumann, the former assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention in the Department of Homeland Security during the Donald Trump administration, told BuzzFeed News that 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. That wasn’t the only group we looked at. “
In April 2020, the US named RIM and three of its leading SDGTs – the first time such a classification has been used.
When asked about Slotkin’s letter, a State Department spokesman told BuzzFeed News, “In general, we do not comment on correspondence in Congress or comment on designations or considerations related to potential designations.” But Blinken told MSNBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that labeling white supremacist groups overseas as foreign terrorist organizations is “something we’re looking for”.
Slotkin, a former CIA analyst who focused on foreign terrorist organizations in the Middle East, wrote that she was “impressed by the threat these white supremacist groups pose, the exposure to extremists in the US, the minimal intelligence and diplomatic reporting We got about these groups and the relative lack of scrutiny by the US government. “
Among those who deserve terrorist labels, according to Slotkin, is the National Action Group, a neo-Nazi organization founded in the UK and banned in 2016 that targets British youth. In a 2018 U.S. counter-terrorism report, it was described as a terrorist organization 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, described in the same 2018 US report as the anti-Western transnational organization behind violent attacks, including against Muslims and left-wing groups.
However, not all of the groups that the government asked them to focus on are currently active.
Kacper Rekawek, a Slovakia-based researcher with the nonprofit Counter Extremism Project, said Slotkin’s list was the kind of list someone who searches Google for right-wing extremist groups could make.
“Rep. Slotkin’s efforts are commendable. Terms that are not used sufficiently in the European context should help counter the threat of violence from right-wing extremist organizations, ”Rekawek told BuzzFeed News. “However, this needs to be backed up with a thorough analysis of the local right-wing extremist scenes, which include a variety of actors who speak frequently but don’t go the way when it comes to violence.”
The neo-Nazi groups Feuerkrieg Division, Sonnenkrieg Division, Atomwaffen Division Germany and Northern Order – all on Slotkin’s list – have died, said Rekawek and Feldman. Members of the groups, all inspired by the US Nuclear Weapons Division and the “siege culture” of American neo-Nazi James Mason, have been associated with violence or violent conspiracies in the UK, US, Germany, Canada and elsewhere.
Rise Above Movement (RAM), a white supremacist fighting association founded in Southern California with ties to neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine and the Balkans, was also more or less disbanded after three of its members were arrested for participating in the Unite the Right rally were in Charlottesville in August 2017. RAM’s founder, New York-born Robert Rundo, has been charged in a separate federal trial for violence in several protests across California. The charges were dismissed in June 2019 but resumed last month.
He is reportedly now hiding from authorities in Bosnia after being banned from Serbia following a Bellingcat report attempting to take root in the country.
After this story was published, Slotkin employees made it clear that they had added RAM to the list in order to identify the group’s overseas subsidiaries.
Another troubled group on Slotkin’s list is the Ukraine’s Azov Battalion. The paramilitary force was formed in 2014 by right-wing extremists who volunteered to take up arms against Russian-backed forces when war broke out in eastern Ukraine. It became part of the country’s National Guard in January 2016 and has since been known as the Azov Regiment.
Its political wing, the National Corps, has been labeled a “nationalist hate group” by the State Department. The designation of the regiment as a foreign terrorist organization looks set to be challenging, however, especially given its ties to the state and the fact that Ukraine is an ally of the US.
BuzzFeed News reached out to Slotkin for comment on the list. An aide said they were made aware of the status of Azov and the disbanded groups after Reuters reported on the representative’s letter. But the aide said they plan to at least advance the groups on the list that are still active.
“We are confident that we can get some degree of designation,” said the aide.
Read the full letter from Slotkin.