The Trump administration is now the first U.S. administration to label a white supremacist group a terrorist organization. The move, The New York Times notes, “could cut against criticism that the Trump administration has played down the threat of white nationalist violence for political reasons.” The group also happens to be pro-Russia.
The State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, Ambassador Nathan Sales, underscored in a statement to the Times Monday that by naming a white nationalist group a “specially designated global terrorist organization,” the Trump administration is doing something “unprecedented.”
“These designations are unprecedented,” said Sales, as reported by the Times Monday. “This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacists as terrorists, and this illustrates how seriously this administration takes the white supremacist terrorist threat. We are doing things no previous administration has done to counter this threat.”
“The State Department’s designation for the organization, the Russian Imperial Movement, sets up the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to block any American property or assets belonging to the group,” the Times explains. “It will also bar Americans from financial dealings with the organization and make it easier to ban its members from traveling to the United States.” Three of the group’s leaders — Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov — are being labeled individually as terrorists, officials told the Times, a designation that includes additional sanctions.
Officials told the Times that the group is not believed to be sponsored by the Russian government, but that its actions have been “tolerated” by President Vladimir V. Putin and it has “helped advance the Russian government’s external goals by recruiting Russian fighters to aid pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.” The organization has also supported neo-Nazi organizations in Scandinavia, which follows a larger Russian government strategy of “sow[ing] chaos in Western democracies,” the paper adds.
While Trump’s critics have frequently portrayed the president as “racist” and “empowering” white supremacists in his rhetoric, his administration has now taken multiple decisive and historic steps to counter the threat of white supremacism. As the Times notes, the White House added white supremacist groups to the federal government’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism in 2018.
In the document, the administration cites nationalist and separatists movements, including specifically neo-Nazis’, as potential global threats. Below is an excerpt from a passage describing the global threat posed by such groups:
There is also a broad range of revolutionary, nation- alist, and separatist movements overseas whose use of violence and intent to destabilize societies often puts American lives at risk. For example, the Nordic Resistance Movement is a prominent transnational, self-described nationalist-socialist organization with anti-Western views that has conducted violent attacks against Muslims, left-wing groups, and others. The group has demonstrated against United States Government actions it perceives are supportive of Israel and has the potential to extend its targeting to United States interests. Similarly, the neo-Nazi National Action Group, a terrorist organization that was banned by the United Kingdom in 2016 for its promotion of violence against politicians and minorities, operates mainly in the United Kingdom but has engaged with like-minded groups in the United States, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, and Poland—expanding the potential influence of its violent ideology. Likewise, Babbar Khalsa International seeks, through violent means, to establish its own independent state in India and is responsible for significant terrorist attacks in India and elsewhere that have claimed the lives of innocent civilians. Such groups may avoid or deprioritize targeting United States interests for now to avoid detracting from their core goals but frequently conduct assassinations and bombings against major economic, politi- cal, and social targets, heightening the risk to United States personnel and interests overseas.
The document also describes domestic terrorists motivated forms of violent extremism not connected to radical Islam, “such as racially motivated extremism”:
Lastly, the United States has long faced a persistent security threat from domestic terrorists who are not motivated by a radical Islamist ideology but are instead motivated by other forms of violent extremism, such as racially motivated extremism, animal rights extremism, environmental extremism, sovereign citizen extremism, and militia extremism.