When the news broke that police officers, public safety workers and military veterans were among those arrested after the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, “not too many people should have been surprised,” an expert in terrorism and right-wing extremism told a seminar Wednesday.
The seminar, “The Rise of Political Extremism: Impacts on Public Service and Public Safety” was co-sponsored by John Jay’s Center on Terrorism and the Christian Regenhard Center for Emergency Response Studies at John Jay (RaCERS).
According to the expert, Mike German of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, “the affiliation of law enforcement with white supremacy is longstanding.”
German served in the FBI for 16 years, many of them as an undercover operative who infiltrated white supremacist groups. He left the bureau in 2004.
“White supremacy is being treated as a fringe movement when it is foundational to our society,” German said.
More than 400 people have been charged in the Capitol insurrection so far. Approximately 1,000 fought with police or breached the Capitol that day.
Questions are being raised in light of the failure of law enforcement to control the Jan. 6 mob on how the far-right insurrection was viewed within the police and other government agencies. According to a scathing Inspector General report, “Officers were instructed by their leaders not to use their most aggressive tactics to hold off the mob,” according to The New York Times.
“The presence of current and former law enforcement officers, as well as military service members and veterans, has especially alarmed government officials,” said a recent story on NPR.
At least 14 percent of those charged had possible ties to the military and to law enforcement, according to NPR.
Another panelist, Donald Patrick Haider-Markel, of the Department of Political Science, at Kansas University, said domestic terrorism “tends to go in waves” and the U.S. is now experiencing an uptick.
According to Haider-Markel’s research, the percentage of all domestic terrorism incidents linked to active duty and reserve personnel in the military rose in 2020 to 6.4 percent, up from 1.5 percent in 2019 and none in 2018.
Haider-Markel said that of those arrested on Jan. 6, 12 percent were veterans or currently serving, although they make up just 7 percent of the general population.
Veterans have committed 10 percent of all domestic terrorism attacks and plots since 2015, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Both German and Haider-Markel said the growth in far-right extremism can be attributed in part to President Donald Trump’s encouraging remarks on certain beliefs about crime and immigration.
In the 1990s, when German went undercover with white supremacists trafficking in weapons, “they sure didn’t go to public rallies,” he said.
During the Trump administration, some far-right adherents felt validated.
Haider-Markel said that what sometimes happens is that someone who is unhappy with his life finds meaning in one of the far-right groups.
“Your personal grievances connect to the group ideology,” he said.
German is the author of the 2020 Brennan Center report Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement.
According to German, “Police reforms after incidents of racist misconduct or brutality often focus on dealing with officers’ unconscious bias, but they leave unaddressed explicit racism, an entrenched, especially harmful form of bias within law enforcement that takes many forms, from membership with violent white supremacist or far-right militant groups like the KKK to overtly racist activities in public and social media.”
German said in Wednesday’s seminar, “White supremacy is baked into our country.”
The recently released Frontline documentary, “American Insurrection,” follows an investigation of military involvement in white supremacy groups. Over the last three years, Frontline collaborated with ProPublica to investigate the rise of extremism in America in the wake of the deadly 2017 Charlottesville rally—and the threat they pose today.
Nancy Bilyeau is deputy editor of The Crime Report