U.S. State Department officials are taking steps to address the growing threat posed by white nationalist organizations.
A violent neo-Nazi group is at the top of federal officials’ list, with the government now pushing to have the faction officially designated as a foreign terrorist organization, Politico reported Monday.
The group, Atomwaffen, was founded in the U.S. and has since taken root in several nations, including Canada, Germany and the U.K. Per the Anti-Defamation League, the organization has been linked to several murders since its inception in 2016 and “distinguishes itself by its extreme rhetoric, influenced by the writings of a neo-Nazi of an earlier generation — James Mason.”
The move to label the group as terrorists would be an unprecedented one. White House officials are dragging their feet on the designation, however, and have instead focused their time and attention on Islamist terrorism.
This is despite the fact that last year FBI Director Christopher Wray declared that white supremacy is a “persistent, pervasive threat.”
“The danger, I think, of white supremacists, violent extremism or another kind of extremism is, of course, significant,” he warned in a hearing before Congress, adding, “We are determined not to tolerate hate-filled violence in our communities, so we’re going to aggressively investigate those cases.”
According to Politico, five Atomwaffen members were nabbed by the FBI just last month, and another six members of the extremist group have been convicted since 2018 on serious charges, including plotting a terror attack.
With the FTO designation, it would be easier for federal authorities to monitor and charge suspected members who provide material support to terrorist groups, especially if they’ve traveled overseas to train with said white supremacist organizations.
“We don’t use national security tools just to be symbolic,” counterterrorism expert Joshua Geltzer told Politico, “but I think finally adding to this list a white supremacist organization would really show that the U.S. recognizes the threat these groups pose, is willing to confront them using appropriate tools, and is now awakened to their distinctly transnational nature.”
The U.S. doesn’t currently have a domestic terrorism law on the books, nor is there a legal tool in place for designating domestic extremist organizations as terrorists.
The designations could require much more time and resources before anything is made certain; however, counterterrorism experts say discussions on the matter are “long overdue.”