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Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement

Summary: The government’s response to known connections of law enforcement officers to violent racist and militant groups has been strikingly insufficient.

Published: August 27, 2020
White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement
FanaticStudio/Getty/BCJ

Introduction

Racial dispar­it­ies have long pervaded every step of the crim­inal justice process, from police stops, searches, arrests, shoot­ings and other uses of force to char­ging decisions, wrong­ful convic­tions, and sentences. foot­note1_8eynxe5 1 Joseph Guzman, “Cali­for­nia Police Stop Black Drivers at Higher Rates, Analysis Finds,” Chan­ging Amer­ica, The Hill, Janu­ary 3, 2020, https://thehill.com/chan­ging-amer­ica/respect/equal­ity/476685-cali­for­nia-police-stop-black-drivers-at-higher-rates; Brad Heath, “Racial Gap in U.S. Arrest Rates: ‘Stag­ger­ing Dispar­ity,’” USA Today, Novem­ber 18, 2014, https://www.usat­oday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/18/ferguson-black-arrest-rates/19043207/; German Lopez and Javier Zarra­cina, “Study: Black People Are 7 Times More Likely than White People to Be Wrongly Convicted of Murder,” Vox, March 7, 2017, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-polit­ics/2017/3/7/14834454/exon­er­a­tion-inno­cence-prison-racism; German Lopez, “There Are Huge Racial Dispar­it­ies in How US Police Use Force,” Vox, Novem­ber 14, 2018, https://www.vox.com/iden­tit­ies/2016/8/13/17938186/police-shoot­ings-killings-racism-racial-dispar­it­ies; Timothy Willi­ams, “Black People Are Charged at a Higher Rate Than Whites. What if Prosec­utors Didn’t Know Their Race?” New York Times, June 12, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/12/us/prosec­utor-race-blind-char­ging.html; and Chris­topher Ingra­ham, “Black Men Sentenced to More Time for Commit­ting the Exact Same Crime as a White Person, Study Finds,” Wash­ing­ton Post, Novem­ber 16, 2017, https://www.wash­ing­ton­post.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/16/black-men-sentenced-to-more-time-for-commit­ting-the-exact-same-crime-as-a-white-person-study-finds/. As a result, many have concluded that a struc­tural or insti­tu­tional bias against people of color, shaped by long-stand­ing racial, economic, and social inequit­ies, infects the crim­inal justice system. foot­note2_wr8n­z9x 2 Radley Balko, “There’s Over­whelm­ing Evid­ence that the Crim­inal Justice System Is Racist. Here’s the Proof,” Wash­ing­ton Post, June 10, 2020, https://www.wash­ing­ton­post.com/news/opin­ions/wp/2018/09/18/theres-over­whelm­ing-evid­ence-that-the-crim­inal-justice-system-is-racist-heres-the-proof/. These systemic inequit­ies can also instill impli­cit biases — uncon­scious preju­dices that favor in-groups and stig­mat­ize out-groups — among indi­vidual law enforce­ment offi­cials, influ­en­cing their day-to-day actions while inter­act­ing with the public. 

Police reforms, often imposed after incid­ents of racist miscon­duct or brutal­ity, have focused on address­ing these uncon­scious mani­fest­a­tions of bias. The U.S. Depart­ment of Justice (DOJ), for example, has required impli­cit bias train­ing as part of consent decrees it imposes to root out discrim­in­at­ory prac­tices in law enforce­ment agen­cies. Such train­ing meas­ures are designed to help law enforce­ment officers recog­nize these uncon­scious biases in order to reduce their influ­ence on police beha­vior.

These reforms, while well-inten­tioned, leave unad­dressed an espe­cially harm­ful form of bias, which remains entrenched within law enforce­ment: expli­cit racism. Expli­cit racism in law enforce­ment takes many forms, from member­ship or affil­i­ation with viol­ent white suprem­acist or far-right milit­ant groups, to enga­ging in racially discrim­in­at­ory beha­vior toward the public or law enforce­ment colleagues, to making racist remarks and shar­ing them on social media. While it is widely acknow­ledged that racist officers subsist within police depart­ments around the coun­try, federal, state, and local govern­ments are doing far too little to proact­ively identify them, report their beha­vior to prosec­utors who might unwit­tingly rely on their testi­mony in crim­inal cases, or protect the diverse communit­ies they are sworn to serve.

Efforts to address systemic and impli­cit biases in law enforce­ment are unlikely to be effect­ive in redu­cing the racial dispar­it­ies in the crim­inal justice system as long as expli­cit racism in law enforce­ment contin­ues to endure. There is ample evid­ence to demon­strate that it does.

In 2017, the FBI repor­ted that white suprem­acists posed a “persist­ent threat of lethal viol­ence” that has produced more fatal­it­ies than any other category of domestic terror­ists since 2000. foot­note3_exbuf92 3 Federal Bureau of Invest­ig­a­tion and Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity, Joint Intel­li­gence Bulletin, White Suprem­acist Extrem­ism Poses Persist­ent Threat of Lethal Viol­ence, May 10, 2017, https://www.docu­mentcloud.org/docu­ments/3924852-White-Suprem­acist-Extrem­ism-JIB.html. Alarm­ingly, internal FBI policy docu­ments have also warned agents assigned to domestic terror­ism cases that the white suprem­acist and anti-govern­ment mili­tia groups they invest­ig­ate often have “active links” to law enforce­ment offi­cials. foot­note4_ai47aek 4 Federal Bureau of Invest­ig­a­tion, Coun­terter­ror­ism Divi­sion, Coun­terter­ror­ism Policy Direct­ive and Policy Guide, April 1, 2015 (updated Novem­ber 18, 2015), 89, https://assets.docu­mentcloud.org/docu­ments/3423189/CT-Excerpt.pdf.

The harms that armed law enforce­ment officers affil­i­ated with viol­ent white suprem­acist and anti-govern­ment mili­tia groups can inflict on Amer­ican soci­ety could hardly be over­stated. Yet despite the FBI’s acknow­ledge­ment of the links between law enforce­ment and these suspec­ted terror­ist groups, the Justice Depart­ment has no national strategy designed to identify white suprem­acist police officers or to protect the safety and civil rights of the communit­ies they patrol.

Obvi­ously, only a tiny percent­age of law enforce­ment offi­cials are likely to be active members of white suprem­acist groups. But one does­n’t need access to secret­ive intel­li­gence gathered in FBI terror­ism invest­ig­a­tions to find evid­ence of overt and expli­cit racism within law enforce­ment. Since 2000, law enforce­ment offi­cials with alleged connec­tions to white suprem­acist groups or far-right milit­ant activ­it­ies have been exposed in Alabama, Cali­for­nia, Connecti­cut, Flor­ida, Illinois, Louisi­ana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Wash­ing­ton, West Virginia, and else­where. foot­note5_93usqo5 5 Becky Bratu, “Two Alabama Officers Put on Leave for Alleged Ties to ‘Hate Group,’” NBC News, June 17, 2015, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/crime-courts/two-alabama-officers-put-leave-alleged-ties-hate-group-n377421; Michael Winter, “KKK Member­ship Sinks 2 Flor­ida Cops,” USA Today, July 14, 2014, https://www.usat­oday.com/story/news/nation/2014/07/14/florid-police-kkk/12645555/; Michelle Fox, “Texas Officers Fired for Member­ship in KKK,” ABC News, Janu­ary 7, 2006, https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93046&page=1; Andy Camp­bell, “KKK Cop Fired After Nazi Salute Photo Surfaces,” Huff­ing­ton Post, Septem­ber 3, 2015, https://www.huff­post.com/entry/kkk-cop-fired-nazi-salute_n_55e885d9e4b0c818f61b24c2; Angela Helm, “Color Me Shocked: 2 Virginia Police Officers Fired for Ties to White Suprem­acist Orgs,” Root, April 22, 2019, https://www.theroot.com/color-me-shocked-2-virginia-police-officers-fired-for-1834211339; Phil Helsel, “Three Fired Over Nazi Salute Photo with West Virginia Correc­tions Employee,” NBC News, Decem­ber 6, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/three-fired-over-nazi-salute-photo-west-virginia-correc­tions-employ­ees-n1097566; State v. Hende­r­son, 277 Neb. 240 (2009), https://case­law.find­law.com/ne-supreme-court/1479842.html; Mariel Padilla, “Michigan Police Officer Is Termin­ated After K.K.K. Applic­a­tion Was Found in His Home,” New York Times, Septem­ber 13, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/13/us/officer-charles-ander­son-ku-klux-klan.html; Nick Budnick, “The Cop Who Liked Nazis,” Willamette Week, Febru­ary 10, 2004 (updated Janu­ary 24, 2017), https://www.wweek.com/port­land/article-2933-the-cop-who-liked-nazis.html; Paighten Harkins, “Interim Colbert Police Chief to Resign amid Report of Connec­tion to Neo-Nazi Websites,” Tulsa World, August 27, 2017, https://www.tulsa­world.com/homepa­gelatest/interim-colbert-police-chief-to-resign-amid-report-of-connec­tion/article_98d1b­d9e-9ad8–553e-84cd-8d63d360e0c8.html; Katie Shep­herd, “Clark County Sher­iff Deputy Fired After Wear­ing a Proud Boys Sweat­shirt,” Willamette Week, July 20, 2018, https://www.wweek.com/news/courts/2018/07/20/clark-county-sher­iff-deputy-fired-after-wear­ing-a-proud-boys-sweat­shirt/; Michael Kunzel­man, “Connecti­cut Police Officer: I Quit Proud Boys Over Fears of ‘Far-Left’ Attacks,” Hart­ford Cour­ant, Novem­ber 13, 2019, https://www.cour­ant.com/news/connecti­cut/hc-news-connecti­cut-proud-boys-police-officer-20191113–73r6p­b7zv5halb­w­ja7le5jvjwu-story.html; George Joseph, Raven Rakia, and Ethan Corey, “Claims of Racism and Brutal­ity Dog Los Angeles County Sher­iff ‘Deputy Gangs,’” Appeal, Septem­ber 28, 2018, https://theappeal.org/claims-of-racism-brutal­ity-dog-los-angeles-county-sher­iff-deputy-gangs/; Richard Winton, “O.C. Deputy Under Invest­ig­a­tion After Wear­ing Extrem­ist Para­mil­it­ary Patch at George Floyd Protest,” Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/cali­for­nia/story/2020–06–03/orange-county-deputy-three-percen­t­ers-patch-george-floyd-protest; and “CPD Invest­ig­at­ing After Officer Wore Extrem­ist Mili­tia Logo to Down­town Protest Saturday,” CBS Chicago, June 9, 2020, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/cpd-invest­ig­at­ing-after-officer-wore-extrem­ist-mili­tia-logo-to-down­town-protest-saturday/ar-BB15d­ByT. Research organ­iz­a­tions have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforce­ment offi­cials parti­cip­at­ing in racist, nativ­ist, and sexist social media activ­ity, which demon­strates that overt bias is far too common. foot­note6_y49cmw8 6 Rashad Robin­son, “We Can’t Trust Police to Protect Us from Racist Viol­ence. They Contrib­ute to It,” Guard­ian, August 21, 2019, https://www.theguard­ian.com/commentis­free/2019/aug/21/police-white-nation­al­ists-racist-viol­ence. These officers’ racist activ­it­ies are often known within their depart­ments, but only result in discip­lin­ary action or termin­a­tion if they trig­ger public scan­dals.

Few law enforce­ment agen­cies have policies that specific­ally prohibit affil­i­at­ing with white suprem­acist groups. Instead, these officers typic­ally face discip­line, if at all, for more gener­ally defined prohib­i­tions against conduct detri­mental to the depart­ment or for viol­a­tions of anti-discrim­in­a­tion regu­la­tions or social media policies. Firings often lead to prolonged litig­a­tion, with dismissed officers claim­ing viol­a­tions of their First Amend­ment speech and asso­ci­ation rights. Most courts have upheld dismissals of police officers who have affil­i­ated with racist or milit­ant groups, follow­ing Supreme Court decisions limit­ing free speech rights for public employ­ees to matters of public concern. foot­note7_sull8xx 7 See, e.g., Pick­er­ing v. Board of Educa­tion, 391 U.S. 563 (1968); and Garcetti v. Cebal­los, 547 U.S. 410, 417 (2006). Courts have given law enforce­ment agen­cies even greater latit­ude to restrict speech and asso­ci­ation, citing their “heightened need for order, loyalty, morale and harmony.” foot­note8_r0bf1qj 8 See, e.g., Garcetti, 547 U.S. 410, 417; Oladeinde v. City of Birm­ing­ham, 230 F.3d 1275, 1293 (11th Cir. 2000); Doggrell v. City of Annis­ton, 277 F. Supp. 3d 1239 (N.D. Ala. 2017), https://case­text.com/case/doggrell-v-city-of-annis­ton-1; and State v. Hende­r­son, 277 Neb. 240. See also Robin D. Barnes, “Blue by Day and White by (K)night: Regu­lat­ing the Polit­ical Affil­i­ations of Law Enforce­ment and Milit­ary Person­nel,” Iowa Law Review 81 (1996): 1085.

Some officers who have asso­ci­ated with milit­ant groups or engaged in racist beha­vior have not been fired, however, or have had their dismissals over­turned by courts or in arbit­ra­tion. Such due process is required to ensure integ­rity and equity in the discip­lin­ary process and protect falsely accused police officers from unjust punish­ments. Certainly, there will be cases where an officer’s beha­vior can be correc­ted with remedial meas­ures short of termin­a­tion. But leav­ing officers tain­ted by racist beha­vior in a job with immense discre­tion to take a person’s life and liberty requires a detailed super­vi­sion plan to mitig­ate the poten­tial threats they pose to the communit­ies they police, imple­men­ted with suffi­cient trans­par­ency to restore public trust.

Progress in remov­ing expli­cit racism from law enforce­ment has clearly been made since the civil rights era, when Ku Klux Klan–af­fil­i­ated officers were far too common. But, as Geor­getown Univer­sity law professor Vida B. John­son argues, “The system can never achieve its purpor­ted goal of fair­ness while white suprem­acists continue to hide within police depart­ments.” foot­note9_p56zu7q 9 Vida B. John­son, “KKK in the PD: White Suprem­acists in Law Enforce­ment and What to Do About It,” Lewis and Clark Law Review 23 (2019): 211. Trust in the police remains low among people of color, who are often victims of police viol­ence and abuse and are dispro­por­tion­ately under­served as victims of crime. foot­note10_gbdr9un 10 Vida B. John­son, “The Epidemic of White Suprem­acist Police,” Appeal, August 7, 2017, https://theappeal.org/the-epidemic-of-white-suprem­acist-police-4992cb7ad97a/. The fail­ure of law enforce­ment to adequately respond to racist viol­ence and hate crimes or prop­erly police white suprem­acist riots in cities across the United States over the last several years has left many Amer­ic­ans concerned that bias in law enforce­ment is pervas­ive. foot­note11_bf52s4j 11 See, e.g., Matt Coker, “7 Charged in Anaheim KKK Melee — But Stabby Klan­ner Not One of Them,” OC Weekly, July 1, 2016, https://www.ocweekly.com/7-charged-in-anaheim-kkk-melee-but-stabby-klan­ner-not-one-of-them-7305812–2/; James Queally, “Ku Klux Klan Rally in Anaheim Erupts in Viol­ence; 3 Are Stabbed and 13 Arres­ted,” Los Angeles Times, Febru­ary 26, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-klan-rally-in-anaheim-erupts-in-viol­ence-one-man-stabbed-20160227-story.html; Sam Levin, “How a Cali­for­nia Officer Protec­ted Neo-Nazis and Targeted Their Victims,” Guard­ian, Janu­ary 25, 2019, https://www.theguard­ian.com/us-news/2019/jan/25/cali­for­nia-police-neo-nazis-antifa-protest; Frank John Tristan, “Hunt­ing­ton Beach Pro-Trump March Turns into Attack on Anti-Trump Protest­ors,” OC Weekly, March 26, 2017, https://www.ocweekly.com/hunt­ing­ton-beach-pro-trump-march-turns-into-attack-on-anti-trump-protest­ers-press-7991623/; Frances Robles, “As White Nation­al­ist in Char­lottes­ville Fired, Police ‘Never Moved,’” New York Times, August 25, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/us/char­lottes­ville-protest-police.html; and Arun Gupta, “Riot­landia: Why Port­land has Become the Epicen­ter of Far-Right Viol­ence,” Inter­cept, August 26, 2019, https://thein­ter­cept.com/2019/08/16/port­land-far-right-rally/. This report exam­ines the law enforce­ment response to racist beha­vior, white suprem­acy, and far-right milit­ancy within the ranks and recom­mends policy solu­tions to inform a more effect­ive response.

End Notes

Inadequate Response to Affiliations with White Supremacist and Militant Groups

The FBI’s 2015 Coun­terter­ror­ism Policy Direct­ive and Policy Guide warns that “domestic terror­ism invest­ig­a­tions focused on mili­tia extrem­ists, white suprem­acist extrem­ists, and sover­eign citizen extrem­ists often have iden­ti­fied active links to law enforce­ment officers.” foot­note1_2972bzj 1 FBI, Coun­terter­ror­ism Divi­sion, Coun­terter­ror­ism Policy Direct­ive and Policy Guide, 89. This alarm­ing declar­a­tion followed a 2006 intel­li­gence assess­ment, based on FBI invest­ig­a­tions and open sources, that warned of “white suprem­acist infilt­ra­tion of law enforce­ment . . . by organ­ized groups and by self-initi­ated infilt­ra­tion by law enforce­ment person­nel sympath­etic to white suprem­acist causes.” foot­note2_crkx7og 2 Federal Bureau of Invest­ig­a­tion, Coun­terter­ror­ism Divi­sion, Intel­li­gence Assess­ment, White Suprem­acist Infilt­ra­tion of Law Enforce­ment, Octo­ber 17, 2006, 4, http://s3.docu­mentcloud.org/docu­ments/402521/doc-26-white-suprem­acist-infilt­ra­tion.pdf. Active links between law enforce­ment offi­cials and the subjects of any terror­ism invest­ig­a­tion should raise alarms within our national secur­ity estab­lish­ment, but the federal govern­ment has not respon­ded accord­ingly.

The FBI and the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity (DHS) have iden­ti­fied white suprem­acists as the most lethal domestic terror­ist threat to the United States. foot­note3_twnc­sbj 3 Federal Bureau of Invest­ig­a­tion and Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity, White Suprem­acist Extrem­ism Poses Persist­ent Threat of Lethal Viol­ence, 4. In recent years, white suprem­acists have executed deadly rampages in Char­le­ston, South Caro­lina, Pitt­s­burgh, Pennsylvania, and El Paso, Texas. foot­note4_83m1bf4 4 See, e.g., Weiyi Cai et al., “White Extrem­ist Ideo­logy Drives Many Deadly Shoot­ings,” New York Times, August 5, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/inter­act­ive/2019/08/04/us/white-extrem­ist-active-shooter.html. Narrowly thwarted attempts by neo-Nazis to manu­fac­ture radi­olo­gical “dirty” bombs in Maine in 2009 and Flor­ida in 2017 show their danger­ous capab­il­ity and intent to unleash mass destruc­tion. foot­note5_xk0onc5 5 See, e.g., Walter Griffin, “Report: ‘Dirty Bomb’ Parts Found in Slain Man’s Home,” Bangor Daily News, Febru­ary 10, 2009, https://bangordailynews.com/2009/02/10/polit­ics/report-dirty-bomb-parts-found-in-slain-mans-home/; and Tim Elfrink, “Neo-Nazi National Guards­man Busted in Flor­ida Keys Had ‘Radio­act­ive Mater­ial,’ Bombs,” Miami New Times, May 23, 2017, https://www.miam­inew­times.com/news/brandon-russell-neo-nazi-flor­ida-national-guards­man-had-radio­act­ive-mater­ial-bombs-9366836. These groups also pose a lethal threat to law enforce­ment, as evid­enced by recent attacks against Federal Protect­ive Service officers and sher­iff’s depu­ties in Cali­for­nia by far-right milit­ants intent on start­ing the “Booga­loo” — a euphem­ism for a new civil war — which killed two and injured several others. foot­note6_3ex9cns 6 Jay Barmann, “Santa Cruz Shooter Charged along with ‘Boo­ga­loo Move­ment’ Accom­plice in Oakland Shoot­ing of Federal Officers,” SFist, June 16, 2020, https://sfist.com/2020/06/16/santa-cruz-cop-killer-charged-along-with-booga­loo/.

Any law enforce­ment officers asso­ci­at­ing with these groups should be treated as a matter of urgent concern. Oper­at­ing under color of law, such officers put the lives and liberty of people of color, reli­gious minor­it­ies, LGBTQ+ people, and anti-racist activ­ists at extreme risk, both through the viol­ence they can mete out directly and by their fail­ure to prop­erly respond when these communit­ies are victim­ized by other racist viol­ent crime. Biased poli­cing also tears at the fabric of Amer­ican soci­ety by under­min­ing public trust in equal justice and the rule of law.

The FBI’s 2006 assess­ment, however, takes a narrower view. It claims that “the primary threat” posed by the infilt­ra­tion or recruit­ment of police officers into white suprem­acist or other far-right milit­ant groups “arises from the areas of intel­li­gence collec­tion and exploit­a­tion, which can lead to invest­ig­at­ive breaches and can jeop­ard­ize the safety of law enforce­ment sources or person­nel.” foot­note7_60oh5n9 7 FBI, Coun­terter­ror­ism Divi­sion, White Suprem­acist Infilt­ra­tion of Law Enforce­ment, 3. Though the FBI redac­ted signi­fic­ant passages of the assess­ment before releas­ing it to the public, the docu­ment does not appear to address any of the poten­tial harms these bigoted officers pose to communit­ies of color they police or to soci­ety at large. Rather, it iden­ti­fies the main prob­lem as a risk to the integ­rity of FBI invest­ig­a­tions and the secur­ity of its agents and inform­ants.

In a June 2019 hear­ing before the House Commit­tee on Over­sight and Reform, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) asked Michael McGar­rity, the FBI’s assist­ant director for coun­terter­ror­ism, whether the bureau remained concerned about white suprem­acist infilt­ra­tion of law enforce­ment since the public­a­tion of the 2006 assess­ment. McGar­rity indic­ated he had not read the 2006 assess­ment. foot­note8_m24opxe 8 Confront­ing Viol­ent White Suprem­acy (Part II): Adequacy of the Federal Respon­se—­Hear­ing before the Subcom­mit­tee on Civil Rights and Civil Liber­ties of the Commit­tee on Over­sight and Reform, House of Repres­ent­at­ives, 116th Cong. 22 (2019), https://docs.house.gov/meet­ings/GO/GO02/20190604/109579/HHRG-116-GO02-Tran­script-20190604.pdf.

When asked more gener­ally about the issue, McGar­rity said he would be “suspect” of white suprem­acist police officers, but that their ideo­logy was a First Amend­ment–­pro­tec­ted right. The 2006 assess­ment addresses this concern, however, correctly summar­iz­ing Supreme Court preced­ent on the issue: “Although the First Amend­ment’s free­dom of asso­ci­ation provi­sion protects an indi­vidu­al’s right to join white suprem­acist groups for the purposes of lawful activ­ity, the govern­ment can limit the employ­ment oppor­tun­it­ies of group members who hold sens­it­ive public sector jobs, includ­ing jobs within law enforce­ment, when their member­ships would inter­fere with their duties.” foot­note9_q3qat54 9 FBI, Coun­terter­ror­ism Divi­sion, White Suprem­acist Infilt­ra­tion of Law Enforce­ment, 6. See also Pick­er­ing, 391 U.S. 563; Garcetti, 547 U.S. 410, 417.

More import­antly, the FBI’s 2015 coun­terter­ror­ism policy, which McGar­rity was respons­ible for imple­ment­ing, indic­ates not just that members of law enforce­ment might hold white suprem­acist views, but that FBI domestic terror­ism invest­ig­a­tions have often iden­ti­fied “active links” between the subjects of these invest­ig­a­tions and law enforce­ment offi­cials. Its proposed remedy is stun­ningly inad­equate, however. The guide simply instructs agents to use the “silent hit” feature of the Terror­ist Screen­ing Center watch­list so that police officers search­ing for them­selves or their white suprem­acist asso­ci­ates could not ascer­tain whether they were under FBI scru­tiny.

While it is import­ant to protect the integ­rity of FBI terror­ism invest­ig­a­tions and the safety of law enforce­ment person­nel, Congress has also tasked the FBI with protect­ing the civil rights of Amer­ican communit­ies often targeted with discrim­in­at­ory stops, searches, arrests, and brutal­ity at the hands of police officers. The issue in these cases isn’t ideo­logy but law enforce­ment connec­tions to subjects of active terror­ism invest­ig­a­tions. It is unlikely that the FBI would be simil­arly hesit­ant to act if it received inform­a­tion that U.S. law enforce­ment offi­cials were actively linked to terror­ist groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS, or to crim­inal organ­iz­a­tions like street gangs or the Mafia. Yet many of the white suprem­acist groups invest­ig­ated by the FBI have longer and more viol­ent histor­ies than these other organ­iz­a­tions. The federal response to known connec­tions of law enforce­ment officers to white suprem­acist and far-right milit­ant groups has been strik­ingly insuf­fi­cient.

End Notes

A Long History of Law Enforcement Involvement in White Supremacist Violence

White suprem­acy was cent­ral to the found­ing of the United States, sanc­ti­fied in law and prac­tice. It was the driv­ing ideo­logy behind the European colon­iz­a­tion of North Amer­ica, the subjug­a­tion of Native Amer­ic­ans, and the enslave­ment of kidnapped Afric­ans and their descend­ants. Poli­cing in the early Amer­ican colon­ies was often less about crime control than main­tain­ing the racial social order, ensur­ing a stable labor force, and protect­ing the prop­erty interests of the white priv­ileged class. Slave patrols were among the first public poli­cing organ­iz­a­tions formed in the Amer­ican colon­ies. foot­note1_t8qww5w 1 Gary Potter, “The History of Poli­cing in the United States, Part 1,” Police Stud­ies Online, East­ern Kentucky Univer­sity, June 25, 2013, https://plson­line.eku.edu/inside­look/history-poli­cing-united-states-part-1. Put simply, white suprem­acy was the law these earli­est public offi­cials were sworn to enforce. Even states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indi­ana, and Illinois that banned slavery enacted racist “Black laws,” which restric­ted travel and denied civil rights regard­ing voting, educa­tion, employ­ment, and even resid­ency for free Black people. foot­note2_x1d83ej 2 See David Dorado Romo, “To Under­stand the El Paso Massacre, Look to the Long Legacy of Anti-Mexican Viol­ence at the Border,” Texas Observer, August 9, 2019, https://www.texasob­server.org/to-under­stand-the-el-paso-massacre-look-to-the-long-legacy-of-anti-mexican-viol­ence-at-the-border/. The U.S. Congress passed the Fugit­ive Slave Act of 1850, which required law enforce­ment offi­cials in free states to return escaped slaves to their enslavers in the South. foot­note3_6y6fyer 3 Cath­er­ine A. Paul, “Fugit­ive Slave Act of 1850,” Social Welfare History Project, Virginia Common­wealth Univer­sity Librar­ies, 2016, https://social­wel­fare.library.vcu.edu/federal/fugit­ive-slave-act-of-1850/.

When slavery was finally abol­ished in the United States after the Civil War, de jure white suprem­acy lived on through Black codes and Jim Crow laws. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclu­sion Act, an openly racist law halt­ing Chinese immig­ra­tion and deny­ing natur­al­iz­a­tion to Chinese nation­als already living in the United States. foot­note4_hj9sgyp 4 Irene Hsu, “The Echoes of Chinese Exclu­sion,” New Repub­lic, June 28, 2018, https://newre­pub­lic.com/article/149437/echoes-chinese-exclu­sion. The Immig­ra­tion Act of 1924 was also expli­citly racist, codi­fy­ing strict national origin quotas to limit Italian, east­ern European, and nonwhite immig­ra­tion. The law barred all immig­ra­tion from Japan and other Asian coun­tries not already excluded by previ­ous legis­la­tion. foot­note5_hb79ny7 5 “The Immig­ra­tion Act of 1924 (The John­son-Reed Act),” Office of the Histor­ian, Depart­ment of State, https://history.state.gov/mile­stones/1921–1936/immig­ra­tion-act.

As the United States expan­ded west­ward, govern­ment agents enforced policies of viol­ent ethnic cleans­ing against Native Amer­ic­ans and Mexican Amer­ic­ans. In the early 20th century, Texas Rangers led lynch­ing parties that targeted Mexican Amer­ic­ans resid­ing in Texas border towns on specious alleg­a­tions of banditry. foot­note6_2tsek6y 6 Nich­olas Villanueva Jr., The Lynch­ing of Mexic­ans in the Texas Border­lands (Albuquerque: Univer­sity of New Mexico Press, 2017). Where the laws were deemed insuf­fi­cient to dissuade nonwhites and non-Prot­est­ants from exer­cising their civil rights, reac­tion­ary groups such as the Ku Klux Klan used terror­ist viol­ence to enforce white suprem­acy. Law enforce­ment offi­cials often parti­cip­ated in this viol­ence directly or suppor­ted it by refus­ing to fulfill their duty to protect the peace and hold lawbreak­ers to account. By the 1920s, the KKK alone claimed 1 million members nation­wide from New England to Cali­for­nia, and had fully infilt­rated federal, state, and local govern­ments to advance its exclu­sion­ist agenda. foot­note7_zawhfi6 7 See, e.g., Clay Risen, “The Ku Klux Klan’s Surpris­ing History,” review of The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the Amer­ican Polit­ical Tradi­tion, by Linda Gordon, New York Times, Decem­ber 4, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/04/books/review/linda-gordon-the-second-coming-of-the-kkk.html; Patrick Lacroix, review of Not a Cath­olic Nation: The Ku Klux Klan Confronts New England in the 1920s, by Mark Paul Richard, Human­it­ies and Social Sciences Online, March 2016, https://networks.h-net.org/node/15697/reviews/117687/lacroix-richard-not-cath­olic-nation-ku-klux-klan-confronts-new-england; and Cecilia Rasmussen, “Klan’s Tentacles Once Exten­ded to South­land,” Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1999, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-may-30-me-42577-story.html.

Many states outside the Deep South main­tained “sundown towns” where police officers and vigil­ante mobs enforced offi­cial and quasi-offi­cial policies prohib­it­ing Black (and often other nonwhite) people from remain­ing in town past sunset. foot­note8_px9j0ah 8 James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimen­sion of Amer­ican Racism (New York: The New Press, 2005); and James Loewen, “Was Your Town a Sundown Town?,” UU World, Febru­ary 18, 2008, https://www.uuworld.org/articles/was-your-town-sundown-town. Into the 1970s, there were an estim­ated 10,000 sundown towns across the United States. foot­note9_ouyqhin 9 Loewen, “Was Your Town a Sundown Town?” Police enforce­ment of white suprem­acy was never just a regional prob­lem.

End Notes

Hidden in Plain Sight

In 1964, civil rights work­ers James Chaney, Andrew Good­man, and Michael Schwerner went miss­ing in Missis­sippi during the Free­dom Summer voter regis­tra­tion drive, shortly after being released from a Phil­adelphia, Missis­sippi, jail where they had been taken to pay a speed­ing fine. foot­note1_5cgg5bw 1 See, e.g., “Murder in Missis­sippi,” Amer­ican Exper­i­ence, PBS, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amer­icanex­per­i­ence/features/freedom­sum­mer-murder/; “Missis­sippi Burn­ing,” Famous Cases & Crim­in­als, FBI, https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/missis­sippi-burn­ing. Pres­id­ent Lyndon John­son ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to send FBI agents to find them. Search­ers found the bodies of eight black men, includ­ing two college students who were work­ing on the voter regis­tra­tion drive, before an inform­ant’s tip finally led the agents to an earthen dam where Chaney, Good­man, and Schwerner were buried. After local law enforce­ment refused to invest­ig­ate the murders, the Justice Depart­ment charged 19 Ku Klux Klans­men with conspir­ing to viol­ate Chaney, Good­man, and Schwern­er’s civil rights. Two current and two former law enforce­ment offi­cials were among those charged. An all-white jury convicted seven of the Klans­man but only one of the law enforce­ment officers. foot­note2_p4sy96t 2 U.S. Depart­ment of Justice, Civil Rights Divi­sion, Invest­ig­a­tion of the 1964 Murders of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Good­man, June 2016, 13–14, http://docshare04.docshare.tips/files/31625/316255786.pdf.

While the Missis­sippi Burn­ing case was the most notori­ous, it was far from the last time white suprem­acist law enforce­ment officers engaged in racist viol­ence. There is an unbroken chain of law enforce­ment involve­ment in viol­ent, organ­ized racist activ­ity right up to the present. In the 1980s, the invest­ig­a­tion of a KKK fire­bomb­ing of a Black family’s home in Kentucky exposed a Jeffer­son County police officer as a Klan leader. In a depos­ition, the officer admit­ted that he direc­ted a 40-member Klan subgroup called the Confed­er­ate Officers Patriot Squad (COPS), half of whom were police officers. He added that his involve­ment in the KKK was known to his police depart­ment and toler­ated so long as he didn’t publi­cize it. foot­note3_zylqi35 3 In Re the Cour­ier-Journal and Louis­ville Times Company, Peti­tion­ers, v. Robert Marshall and Martha Marshall, Respond­ents, 828 F.2d 361 (6th Cir. 1987); Marshall v. Bramer, 828 F.2d 325 (6th Cir. 1987).

In the 1990s, Lynwood, Cali­for­nia, resid­ents filed a class action civil rights lawsuit alleging that a gang of racist Los Angeles County sher­iff’s depu­ties known as the Lynwood Vikings perpet­rated “system­atic acts of shoot­ing, killing, brutal­ity, terror­ism, house-trash­ing and other acts of lawless­ness and wanton abuse of power.” foot­note4_5paig0p 4 Hector Tobar, “Depu­ties in ‘Neo-Nazi’ Gang, Judge Found: Sher­iff’s Depart­ment: Many at Lynwood Office Have Engaged in Racially Motiv­ated Viol­ence Against Blacks and Lati­nos, Jurist Wrote,” Los Angeles Times, Octo­ber 12, 1991, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991–10–12-me-107-story.html. A federal judge over­see­ing the case labeled the Vikings “a neo-Nazi, white suprem­acist gang” within the sher­iff’s depart­ment that engaged in racially motiv­ated viol­ence and intim­id­a­tion against the Black and Latino communit­ies. In 1996, the county paid $9 million in settle­ments. foot­note5_bx07eez 5 Celeste Fremon, “The Down­fall of Sher­iff Baca,” Los Angeles Magazine, May 14, 2015, https://www.lamag.com/long­form/down­fall/2/.

Recent report­ing suggests this overtly racist gang activ­ity within the sher­iff’s depart­ment contin­ues. foot­note6_g1o6wsm 6 George Joseph, Raven Rakia, and Ethan Corey, “Claims of Racism and Brutal­ity Dog Los Angeles County Sher­iff ‘Deputy Gangs,’” Appeal, Septem­ber 28, 2018, https://theappeal.org/claims-of-racism-brutal­ity-dog-los-angeles-county-sher­iff-deputy-gangs/. In 2019, Los Angeles County paid $7 million to settle a wrong­ful death lawsuit against two sher­iff’s depu­ties for shoot­ing an unarmed Black man after testi­mony revealed that they were part of a group of depu­ties with match­ing tattoos in the tradi­tion of earlier deputy gangs. A pending lawsuit accuses the same two officers of beat­ing an unarmed Black man while yelling racial epithets. foot­note7_9m5egxx 7 Maya Lau, “Cop Group with Match­ing Skull Tattoos Costs Taxpay­ers $7 Million in Fatal Shoot­ing,” Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-sher­iff-tattoo-settle­ment-20190618-story.html. A Los Angeles County Board of Super­visors invest­ig­a­tion revealed that almost 60 lawsuits against alleged members of deputy gangs have cost the county about $55 million, which includes $21 million in cases over the last 10 years. These deputy gangs pose a threat to their fellow law enforce­ment officers as well, accord­ing to two recently filed lawsuits. In one, a deputy alleges he had been bullied by deputy gang members for five years, and finally viciously beaten by the gang’s enfor­cer. foot­note8_3mr159x 8 Jovana Lara and Lisa Bartley, “Compton Deputy Alleges Savage Beat­ing by LASD-based ‘Exe­cu­tion­er’ Gang, ABC7, August 6, 2020, https://abc7.com/compton-deputy-gang-execu­tion­ers-attacked-beat­ing/6356565/. In another, a deputy who witnessed the attack alleged he suffered threats and retali­ation from deputy gang members after report­ing it to an internal affairs tip line. foot­note9_qtbt7iu 9 Alene Tchekm­edyian and Maya Lau, “L.A. County Deputy Alleges ‘Exe­cu­tion­er’ Gang Domin­ates Compton Sher­iff Station, Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/cali­for­nia/story/2020–07–30/sher­iff-clique-compton-station-execu­tion­ers. In 2019, the FBI reportedly initi­ated a civil rights invest­ig­a­tion regard­ing gang activ­ity at the sher­iff’s depart­ment. foot­note10_49uwafr 10 Alene Tchekm­edyian, “Depu­ties Accused of Being in Secret Soci­et­ies Cost L.A. County Taxpay­ers $55 million, Records Show,” Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/cali­for­nia/story/2020–08–04/sher­iff-deputy-clique-payouts.

Only rarely do these cases lead to crim­inal charges. In 2017, Flor­ida state prosec­utors convicted three prison guards of plot­ting with fellow KKK members to murder an inmate. foot­note11_mi0m­cij 11 Derek Hawkins, “Ex-Prison Guards in Ku Klux Klan Plot­ted to Kill a Black Inmate. An FBI Inform­ant Caught Them,” Wash­ing­ton Post, August 16, 2017, https://www.wash­ing­ton­post.com/news/morn­ing-mix/wp/2017/08/16/ex-prison-guards-in-ku-klux-klan-plot­ted-to-kill-a-black-inmate-an-fbi-inform­ant-caught-them/. Federal prosec­u­tions are even rarer. In 2019, the Justice Depart­ment charged a New Jersey police chief with a hate crime for assault­ing a Black teen­ager during a tres­passing arrest after several of his depu­ties recor­ded his numer­ous racist rants. This incid­ent marked the first time in more than a decade that federal prosec­utors charged a law enforce­ment offi­cial for an on-duty use of force as a hate crime. foot­note12_el8kegg 12 Lisa Rose, “This Is the First Police Officer Charged with a Federal Hate Crime in at Least 10 Years,” CNN, Decem­ber 21, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/21/polit­ics/first-police-officer-charged-with-hate-crime-in-years/index.html. A jury convicted the police chief of lying to FBI agents but was unable to reach a verdict on the hate crime charge, which prosec­utors vowed to retry. foot­note13_0mdmnk2 13 See, e.g., Isaac Avilucea, “Former Bordentown Police Chief Frank Nucera Wants Verdict Thrown Out Based Off White Juror Guilt,” Trento­nian, Decem­ber 17, 2019 https://www.trento­nian.com/news/former-bordentown-chief-frank-nucera-wants-verdict-thrown-out-based/article_83507f0e-210f-11ea-9e97–57f­ba72c1239.html; and Isaac Avilucea, “Victim in Frank Nucera Hate-Crime Case Accused of Beat­ing Up Girl­friend in Trenton,” Trento­nian, May 18, 2020, https://www.trento­nian.com/news/victim-in-frank-nucera-hate-crime-case-accused-of-beat­ing-up-girl­friend-in-trenton/article_16f2ad­c8–9932–11ea-97a1–03fc21d5cf33.html.

More often, police officers with ties to white suprem­acist groups or overt racist beha­vior are subjec­ted to internal discip­lin­ary proced­ures rather than prosec­u­tion. In 2001, two Texas sher­iff’s depu­ties were fired after they exposed their KKK affil­i­ation in an attempt to recruit other officers. foot­note14_jzox3wa 14 Fox, “Texas Officers Fired.” In 2005, an internal invest­ig­a­tion revealed a Nebraska state trooper was parti­cip­at­ing in a members-only KKK chat room. foot­note15_isr9okm 15 Asso­ci­ated Press, “Court Upholds Firing of Trooper with Klan Ties,” NBC News, Febru­ary 7, 2009, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/29432935/ns/us_news-life/t/court-upholds-firing-trooper-klan-ties/#.XjP0by2ZN0s. He was fired in 2006 but won his job back in an arbit­ra­tion mandated by the state’s collect­ive bargain­ing agree­ment. On appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld his dismissal, determ­in­ing that the arbit­ra­tion decision viol­ated “the expli­cit, well-defined, and domin­ant public policy that laws should be enforced without racial or reli­gious discrim­in­a­tion, and the public should reas­on­ably perceive this to be so.” foot­note16_d0dyez4 16 State v. Hende­r­son, 277 Neb. 240. Three police officers in Fruit­land Park, Flor­ida, were fired or chose to resign over a five-year period from 2009 to 2014 after their Klan member­ship was discovered. foot­note17_7mw9ti3 17 Asso­ci­ated Press, “Police Ties to Ku Klux Klan Shock Flor­ida Town of Fruit­land Park,” Guard­ian, July 21, 2014, https://www.theguard­ian.com/world/2014/jul/21/police-ku-klux-klan-flor­ida-fruit­land-park. In 2015, a Louisi­ana police officer was fired after a photo­graph surfaced show­ing him giving a Nazi salute at a Klan rally. foot­note18_g2yp0ph 18 Camp­bell, “KKK Cop Fired.”

In 2019, a police officer in Muske­gon, Michigan, was fired after prospect­ive home­buy­ers repor­ted prom­in­ently displayed Confed­er­ate flags and a framed KKK applic­a­tion in his home. The police depart­ment conduc­ted an invest­ig­a­tion into poten­tial bias, examin­ing the officer’s traffic cita­tion rate and review­ing an earlier internal affairs invest­ig­a­tion into an excess­ive force complaint and two previ­ous on-duty shoot­ings, each of which were found justi­fied. (The invest­ig­a­tion uncovered a third, previ­ously unre­por­ted shoot­ing in another juris­dic­tion that was not further described). foot­note19_rlp5tdk 19 Muske­gon Police Depart­ment, Muske­gon Police Depart­ment Inquiry into Alleg­a­tions of Poten­tial Bias by Officer Charles Ander­son, Septem­ber 1, 2019, https://www.muske­gon-mi.gov/cresources/IA%2019–06%20Of­fi­cial%20Re­port%20Ander­son%20In­quiry%20with%20re­dac­tions.pdf. Although the internal invest­ig­a­tion docu­mented the officer citing Black drivers at a higher rate than the demo­graphic popu­la­tion in the district he patrolled, it determ­ined that the officer was not a member of the KKK and had shown no racial bias on the job. Still, the report concluded that the community had lost faith in the officer as a result of the incid­ent, and the police depart­ment fired him. foot­note20_2x4972n 20 “Ex-Michigan Police Officer Fired for Framed KKK Docu­ment Denies Racial Bias in New Report,” Chicago Tribune, Septem­ber 24, 2019, https://www.chica­g­o­tribune.com/midw­est/ct-kkk-michigan-police-officer-20190924-iu2n­sao­j2f­bu7kuqqyx­wd­nt­pc4-story.html. The officer settled a griev­ance he filed with the Police Officers Labor Coun­cil regard­ing his termin­a­tion, agree­ing to retire in exchange for his full pension and health insur­ance. foot­note21_w7os18c 21 Lynn Moore, “Cop Fired for KKK, Confed­er­ate Flag ‘Mem­or­ab­ilia’ Signs Separ­a­tion Agree­ment,” MLive, May 8 2020, https://www.mlive.com/news/muske­gon/2020/05/cop-fired-for-kkk-confed­er­ate-flag-memor­ab­ilia-signs-separ­a­tion-agree­ment.html.

In June 2020, three Wilm­ing­ton, North Caro­lina, police officers were fired when a routine audit of car camera record­ings uncovered conver­sa­tions in which the officers used racial epithets, criti­cized a magis­trate and the police chief in frankly racist terms, and talked about shoot­ing Black people, includ­ing a Black police officer. One officer said that he could not wait for a declar­a­tion of martial law so they could go out and “slaughter” Black people. He also announced his intent to buy an assault rifle in prepar­a­tion for a civil war that would “wipe ’em off the [explet­ive] map.” The officers confirmed making the state­ments on the record­ing, but they claimed that they were not racist and were simply react­ing to the stress of poli­cing the protests follow­ing the killing of George Floyd. In addi­tion to the officers’ dismissal, the police chief ordered his depart­ment to confer with the district attor­ney to review cases in which the officers appeared as witnesses for evid­ence of bias against offend­ers. foot­note22_tr7h06t 22 Wilm­ing­ton Police Depart­ment, Profes­sional Stand­ards Report of Internal Invest­ig­a­tion, June 11, 2020, p. 8, https://www.wilm­ing­tonnc.gov/home/show­doc­u­ment?id=12012.

In July 2020, four police officers in San Jose, Cali­for­nia, were suspen­ded pending invest­ig­a­tion into their parti­cip­a­tion in a Face­book group that regu­larly posted racist and anti-Muslim content. In a post about the Black Lives Matter protests, one officer reportedly respon­ded, “Black lives really don’t matter.” In a posit­ive devel­op­ment, the San Jose Police Officers’ Asso­ci­ation pres­id­ent vowed to with­hold the union’s legal and finan­cial support from any officer charged with wrong­do­ing in the matter, stat­ing that “there is zero room in our depart­ment or our profes­sion for racists, bigots or those that enable them.” foot­note23_b9ehzmu 23 Jason Green and Robert Salonga, “San Jose Police Officers’ Racist Posts Exposed by Blog­ger,” Mercury News, June 26, 2020, https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/06/26/san-jose-police-officers-racist-face­book-posts-exposed-by-blog­ger/.

In some cases, law enforce­ment offi­cials who detect white suprem­acist activ­ity in their ranks take no action unless the matter becomes a public scan­dal. For example, in Annis­ton, Alabama, city offi­cials learned in 2009 of a police officer’s member­ship in the League of the South, a white suprem­acist seces­sion­ist group. The police chief, however, determ­ined that the officer’s member­ship in the group did not affect his perform­ance and allowed him to remain on the job. In the follow­ing years the officer was promoted to sergeant and even­tu­ally lieu­ten­ant. foot­note24_hkxs9rf 24 Maddy Crow­ell and Sylvia Varnham O’Regan, “Extrem­ist Cops: How US Law Enforce­ment Is Fail­ing to Police Itself,” Guard­ian, Decem­ber 13, 2019, https://www.theguard­ian.com/us-news/2019/dec/13/how-us-law-enforce­ment-is-fail­ing-to-police-itself?CMP=share_btn_tw. It wasn’t until 2015, after the South­ern Poverty Law Center published an article about a speech he had given at a League of the South confer­ence in which he discussed his recruit­ing efforts among other law enforce­ment officers, that the police depart­ment fired him. foot­note25_wfa7npy 25 Doggrell, 277 F. Supp. 3d 1239. A second Annis­ton police lieu­ten­ant found to have atten­ded the same League of the South rally was permit­ted to retire. The fired officer appealed his dismissal. After a three-day hear­ing, a local civil service board upheld his removal. The officer then filed a lawsuit alleging that his firing viol­ated his First Amend­ment free speech and asso­ci­ation rights, but a federal court affirmed the termin­a­tion.

The Annis­ton example demon­strates the need for trans­par­ency, public account­ab­il­ity, and compli­ance with due process to success­fully resolve these cases. The Annis­ton Police Depart­ment and city offi­cials knew about these officers’ prob­lem­atic involve­ment in a racist organ­iz­a­tion for years, but it took public pres­sure to finally compel action. They then respon­ded correctly, in aware­ness of the public scru­tiny, by dismiss­ing the officer in a manner that provided the due process neces­sary to with­stand judi­cial review. The depart­ment then imple­men­ted a policy requir­ing police officers to sign a state­ment affirm­ing that they are not members of “a group that will cause embar­rass­ment to the City of Annis­ton or the Annis­ton police depart­ment.” foot­note26_4uudtfe 26 Crow­ell and O’Regan, “Extrem­ist Cops.” It reques­ted conflict resol­u­tion train­ing from the DOJ Community Rela­tions Service. These were posit­ive steps to begin rebuild­ing public trust. But as in many of these cases, during the nine years when avowed white suprem­acist police officers served in the Annis­ton Police Depart­ment (includ­ing in lead­er­ship posi­tions), there was not a full eval­u­ation or public account­ing of their activ­it­ies. The Alabama NAACP reques­ted that the DOJ and U.S. attor­ney exam­ine the officers’ previ­ous cases for poten­tial civil rights viol­a­tions, but there is no evid­ence that either ever initi­ated such an invest­ig­a­tion. foot­note27_50yerjn 27 William Thornton, “Annis­ton, Justice Dept. Part­ner­ship Aimed at Redu­cing Tension,” AL.com, June 26, 2015, https://www.al.com/news/annis­ton-gadsden/2015/06/annis­ton_justice_dept_part­ners.html. This decision forfeited another oppor­tun­ity to restore public confid­ence in law enforce­ment.

Unfor­tu­nately, there is no cent­ral data­base that lists law enforce­ment officers fired for miscon­duct. As a result, some police officers dismissed for involve­ment in racist activ­ity are able to secure other law enforce­ment jobs. foot­note28_poyr3bz 28 Timothy Willi­ams, “Cast-Out Police Officers Are Often Hired in Other Cities,” New York Times, Septem­ber 10, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/11/us/where­abouts-of-cast-out-police-officers-other-cities-often-hire-them.html. In 2017, the police chief in Colbert, Oklahoma, resigned after local media repor­ted his decades-long involve­ment with neo-Nazi skin­head groups and his owner­ship of neo-Nazi websites. foot­note29_5z560qw 29 Rachel Knapp, “New Colbert Police Chief Linked to Neo-Nazi Websites Claims Iden­tity Theft,” News12 (Sher­man, TX), August 26, 2017, https://www.kxii.com/content/news/New-Colbert-police-chiefs-name-linked-to-neo-Nazi-websites-441804593.html. A neigh­bor­ing Oklahoma police depart­ment hired him the follow­ing year, claim­ing he had renounced his previ­ous racist activ­it­ies and held a clean record as a police officer. foot­note30_3a4senl 30 Kelly Weill, “Oklahoma Police Chief Resigns over Neo-Nazi Ties, Gets Job in Neigh­bor­ing Police Force,” Daily Beast, Septem­ber 17, 2018, https://www.thedailybeast.com/oklahoma-police-chief-resigns-over-neo-nazi-ties-gets-job-in-neigh­bor­ing-police-force; Michael Hutchins, “Former Colbert Police Chief with Neo-Nazi Back­ground Back in Law Enforce­ment,” Herald Demo­crat, Septem­ber 13, 2018, https://www.herald­demo­crat.com/news/20180913/former-colbert-police-chief-with-neo-nazi-back­ground-back-in-law-enforce­ment.

In 2018, the Greens­boro, Mary­land, police chief was charged with falsi­fy­ing records to hire a police officer who had previ­ously been forced to resign from the Dover, Delaware, police depart­ment after he kicked a Black man in the face and broke his jaw. The same officer was later involved in the death of an unarmed Black teen­ager, which sparked an invest­ig­a­tion that revealed 29 use of force reports at his previ­ous job, includ­ing some that found he used unne­ces­sary force. The previ­ous incid­ents were never repor­ted to the Mary­land police certi­fic­a­tion board. foot­note31_8ewoobb 31 Glynis Kazanjian, “East­ern Shore Police Chief Gets Suspen­ded 2-Year Sentence for Falsi­fy­ing Cop’s Hiring Papers,” Mary­land Matters, Janu­ary 17, 2020, https://www.maryland­mat­ters.org/blog/east­ern-shore-police-chief-gets-suspen­ded-2-year-prison-sentence-for-falsi­fy­ing-hiring-papers/.

Prosec­utors have an import­ant role in protect­ing the integ­rity of the crim­inal justice system from the poten­tial miscon­duct of expli­citly racist officers. The land­mark 1963 Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Mary­land requires prosec­utors and the police to provide crim­inal defend­ants with all exculp­at­ory evid­ence in their posses­sion. foot­note32_013yeoi 32 Brady v. Mary­land, 373 U.S. 83 (U.S. 1963). A later decision in Giglio v. United States expan­ded this require­ment to include the disclos­ure of evid­ence that may impeach a govern­ment witness. foot­note33_eowt7ld 33 Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 153 (U.S. 1972). Prosec­utors keep a register of law enforce­ment officers whose previ­ous miscon­duct could reas­on­ably under­mine the reli­ab­il­ity of their testi­mony and there­fore would need to be disclosed to defense attor­neys. This register is often referred to as a “Brady list” or “no call list.”

Geor­getown Law Professor Vida B. John­son has argued that evid­ence of a law enforce­ment officer’s expli­citly racist beha­vior could reas­on­ably be expec­ted to impeach his or her testi­mony. foot­note34_2fy95cg 34 Vida B. John­son, “KKK in the PD,” 205, 234. Prosec­utors, there­fore, should be required to include these officers on Brady lists to ensure defend­ants they testify against have access to the poten­tially exculp­at­ing evid­ence of their expli­citly racist beha­vior. This reform would be an import­ant meas­ure in blunt­ing the impact of racist police officers on the crim­inal justice system. In 2019, progress­ive St. Louis prosec­utor Kimberly Gard­ner placed all 22 of the St. Louis police officers that the Plain View Project iden­ti­fied as post­ing racist content on Face­book on her office’s no call list. foot­note35_tknxar4 35 “Prosec­utor Adds 22 St. Louis Officers to ‘Exclu­sion List’ Over Racist Face­book Posts,” CBS News, June 19, 2019, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/prosec­utor-adds-22-st-louis-officers-to-exclu­sion-list-over-racist-face­book-posts/.

End Notes

Lack of Mitigation Policies to Protect Communities Against Biased Police Officers

The process required to prop­erly address a police officer’s known iden­ti­fic­a­tion with groups like the KKK or neo-Nazi skin­heads, which have decades-long histor­ies of viol­ence, might seem ardu­ous, but these are actu­ally the easy cases. Far more frequently, law enforce­ment officers express bias in ways that are more diffi­cult for police admin­is­trat­ors to navig­ate.

New white suprem­acist organ­iz­a­tions and other far-right milit­ant groups can often form extem­por­an­eously, then splinter, change names, and employ disin­form­a­tion campaigns to mask their illi­cit activ­it­ies, which makes it diffi­cult to determ­ine whether an officer’s affil­i­ation with a partic­u­lar group presents a conflict with law enforce­ment oblig­a­tions or not. For instance, sher­iff’s depu­ties in Wash­ing­ton State and Louisi­ana were fired in 2018 for publicly support­ing and join­ing the Proud Boys, a far-right “West­ern chau­vin­ist” fight club foun­ded in 2016 that disavows racism but often acts in concert with white suprem­acist groups during viol­ent rallies. foot­note1_wton3pm 1 Katie Shep­herd, “Clark County Sher­iff Deputy Fired After Wear­ing a Proud Boys Sweat­shirt”; Luke Barnes, “Sher­iff’s Deputy Fired After Social Media Posts Reveal Ties to Far-Right Proud Boys,” Think­Pro­gress, August 17, 2018, https://think­pro­gress.org/sher­iffs-deputy-fired-for-being-part-of-far-right-proud-boys-group-3d445cb­baf57/; and Emily Gorcenski, “The Proud Boys: A Repub­lican Party Street Gang,” Polit­ical Research Asso­ci­ates, http://feature.polit­ic­alre­search.org/the-proud-boys. The East Hamp­ton, Connecti­cut, police depart­ment came to a differ­ent conclu­sion about such an affil­i­ation in 2019, however, and determ­ined that an officer who joined the Proud Boys and paid member­ship fees did not viol­ate depart­ment policies and would face no discip­line. (The officer claimed to have left the group.) foot­note2_i5ij8hh 2 Michael Kunzel­man, “Chief: Officer’s Proud Boys Member­ship Didn’t Break Policy,” Asso­ci­ated Press, Octo­ber 15, 2019, https://apnews.com/12ece8ced­b­f045259d­cd­deb­f619141e7.

Other law enforce­ment offi­cials do not asso­ci­ate with white suprem­acist groups, but engage in overtly racist activ­it­ies in public, on social media, or over law enforce­ment–only commu­nic­a­tion chan­nels and inter­net chat rooms. In a 2019 report, the Plain View Project docu­mented 5,000 patently bigoted social media posts by 3,500 accounts iden­ti­fied as belong­ing to current and former law enforce­ment offi­cials. The report sparked dozens of invest­ig­a­tions across the coun­try. foot­note3_watu­dor 3 Dakin Andone, “This Group Compiled Police Officer’s Offens­ive Face­book Posts. Now Depart­ments are Taking Action,” CNN, June 20, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/20/us/plain-view-project-police-invest­ig­at­ing/index.html. The Phil­adelphia Police Depart­ment, for example, placed 72 officers on admin­is­trat­ive duties pending an invest­ig­a­tion into their racist social media activ­ity, ulti­mately suspend­ing 15 with intent to dismiss. Other officers will face discip­lin­ary action, includ­ing suspen­sions, but will remain on the force. foot­note4_om01spp 4 Alicia Victoria Lozano, “13 Phil­adelphia Officers to Be Fired Over Racist, Viol­ent Face­book Posts,” NBC10 Phil­adelphia, July 18, 2019, https://www.nbcphil­adelphia.com/news/national-inter­na­tional/phil­adelphia-police-officers-face­book-posts/170494/; and Chris Palmer, “2 More Philly Cops to Be Fired in Face­book Probe, Bring­ing Total to 15,” Phil­adelphia Inquirer, Septem­ber 11, 2019, https://www.inquirer.com/news/phil­adelphia-police-face­book-scan­dal-15-cops-fired-christine-coulter-20190911.html. Thir­teen of 25 Dallas police officers invest­ig­ated for objec­tion­able social media post­ings received discip­lin­ary actions ranging from coun­sel­ing to suspen­sions without pay. foot­note5_j6ak­cdi 5 Cassandra Jara­millo, “Dallas Police Depart­ment Discip­lines 13 Officers for Offens­ive Social Media Posts,” Dallas Morn­ing News, Janu­ary 30, 2020, https://www.dallas­news.com/news/crime/2020/01/31/dallas-police-depart­ment-discip­lines-13-officers-for-offens­ive-social-media-posts/. Only 2 of the 22 current St. Louis police officers iden­ti­fied in the report were termin­ated. foot­note6_a6f1szb 6 “2 St. Louis Police Officers Fired Over Face­book Posts,” Asso­ci­ated Press, Decem­ber 10, 2019, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/prosec­utor-adds-22-st-louis-officers-to-exclu­sion-list-over-racist-face­book-posts/. The St. Louis prosec­utor placed all 22 of them on a list of police officers that her office would not call as witnesses, however. foot­note7_qkxe0bj 7 “Prosec­utor Adds 22 St. Louis Officers to ‘Exclu­sion List’ Over Racist Face­book Posts,” CBS News, June 19, 2019.

The San Fran­cisco Police Depart­ment attemp­ted to fire nine officers whose overtly racist, homo­phobic, and miso­gyn­istic text messages were uncovered in a 2015 FBI police corrup­tion invest­ig­a­tion. After years of litig­a­tion, the Cali­for­nia Supreme Court finally rejec­ted the officers’ appeal in 2018, which paved the way for discip­lin­ary action to proceed. foot­note8_kk7hfto 8 Alan Pyke, “Racist, Homo­phobic SF Cops Will Likely Be Fired, After Years-Long Court Saga,” Think­Pro­gress, Septem­ber 13, 2018, https://think­pro­gress.org/sf-cops-who-exchanged-racist-homo­phobic-texts-will-likely-be-fired-after-years-long-court-saga-f94aa43c­cc94/. As the case was pending, five other San Fran­cisco police officers were found to have engaged in racist and homo­phobic texting, at times mock­ing the invest­ig­a­tion of the earlier texts. foot­note9_dq99b8n 9 “DA: SFPD Officers Sent Recent Racist Texts Mock­ing the Racist Text Scan­dal,” SFist, March 31, 2016, https://sfist.com/2016/03/31/da_sfpd_officers_sent_even_more_and/. It is perhaps unsur­pris­ing then that in 2016 the Justice Depart­ment determ­ined that San Fran­cisco police officers stopped, searched, and arres­ted Black and Hispanic people at greater rates than white people even though they were less likely to be found carry­ing contra­band. foot­note10_08oh7om 10 Community Oriented Poli­cing Services (COPS), Collab­or­at­ive Reform Initi­at­ive: An Assess­ment of the San Fran­cisco Police Depart­ment, Depart­ment of Justice, Octo­ber 2016, xi, https://www.sfdph.org/dph/files/jrp/DOJ-Report.pdf. In a posit­ive devel­op­ment, when the texting scan­dal broke in 2015, the San Fran­cisco district attor­ney estab­lished a task force to review 3,000 crim­inal prosec­u­tions that used testi­mony by the offend­ing officers, dismiss­ing some cases and alert­ing defense attor­neys to poten­tial prob­lems in others. foot­note11_e1n2j2z 11 Maura Dolan, “3,000 Cases Possibly Affected by S.F. Police Texting, D.A. Says,” Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2015, https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-sf-police-probe-20150507-story.html.

In 2019, an internal U.S. Customs and Border Protec­tion invest­ig­a­tion revealed that 62 Border Patrol agents, includ­ing the agency’s chief, parti­cip­ated in a secret Face­book group that included racist, nativ­ist, and miso­gyn­istic mater­ial, includ­ing threats to members of Congress. foot­note12_cr9q3ky 12 Zolan Kanno-Youngs, “62 Border Agents Belonged to Offens­ive Face­book Group, Invest­ig­a­tion Finds,” New York Times, July 15, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/15/us/polit­ics/border-patrol-face­book-group.html; and Ryan Dever­eaux, “Border Patrol Chief Carla Prov­ost Was a Member of Secret Face­book Group,” Inter­cept, July 12, 2019, https://thein­ter­cept.com/2019/07/12/border-patrol-chief-carla-prov­ost-was-a-member-of-secret-face­book-group/. It is unclear whether discip­lin­ary meas­ures have been taken against these agents. The Border Patrol has tacitly suppor­ted vigil­ante activ­it­ies by border mili­tia groups on the South­w­est border that have demon­strated a propensity for illegal viol­ence over many years. foot­note13_unii2og 13 Ryan Dever­eaux, “The Bloody History of Border Mili­tias Runs Deep — And Law Enforce­ment Is Part of It,” Inter­cept, April 23, 2019, https://thein­ter­cept.com/2019/04/23/border-mili­tia-migrants/.

Four Jasper, Alabama, police officers received two-week suspen­sions for making an “OK” hand signal in a group photo­graph after a drug bust. The contro­ver­sial gesture signi­fies “white power” in the far-right subcul­ture, but is also innoc­u­ous and common­place in other contexts, which provides those who use it with cover to claim benign inten­tions. foot­note14_54ddjy8 14 David Neiwert, “Is That an OK Sign? A White Power Symbol? Or Just a Right-Wing Troll?,” South­ern Poverty Law Center, Septem­ber 19, 2018, https://www.splcen­ter.org/hate­watch/2018/09/18/ok-sign-white-power-symbol-or-just-right-wing-troll. In the context of the photo­graph, the intent of the gesture was clear, but the officers were allowed to remain on the job. foot­note15_1bjb3ra 15 John Bowden, “Alabama Police Officers Suspen­ded for Making Hand Gestures Linked to White Power,” Hill, July 17, 2018, https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-brief­ing-room/news/397509-alabama-police-officers-suspen­ded-for-making-hand-gesture. The mayor of Jasper sugges­ted that the depart­ment may require diversity train­ing in the future. foot­note16_1a70jbn 16 Anna Beahm, “Jasper Police Officers Suspen­ded for ‘White Power’ Hand Symbol in Post-Arrest Photo,” AL.com, July 17, 2018 (updated March 6, 2019), https://www.al.com/news/2018/07/jasper_officers_suspen­ded_for.html.

There are cases when an officer’s conduct may indic­ate bias but does not neces­sar­ily justify termin­a­tion, perhaps because of unclear policies. A photo­graph of a tattoo on the bare fore­arm of a Phil­adelphia police officer caused contro­versy when observ­ers noted that it resembled Nazi icon­o­graphy. The officer claimed he was not a Nazi and that the tattoo, which included a styl­ized eagle and the word “Fath­er­land,” simply repres­en­ted his German herit­age. foot­note17_jyezmwm 17 Albert Samaha, “‘They Can’t Fire You for What’s in Your Head’: A Cop with a Tattoo He Swears Isn’t a ‘Nazi Tattoo’ Says a Lot About Police Free Speech,” Buzzfeed News, https://www.buzzfeed­news.com/article/albertsamaha/they-cant-fire-you-for-whats-in-your-head. The depart­ment, which lacked a specific tattoo policy, cleared the officer of wrong­do­ing. It subsequently adop­ted a policy prohib­it­ing “offens­ive, extrem­ist, inde­cent, racist or sexist [tattoos] while on duty.” The officer in ques­tion was grand­fathered in and allowed to remain on the job despite the tattoo, though he agreed to cover it while work­ing. Previ­ously published mater­ial link­ing the officer to a neo-Nazi group was reportedly not considered during the invest­ig­a­tion, which determ­ined that he had never “expressed any racial bias on the job.” foot­note18_i31qytn 18 Samaha, “They Can’t Fire You.” The officer’s patrol duties were not altered, leav­ing members of the community concerned.

When a police depart­ment fails to address alleg­a­tions of officer involve­ment in white suprem­acist activ­it­ies in a timely and trans­par­ent manner, it can under­mine the public’s percep­tions of an entire depart­ment, partic­u­larly when use of force issues arise. For example, in Port­land, Oregon, the National Lawyers Guild filed an excess­ive force lawsuit against a police officer who pepper-sprayed nonvi­ol­ent anti­war protest­ers, includ­ing chil­dren and a TV camer­a­wo­man, in 2002 and 2003. foot­note19_q1mx4o2 19 Francesca Monga, “Tales of the Tape: Protest­ers Use Video Cameras to Track Overly Aggress­ive Cops,” Willamette Week, April 1, 2003 (updated Janu­ary 24, 2017), https://www.wweek.com/port­land/article-1904-tales-of-the-tape.html; and Nick Budnick, “The Badge and the Swastika: Lawyer Attacks Cop’s Interest in Nazi History,” Willamette Week, Septem­ber 30, 2003 (updated Janu­ary 24, 2017), https://www.wweek.com/port­land/article-2506-the-badge-and-the-swastika.html. The city of Port­land paid $300,000 to settle the lawsuit, but the officer was not discip­lined and instead received a promo­tion. During the lawsuit, however, a whis­tleblower came forward and alleged that as a young man, the officer was an Adolf Hitler admirer who publicly shouted racist and homo­phobic rhet­oric, vandal­ized prop­erty with Nazi graf­fiti, dressed in Nazi uniforms, and collec­ted Nazi memor­ab­ilia. foot­note20_mzawdzi 20 Budnick, “The Badge and the Swastika.” A second long­time friend of the officer later confirmed these alleg­a­tions and conten­ded that the officer had main­tained his Nazi ideo­logy while work­ing at the Port­land Police Bureau. He provided evid­ence that the officer had, while work­ing for the police depart­ment, illeg­ally erec­ted a memorial to five Nazi soldiers, includ­ing one SS officer suspec­ted of war crimes, in a public park. foot­note21_t0pp3fj 21 Budnick, “The Cop Who Liked Nazis.” The officer dismantled the shrine and someone reportedly stashed the plaque in the Port­land city attor­ney’s office, where it remained undis­covered until after the brutal­ity lawsuit had concluded. The officer later claimed that he was not a Nazi but just a “history geek.” foot­note22_4z6a71c 22 James Pitkin, “The Ice Man Weep­eth: A Port­land Cop Denies a New Video’s Accus­a­tions of Nazism,” Willamette Week, Octo­ber 13, 2009 (updated Janu­ary 24, 2017), https://www.wweek.com/port­land/article-11156-the-ice-man-weep­eth.html.

In 2010, the Port­land Police Bureau suspen­ded the officer for two weeks for erect­ing the Nazi shrine. foot­note23_2surz2d 23 Maxine Bern­stein, “Port­land Police Chief Suspends Capt. Mark Kruger for Erect­ing a Shrine on Rocky Butte to Five Nazi-Era Soldiers,” Orego­nian, Novem­ber 17, 2010 (updated Janu­ary 10, 2019), https://www.oregon­live.com/port­land/2010/11/port­land_police_chief_suspends_1.html. However, Port­land rescin­ded this discip­lin­ary action in 2014 in order to settle a defam­a­tion lawsuit the officer had filed against a super­ior who called him a Nazi. foot­note24_e917qye 24 Maxine Bern­stein, “Port­land Police Capt. Mark Kruger’s Past Discip­line to Be Erased — Includ­ing for Trib­ute to Nazi-Era Soldiers — under City Settle­ment,” Orego­nian, July 16, 2014 (updated Janu­ary 10, 2019), https://www.oregon­live.com/port­land/2014/07/port­land_police_capt_mark_krug.html The officer then contin­ued to be promoted to posi­tions of author­ity within the bureau.

This history became relev­ant because the Port­land Police Bureau was again accused of bias in its response to a series of viol­ent rallies instig­ated by far-right milit­ants and white suprem­acist groups from 2016 through 2019. Port­land police and DHS agents appeared inap­pro­pri­ately sympath­etic to viol­ent members of the far-right groups, while conduct­ing mass arrests and indis­crim­in­ately using less-lethal muni­tions against anti­racist and anti­fas­cist coun­ter­pro­test­ers. foot­note25_4i8it4r 25 Maxine Bern­stein, “‘Ket­tling’ of Counter-Protest­ers Last June Not Legally Justi­fied, Review Says,” Orego­nian, May 31, 2018 (updated Janu­ary 30, 2019), https://www.oregon­live.com/port­land/2018/05/port­land_police_over­sight_repo.html; and Jason Wilson, “Port­land Far-Right Rally: Police Charge Coun­ter­pro­test­ers with Batons Drawn,” Guard­ian, August 5, 2018, https://www.theguard­ian.com/us-news/2018/aug/04/patriot-prayer-to-carry-guns-at-port­land-rally-as-fears-of-viol­ence-rise. DHS officers were captured on video soli­cit­ing the assist­ance of mili­tia members to arrest anti­racist protest­ers. foot­note26_3aj2cuw 26 Arun Gupta, “Play­ing Cops: Mili­tia Member Aids Police in Arrest­ing Protester at Port­land Alt-Right Rally,” Inter­cept, June 8, 2017, https://thein­ter­cept.com/2017/06/08/port­land-alt-right-milita-police-dhs-arrest-protester/.

A draft report of an Inde­pend­ent Police Review invest­ig­a­tion into the bureau’s response to the rallies appeared to substan­ti­ate these concerns. It quoted a police lieu­ten­ant who “felt the right-wing protest­ers were ‘much more main­stream’ than the left-wing protest­ers.” foot­note27_hblsnsa 27 Katie Shep­herd, “Port­land Police Saw Right-Wing Protest­ers as ‘Much More Main­stream’ than Left­ist Ones,” Willamette Week, June 27, 2018, https://www.wweek.com/news/courts/2018/06/27/port­land-police-saw-right-wing-protest­ers-as-much-more-main­stream-than-left­ist-ones/. Alleg­a­tions of the bureau’s bias surfaced again when Willamette Week, Portland’s altern­at­ive weekly news­pa­per, published friendly text messages between a Port­land Police Bureau lieu­ten­ant and the out-of-state leader of a far-right group whose members had engaged in viol­ence at these rallies. The texts included advice on how one member with an active warrant could avoid arrest and details about the move­ments of oppos­ing groups. foot­note28_0g4jir5 28 Katie Shep­herd, “Texts Between Port­land Police and Patriot Prayer Ringleader Joey Gibson Show Warm Exchange,” Willamette Week, Febru­ary 14, 2019, https://www.wweek.com/news/courts/2019/02/14/texts-between-port­land-police-and-patriot-prayer-ringleader-joey-gibson-show-warm-exchange/. The bureau later claimed the texts were inten­ded to gather intel­li­gence and cooper­a­tion from the far-right group to prevent viol­ence at the rallies. foot­note29_3rtbcsb 29 Maxine Bern­stein, “Port­land Cop’s Chatty Texts to Patriot Prayer Spur Outrage but Are Stand­ard Police Strategy, Experts Say,” Orego­nian, Febru­ary 16, 2019, https://www.oregon­live.com/crime/2019/02/police-experts-weigh-in-on-port­land-lieu­ten­ants-contro­ver­sial-text-messages-with-patriot-prayer-leader.html. The FBI brought no charges even though several of the viol­ent far-right milit­ants had traveled inter­state in order to engage in the rallies.

In May 2019, the Port­land City Coun­cil hired a private police audit­ing company to conduct an inde­pend­ent invest­ig­a­tion of the police bureau’s response to the far-right protests. foot­note30_rm56otu 30 Conrad Wilson, “Port­land Hires National Group to Invest­ig­ate How Police Handle Protests,” Oregon Public Broad­cast­ing, May 15, 2019, https://www.opb.org/news/article/port­land-national-police-found­a­tion-invest­ig­a­tion-protests/. To date, the audit­ing company has held no public hear­ings and issued no progress reports.

The Port­land Police Bureau was not the only law enforce­ment agency criti­cized for its appar­ent bias as white suprem­acists and far-right milit­ants engaged in viol­ent protests around the coun­try. Cali­for­nia High­way Patrol invest­ig­at­ors treated neo-Nazi skin­heads who stabbed anti­racist coun­ter­pro­test­ers at a 2016 Sacra­mento rally as victims and sought their cooper­a­tion in invest­ig­at­ing the coun­ter­pro­test­ers and a wounded Black journ­al­ist. foot­note31_f4ym­dyq 31 Sam Levin, “Cali­for­nia Police Worked with Neo-Nazis to Pursue ‘Anti-Racist’ Activ­ists, Docu­ments Show,” Guard­ian, Febru­ary 9, 2018, https://www.theguard­ian.com/world/2018/feb/09/cali­for­nia-police-white-suprem­acists-counter-protest; Sam Levin, “Stabbed at a Neo-Nazi Rally, Called a Crim­inal: How Police Targeted a Black Activ­ist,” Guard­ian, May 25, 2018, https://www.theguard­ian.com/world/2018/may/25/neo-nazi-rally-cali­for­nia-stabbing-police-target-black-activ­ist; Sam Levin, “How a Cali­for­nia Officer Protec­ted Neo-Nazis and Targeted Their Victims,” Guard­ian, Janu­ary 25, 2019, https://www.theguard­ian.com/us-news/2019/jan/25/cali­for­nia-police-neo-nazis-antifa-protest. Police in Anaheim, Cali­for­nia, arres­ted seven anti­racism protest­ers at a KKK rally in 2016, but did not charge the Klans­man who stabbed three people. foot­note32_yic8mlu 32 A. C. Thompson, “Federal Judge Dismisses Charges Against 3 White Suprem­acists,” Front­line, PBS, June 4, 2019, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/front­line/article/federal-judge-dismisses-charges-against-3-white-suprem­acists/.

In Hunt­ing­ton Beach, Cali­for­nia, park police refused to invest­ig­ate the battery of OC Weekly journ­al­ists by members of the white suprem­acist Rise Above Move­ment at a 2017 pro–­Don­ald Trump march, citing a lack of resources. The Orange County district attor­ney did, however, prosec­ute an anti­fas­cist protester who attemp­ted to defend the journ­al­ists by slap­ping one of the white suprem­acist attack­ers. foot­note33_qkn4krk 33 Frank John Tristan, “Rise Above, Unmasked: A Former Weekly Intern Recalls How His Surf City Assault Became an FBI Crim­inal Probe into an Alt-Right Group,” OC Weekly, Novem­ber 8, 2018, https://www.ocweekly.com/rise-above-unmasked-a-former-weekly-intern-recalls-how-his-surf-city-assault-became-an-fbi-crim­inal-probe-into-an-alt-right-group/; and R. Scott Moxley, “DA White­washed Neo-Nazi in Assault Trial from 2017 Trump MAGA Rally,” OC Weekly, August 21, 2019, https://www.ocweekly.com/white-suprem­acist-antifa-trump/#.XV4Die-38AR.twit­ter. The FBI later charged four members of the Rise Above Move­ment for enga­ging in viol­ence at a series of riots, includ­ing the Hunt­ing­ton Beach attack, but a federal judge dismissed the charges, arguing that the 50-year-old Anti-Riot Act was uncon­sti­tu­tional. foot­note34_yxu0qd0 34 Thompson, “Federal Judge Dismisses Charges.”

In 2019, a group of Proud Boys in Wash­ing­ton, DC, disrup­ted a permit­ted flag burn­ing by members of a commun­ist group in front of the White House, instig­at­ing a scuffle. DC police arres­ted two of the commun­ists but escor­ted the Proud Boys away. Some officers fist-bumped them as they later walked into a bar. An invest­ig­a­tion determ­ined that the officers had not viol­ated any police policies. foot­note35_uxa8hft 35 Rachel Kurzius, “D.C. Police Can’t Determ­ine Whether Officers Who Fist Bumped Proud Boy on July 4 Viol­ated Policy,” DCist, Febru­ary 7, 2019, https://dcist.com/story/20/02/07/officers-who-fist-bumped-proud-boy-on-july-4-didnt-viol­ate-policy-d-c-police-determ­ine/.

End Notes

Justice Department Shirks Its Duty to Police Law Enforcement Misconduct

Not only does the U.S. Justice Depart­ment fail to prop­erly prior­it­ize invest­ig­a­tions of white suprem­acist viol­ence and hate crimes, it also fails to util­ize all neces­sary resources to address police viol­ence and racism. foot­note1_0xhl2qq 1 See Michael German and Sara Robin­son, “Wrong Prior­it­ies on Fight­ing Terror­ism,” Bren­nan Center for Justice, Octo­ber 31, 2018, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/our-work/research-reports/wrong-prior­it­ies-fight­ing-terror­ism. Federal prosec­utors declined to prosec­ute 96 percent of FBI civil rights invest­ig­a­tions involving police miscon­duct from 1995 to 2015, turn­ing down more than 12,700 complaints, accord­ing to a Reuters analysis of DOJ records. foot­note2_zn4c3ye 2 Brian Bowl­ing and Andrew Conte, “Trib Invest­ig­a­tion: Cops Often Let Off Hook for Civil Rights Complaints,” Tribune-Review, March 12, 2016, https://archive.trib­live.com/news/nation/trib-invest­ig­a­tion-cops-often-let-off-hook-for-civil-rights-complaints/.

Federal prosec­utors do face a high evid­en­tiary bar when bring­ing crim­inal cases against law enforce­ment offi­cials, which require proof that the officers will­fully inten­ded to viol­ate the victim’s civil rights in their use of force. foot­note3_2gi83ui 3 “Justice Depart­ment Rejects 96% of Civil Rights Cases Against Police — Report,” Guard­ian, March 14, 2016, https://www.theguard­ian.com/us-news/2016/mar/14/justice-depart­ment-rejects-civil-rights-cases-against-police. It is not enough to prove that an officer’s inten­tional use of excess­ive force resul­ted in a denial of a victim’s consti­tu­tional rights. The civil rights stat­ute that covers police brutal­ity, 18 U.S.C. § 242, requires prosec­utors to prove that police officers inten­ded to use excess­ive force and that they did so with the specific intent to viol­ate the victim’s consti­tu­tional rights. foot­note4_9mixppq 4 Andrea J. Ritchie and Joey L. Mogul, “In the Shad­ows of the War on Terror: Persist­ent Police Brutal­ity and Abuse of People of Color in the United States,” DePaul Journal for Social Science 1 (2016): 234–35, https://via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/view­con­tent.cgi?article=1075&context=jsj. See Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 101 (1945); and United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745, 761 (1966).

The Justice Depart­ment has been delin­quent in gath­er­ing data about overtly racist police conduct. The lack of a federal data­base that tracks this type of miscon­duct or member­ship in white suprem­acist or far-right milit­ant groups makes discov­er­ing evid­ence of intent more diffi­cult. The FBI only began collect­ing data on law enforce­ment use of force in 2018, after Black Lives Matter and other police account­ab­il­ity groups pushed for more federal over­sight of police viol­ence against people of color. foot­note5_ien37su 5 Erin Donaghue, “In a First, FBI to Begin Collect­ing National Data on Police Use of Force,” CBS News, Novem­ber 22, 2018, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/fbi-to-begin-collect­ing-national-police-use-of-force-data/. This is a posit­ive step, but the data relies on volun­tary report­ing by law enforce­ment agen­cies, a meth­od­o­logy which has led to seri­ous defi­cien­cies in hate crime report­ing.

In addi­tion to crim­inal penal­ties, the Justice Depart­ment also has the author­ity under 42 U.S.C. § 14141 and § 3789d(c)(3) to bring civil suits against law enforce­ment agen­cies if it can demon­strate a “pattern or prac­tice” of civil rights viol­a­tions. foot­note6_jzy44gb 6 “Address­ing Police Miscon­duct Laws Enforced by the Depart­ment of Justice,” United States Depart­ment of Justice, updated Decem­ber 13, 2019, https://www.justice.gov/crt/address­ing-police-miscon­duct-laws-enforced-depart­ment-justice. Civil suits have a lower evid­en­tiary bar, but they target depart­ment-wide prob­lems rather than indi­vidual officers’ miscon­duct. These cases often reach settle­ment agree­ments or “consent decrees,” which provide for a period of DOJ over­sight of agreed upon reform efforts. The Obama admin­is­tra­tion opened 20 pattern and prac­tice invest­ig­a­tions of police depart­ments, doub­ling the number initi­ated by the Bush admin­is­tra­tion, and entered into at least 14 consent decrees with police agen­cies. foot­note7_8hnb4dc 7 Mike Levine, “Why the Justice Depart­ment’s Review of Police Agree­ments Matters,” ABC News, April 4, 2017, https://abcnews.go.com/Polit­ics/justice-depart­ments-review-police-agree­ments-matters/story?id=46566294. The Justice Depart­ment has not developed metrics to eval­u­ate the effect­ive­ness of these efforts in curb­ing police viol­ence or civil rights abuses, however. foot­note8_yuplysa 8 Kimbri­ell Kelly, Sarah Chil­dress, and Steven Rich, “Forced Reforms, Mixed Results,” Wash­ing­ton Post, Novem­ber 13, 2015, https://www.wash­ing­ton­post.com/sf/invest­ig­at­ive/2015/11/13/forced-reforms-mixed-results/?utm_term=.d816a65b1e6b.

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion aban­doned police reform efforts cham­pioned by Obama’s Justice Depart­ment. Attor­ney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of civil rights pattern and prac­tice cases and, on his last day in office, signed a memo estab­lish­ing more strin­gent require­ments for Justice Depart­ment attor­neys seek­ing to open them, which limited the util­ity of this tool in curb­ing systemic police miscon­duct. foot­note9_40d2­lik 9 Katie Benner, “Sessions, in Last-Minute Act, Sharply Limits Use of Consent Decrees to Curb Police Abuses,” New York Times, Novem­ber 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/08/us/polit­ics/sessions-limits-consent-decrees.html; and Office of the U.S. Attor­ney General to Heads of Civil Litig­at­ing Compon­ents, United States Attor­neys, “Prin­ciples and Proced­ures for Civil Consent Decrees and Settle­ment Agree­ments with State and Local Govern­mental Entit­ies,” memor­andum, Novem­ber 7, 2018, https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1109621/down­load. Sessions also killed a program oper­ated by the DOJ Office of Community Oriented Poli­cing Services that eval­u­ated police depart­ment prac­tices and offered correct­ive recom­mend­a­tions in a more collab­or­at­ive way that avoided litig­a­tion. Attor­ney General William Barr has indic­ated similar disdain for law enforce­ment over­sight, once threat­en­ing that communit­ies that do not give support and respect to law enforce­ment “might find them­selves without the police protec­tion they need.” foot­note10_wupn4cm 10 Joshua Clark Davis, “William Barr’s Police-Fueled War on Civil Rights,” Nation, Decem­ber 27, 2019, https://www.then­a­tion.com/article/archive/barr-police-civil-rights/; and U.S. Depart­ment of Justice, “Third Annual Attor­ney Gener­al’s Award for Distin­guished Service in Poli­cing,” video, Decem­ber 3, 2019, https://www.justice.gov/opa/video/third-annual-attor­ney-general-s-award-distin­guished-service-poli­cing.

The Justice Depart­ment offers civil rights and impli­cit bias train­ing to law enforce­ment and often mandates it in consent decrees follow­ing pattern and prac­tice lawsuits. While this train­ing may be import­ant to help sens­it­ize law enforce­ment to uncon­scious bias, its effect­ive­ness in curb­ing police bias remains unproven. foot­note11_t4g9rtb 11 See Ari Feld­man, “Activ­ists Want Bias Train­ing for Cops. ADL Provides It. But Does It Work?,” Forward, June 17, 2020, https://forward.com/news/national/448948/police-george-floyd-protest-impli­cit-bias/; Tomas Chamorro-Premu­zic, “Impli­cit Bias Train­ing Does­n’t Work,” Bloomberg Opin­ion, Janu­ary 4, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/opin­ion/articles/2020–01–04/impli­cit-bias-train­ing-isn-t-improv­ing-corpor­ate-diversity?sref=LSnlJj5m; Michael Hobbes, “‘Impli­cit Bias’ Train­ings Don’t Actu­ally Change Police Beha­vior,” Huff­ing­ton Post, June 12, 2020, https://www.huff­post.com/entry/impli­cit-bias-train­ing-doesnt-actu­ally-change-police-beha­vior_n_5ee28fc3c5b60b32f010ed48; and Jeremy Stahl, “The NYPD Paid $4.5 Million for a Bias Trainer. She Says She’s Not the Solu­tion,” Slate, June 18, 2020, https://slate.com/news-and-polit­ics/2020/06/lorie-fridell-impli­cit-bias-poli­cing.html. An obvi­ous defi­ciency in impli­cit train­ing sessions is the fail­ure to address overt racism and white suprem­acy within law enforce­ment. A police trainer quoted in The Atlantic said overt racism is “just some­thing that you don’t admit. . . . If we admit that, then what does it mean about how we serve the public?” foot­note12_3p32r5f 12 Tom James, “Can Cops Unlearn Their Uncon­scious Biases?,” Atlantic, Decem­ber 23, 2017, https://www.theat­lantic.com/polit­ics/archive/2017/12/impli­cit-bias-train­ing-salt-lake/548996/. Another told The Forward, “If [anti­bias train­ing] is not presen­ted in a very nimble way, officers will assume that what you’re saying is that officers are racist. . . . In my exper­i­ence, that has tended to close officers up to whatever content you provide.” A third trainer told MSN.com, “When they walk into the classroom, the officers are some­where between defens­ive and down­right hostile. They think we’re gonna shake our fingers at them and call them racist.” Some stud­ies suggest that impli­cit bias train­ing can even be coun­ter­pro­duct­ive by rein­for­cing racial stereo­types. foot­note13_ccgjbeg 13 Michelle M. Duguid and Melissa C. Thomas-Hunt, “Condon­ing Stereo­typ­ing? How Aware­ness of Stereo­typ­ing Preval­ence Impacts Expres­sion of Stereo­types,” Journal of Applied Psycho­logy 100 (2015): 343–59, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25314368/; and “Ironic Effects of Anti-Preju­dice Messages,” Asso­ci­ation for Psycho­lo­gical Science, July 6, 2011, https://www.psycho­lo­gic­als­cience.org/news/releases/ironic-effects-of-anti-preju­dice-messages.html.

During the June 2019 House over­sight commit­tee hear­ing discussed earlier in this report, Repres­ent­at­ive Clay asked Deputy Assist­ant Director Calvin Shivers, who manages the FBI’s civil rights section, whether the bureau provides any resources or train­ing to state and local police depart­ments to help them identify white suprem­acists attempt­ing to infilt­rate their agen­cies. foot­note14_q2c94o8 14 Confront­ing Viol­ent White Suprem­acy (Part II), 22–23. Shivers said the train­ing that the FBI’s civil rights section provides to law enforce­ment is focused on help­ing them identify hate crimes that may occur within their juris­dic­tions. He did not identify any train­ing focused on identi­fy­ing and weed­ing out officers who actively parti­cip­ate in white suprem­acist and far-right milit­ant groups.

The contin­ued pres­ence of even a small number of far-right milit­ants, white suprem­acists, and other overt racists in law enforce­ment has an outsized impact on public safety and on public trust in the crim­inal justice system and cannot be ignored. Leav­ing indi­vidual agen­cies to police them­selves in a piece­meal fash­ion has not proven effect­ive at restor­ing public confid­ence in law enforce­ment. Instead, there should be a compre­hens­ive plan — one that involves federal, state, and local govern­ments — to ensure that law enforce­ment agen­cies do not toler­ate overtly racist conduct. The final section of this paper proposes several recom­mend­a­tions to include in such a plan.

End Notes

Protest Policing Reveals Law Enforcement Bias

The police response to nation­wide protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 includes a number of officers across the coun­try flaunt­ing their affil­i­ation with far-right milit­ant groups. A veteran sher­iff’s deputy monit­or­ing a Black Lives Matter protest in Orange County, Cali­for­nia, was photo­graphed wear­ing patches with logos of the Three Percen­t­ers and the Oath Keep­ers — far-right milit­ant groups that often chal­lenge the federal govern­ment’s author­ity — affixed to his bullet­proof vest. After an activ­ist group publi­cized the photo­graph, the sher­iff said it was “unac­cept­able” for the deputy to wear the patches and placed him on admin­is­trat­ive leave pending an invest­ig­a­tion. foot­note1_brak­b1t 1 Sara Cardine, “O.C. Sher­iff’s Offi­cials Invest­ig­at­ing Deputy Seen Wear­ing Extrem­ist Insignia at Costa Mesa Protest,” Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/news/story/2020–06–03/o-c-sher­iffs-offi­cials-invest­ig­at­ing-deputy-seen-wear­ing-extrem­ist-insignia-at-costa-mesa-protest.

A 13-year veteran of the Chicago Police Depart­ment is under invest­ig­a­tion after photo­graphs surfaced that showed him wear­ing a face cover­ing with a Three Percen­t­ers’ logo while on duty at a protest, though a super­visor was pictured with him at the scene and appar­ently did not complain. foot­note2_3j40xqq 2 “CPD Invest­ig­at­ing After Officer Wore Extrem­ist Mili­tia Logo to Down­town Protest Saturday,” CBS Chicago, June 9, 2020, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/cpd-invest­ig­at­ing-after-officer-wore-extrem­ist-mili­tia-logo-to-down­town-protest-saturday/ar-BB15d­ByT. The officer had reportedly been the subject of several previ­ous miscon­duct lawsuits, includ­ing an excess­ive use of force suit follow­ing a nonfatal shoot­ing. The city of Chicago paid $400,000 to settle those suits.

In Salem, Oregon, a police officer was recor­ded on video asking heav­ily armed white men dressed like mili­tia to step inside a build­ing or sit in their cars while the police arres­ted protest­ers for fail­ing to comply with curfew orders, “so we don’t look like we’re play­ing favor­ites.” After a public outcry, the Salem police chief apolo­gized for the appear­ance of favor­it­ism, but determ­ined the officer was only trying to gain the milit­ants’ compli­ance with the curfew. foot­note3_glc8kze 3 Kath­er­ine Cook, “Salem Police Chief Apolo­gizes in Response to Viral Video of Officer with Armed Group,” KGW (Port­land, OR), June 6, 2020, https://www.kgw.com/article/news/local/protests/salem-police-chief-apolo­gizes-in-response-to-viral-video-of-officer/283-d7f4ce66–6f8d-4a25-a478-ae3999648d51.

A police officer in Olympia, Wash­ing­ton, was placed under invest­ig­a­tion for posing in a photo­graph with a heav­ily armed mili­tia group called Three Percent of Wash­ing­ton. One of the mili­tia members posted the photo­graph on social media, claim­ing that the officer and her part­ner had come over to thank them as they guarded a local shop­ping center. foot­note4_w3mdkj7 4 Chuck Tanner and Devin Burghart, “Three Percen­t­ers Pose With Olympia Police Officer, Sparks Need for Thor­ough Invest­ig­a­tion,” Insti­tute for Research and Educa­tion on Human Rights, June 18, 2020, https://www.irehr.org/2020/06/18/three-percen­t­ers-pose-with-olympia-police-officer-sparks-need-for-thor­ough-invest­ig­a­tion/#_ftn3.

In Phil­adelphia, police officers stood by and failed to inter­vene when mostly white mobs armed with bats, clubs, and long guns attacked journ­al­ists and protest­ers. foot­note5_kzm73qg 5 Anna Orso, “Police Under Fire for ‘Cod­dling’ Viol­ent Groups of White People in Fishtown, South Philly,” Phil­adelphia Inquirer, June 26, 2020, https://www.inquirer.com/news/phil­adelphia/phil­adelphia-protests-marconi-plaza-fishtown-south-phil­adelphia-protests-20200626.html. The district attor­ney has vowed to invest­ig­ate the matter. The follow­ing month, however, Phil­adelphia police officers openly social­ized with several men wear­ing Proud Boys regalia and carry­ing a Proud Boys flag at a “Back the Blue” party at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge. foot­note6_8bsmubr 6 Jeremy Roebuck, Ellie Rush­ing, and Oona Goodin-Smith, “Philly’s Police Union Says It Didn’t Invite Proud Boys to a Pence After-Party. It Didn’t Ask Them to Leave, Either,” Phil­adelphia Inquirer, July 10, 2020, https://www.inquirer.com/news/proud-boys-philly-police-fop-mike-pence-mcnesby-trump-alt-right-20200710.html.

The affin­ity some police officers have shown for armed far-right mili­tia groups at protests is confound­ing given that many states, includ­ing Cali­for­nia, Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wash­ing­ton, have laws barring unreg­u­lated para­mil­it­ary activ­it­ies. foot­note7_9rfn9ed 7 “Prohib­it­ing Private Armies at Public Rallies: A Cata­logue of Relev­ant State Consti­tu­tional and Stat­utory Provi­sions,” Insti­tute for Consti­tu­tional Advocacy and Protec­tion, Febru­ary 2018, https://www.law.geor­getown.edu/icap/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2018/04/Prohib­it­ing-Private-Armies-at-Public-Rallies.pdf. And it is most troub­ling because far-right milit­ants have often killed police officers. The over­lap between mili­tia members and the Booga­loo move­ment — whose adher­ents have been arres­ted for manu­fac­tur­ing Molotov cock­tails in prepar­a­tion for an attack at a Black Lives Matter protest in Nevada, incit­ing a riot in South Caro­lina, and shoot­ing, bomb­ing, and killing police officers in Cali­for­nia — high­lights the threat that police engage­ment with these groups poses to their law enforce­ment part­ners. foot­note8_k4dasj1 8 Assess­ing the Threat from Accel­er­a­tion­ists and Mili­tia Extrem­ists: Hear­ing Before the Subcomm. on Intel­li­gence and Coun­terter­ror­ism of the H. Comm. on Home­land Secur­ity, 116th Cong. 12 (2020) (state­ment of Heidi L. Beirich, cofounder and exec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent, Global Project Against Hate and Extrem­ism), https://home­land.house.gov/imo/media/doc/Testi­mony%20-%20Beirich.pdf; and Robert Gearty, “2 Affil­i­ated with ‘Boo­ga­loo’ Extrem­ist Group Charged with Incit­ing a Riot: SC Sher­iff,” Fox News, June 6, 2020, https://www.foxnews.com/us/2-affil­i­ated-with-booga­loo-extrem­ist-group-charged-with-incit­ing-a-riot-sc-sher­iff; Dan Noyes, “I-Team: Air Force Sergeant Arres­ted on Suspi­cion for Killing of Deputy in Santa Cruz County,” ABC7 News (San Fran­cisco), June 8, 2020, https://abc7news.com/steven-carrillo-santa-cruz-carillo-cali­for­nia-sher­iff-deputy-killed/6236742/.

End Notes

Recommendations

Federal, State, and Local Law Enforce­ment Agen­cies

The fail­ure of federal, state, and local law enforce­ment agen­cies to aggress­ively respond to evid­ence of expli­cit racism among police officers under­mines public confid­ence in fair and impar­tial law enforce­ment. Worse, it signals to white suprem­acists and far-right milit­ants that their illegal acts enjoy govern­ment approval and author­iz­a­tion, making them all the more brazen and danger­ous. Winning back public trust requires trans­par­ent and equal enforce­ment of the law, effect­ive over­sight, and public account­ab­il­ity that prior­it­izes targeted communit­ies’ interests.

Where police officers are found to be involved in white suprem­acist or far-right milit­ant activ­it­ies, racist viol­ence, or related miscon­duct, police depart­ments should initi­ate mitig­a­tion plans designed to ensure public safety and uphold the integ­rity of the law. Mitig­a­tion plans could include refer­rals to prosec­utors, dismissals, other discip­lin­ary actions, limit­a­tions of assign­ments to reduce poten­tially prob­lem­atic contact with the public, retrain­ing, and intens­i­fied super­vi­sion and audit­ing. Law enforce­ment offi­cials and prosec­utors have an oblig­a­tion to provide defend­ants exculp­at­ing inform­a­tion in their posses­sion, includ­ing inform­a­tion about police witnesses’ miscon­duct that may reas­on­ably impeach their testi­mony. Prosec­utors should include officers known to have engaged in overtly racist beha­vior to Brady lists. foot­note1_05x8org 1 Vida B. John­son, “KKK in the PD,” 205, 234. These lists should be shared among federal, state, and local prosec­utors’ offices to ensure fair trials for all defend­ants in all juris­dic­tions.

The most effect­ive way for law enforce­ment agen­cies to restore public trust and prevent racism from influ­en­cing law enforce­ment actions is to prohibit indi­vidu­als who are members of white suprem­acist groups or who have a history of expli­citly racist conduct from becom­ing law enforce­ment officers in the first place, or from remain­ing officers once bias is demon­strated. All law enforce­ment agen­cies should do the follow­ing:

  • Estab­lish clear policies regard­ing parti­cip­a­tion in white suprem­acist organ­iz­a­tions and other far-right milit­ant groups, and on overt and expli­cit expres­sions of racism — with specificity regard­ing tattoos, patches, and insignia as well as social media post­ings. These policies should be prop­erly vetted by legal coun­sel to ensure compli­ance with consti­tu­tional rights, state and local laws, and collect­ive bargain­ing agree­ments, and they must be clearly explained to staff.
  • Hire a diverse work­force to more accur­ately reflect the demo­graphic makeup of the communit­ies the agency serves, and promote them fairly through the ranks.
  • Estab­lish mitig­a­tion plans when biased police officers are detec­ted. Mitig­a­tion plans could include refer­rals to internal affairs, local prosec­utors, or the DOJ for invest­ig­a­tion and prosec­u­tion; termin­a­tion or other discip­lin­ary action; limit­a­tions of assign­ments to reduce poten­tially prob­lem­atic contact with the public; retrain­ing; and intens­i­fied super­vi­sion and audit­ing.
  • Estab­lish report­ing mech­an­isms to ensure evid­ence of overtly racist beha­vior by a police officer is provided to prosec­utors and employ Brady lists or similar report­ing mech­an­isms to ensure defend­ants receive notice.
  • Encour­age whis­tleblow­ing and protect whis­tleblowers.

Federal Govern­ment

The Justice Depart­ment has acknow­ledged that law enforce­ment involve­ment in white suprem­acist and far-right mili­tia organ­iz­a­tions poses an ongo­ing threat, but it has not produced a national strategy to address it. Not only has the depart­ment failed to prosec­ute police officers involved in patently racist viol­ence, it has only recently begun collect­ing national data regard­ing use of force by law enforce­ment offi­cials. foot­note2_akxk9dl 2 Federal Bureau of Invest­ig­a­tion, “National Use-of-Force Data Collec­tion,” Crim­inal Justice Inform­a­tion Services (CJIS), https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ucr/use-of-force.

Congress should direct the Justice Depart­ment to do the follow­ing:

  • Imme­di­ately estab­lish a work­ing group to exam­ine law enforce­ment asso­ci­ations with white suprem­acist and other far-right milit­ant groups to assess the scope and nature of the prob­lem in a report to Congress.
  • Develop an evid­ence-based national strategy based on this review, designed to protect the secur­ity and civil liber­ties of communit­ies policed by law enforce­ment officers who are active in white suprem­acist or far-right milit­ant organ­iz­a­tions. A national strategy will ensure U.S. attor­neys and FBI offices across the coun­try prop­erly prior­it­ize these invest­ig­a­tions and harmon­ize their tactics to guar­an­tee equal justice for all. The national strategy should include data and metrics to eval­u­ate the effect­ive­ness of the meth­od­o­lo­gies it employs.
  • Require the FBI to survey its domestic terror­ism invest­ig­a­tions involving white suprem­acists and other overtly racist or fascist milit­ant groups to docu­ment and report to the DOJ all indic­a­tions of active links between these groups and law enforce­ment offi­cials. This would both inform the depart­ment’s assess­ment and national strategy and, where evid­ence of poten­tial civil rights viol­a­tions or other crim­inal activ­it­ies by these law enforce­ment officers exists, allow invest­ig­a­tions to be initi­ated.
  • Require the FBI to determ­ine whether any law enforce­ment offi­cials it invest­ig­ates for civil rights viol­a­tions or other crim­inal matters have connec­tions to viol­ent white suprem­acist organ­iz­a­tions or other far-right milit­ant groups, have a record of discrim­in­at­ory beha­vior, or have a history of post­ing expli­citly racist comment­ary in public or on social media plat­forms. This inform­a­tion should be provided to FBI agents assigned to domestic terror­ism matters for invest­ig­at­ive and intel­li­gence purposes, and to federal, state, and local prosec­utors to consider their inclu­sion on Brady lists.
  • Require the FBI to report any federal, state, or local offi­cial assigned to a federal task force who is discovered during initial screen­ings or peri­odic back­ground invest­ig­a­tions to have active links to any white suprem­acist or other milit­ant groups, to have engaged in racist beha­vior, or to have posted overtly racist comment­ary to on social media to the DOJ and to their depart­ments. Where appro­pri­ate based on avail­able evid­ence, the Justice Depart­ment should bar these offi­cials from further parti­cip­a­tion with federal task forces and report the inform­a­tion to appro­pri­ate depart­mental heads and state and local prosec­utors for poten­tial inclu­sion on Brady lists.
  • Analyze the data collec­ted by the FBI in its law enforce­ment use of force data­base to assist in devel­op­ing the national strategy. The FBI should eval­u­ate each use of force complaint for indic­a­tions that racial or ethnic bias motiv­ated the viol­ence. Where evid­ence reas­on­ably indic­ates a viol­a­tion of federal, state, or local laws, cases should be referred for prosec­u­tion.
  • Estab­lish a formal mitig­a­tion plan to imple­ment when evid­ence indic­ates that an iden­ti­fied law enforce­ment officer poses a public secur­ity threat or a risk of harm to any protec­ted class or community. Such a plan could include federal, state, or local invest­ig­a­tions and prosec­u­tions; civil rights lawsuits and consent decrees; report­ing inform­a­tion identi­fy­ing the officer to other federal, state, or local author­it­ies for appro­pri­ate employ­ment action; and place­ment of iden­ti­fied officers on Brady lists main­tained by federal, state, and local prosec­utors to ensure that defend­ants in crim­inal cases and plaintiffs in civil actions against these officers have appro­pri­ate impeach­ment evid­ence avail­able.
  • Estab­lish a public hotline for report­ing racist activ­ity by law enforce­ment offi­cials and strengthen whis­tleblower protec­tions for federal law enforce­ment agents.

The Domestic Terror­ism Preven­tion Act of 2019, a Senate bill intro­duced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), includes a provi­sion that requires the FBI to assess the threat posed by white suprem­acist and neo-Nazi infilt­ra­tion of law enforce­ment and the milit­ary. This assess­ment should be informed by data collec­ted from FBI invest­ig­a­tions and surveys of federal, state, and local law enforce­ment agen­cies, and from data collec­ted for the law enforce­ment use of force data­base.

Lastly, Congress should pass the End Racial and Reli­gious Profil­ing Act of 2019 to ban all federal, state, and local law enforce­ment agen­cies from profil­ing based on actual or perceived race, ethni­city, reli­gion, national origin, gender, gender iden­tity, or sexual orient­a­tion. Banning racial profil­ing would mark a signi­fic­ant step toward mitig­at­ing the poten­tial harm caused by racist officers undetec­ted within the ranks.

End Notes