Elissa Slotkin last week sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking him to take the unprecedented step of designating 13 extremist movements as foreign terrorist organizations, arguing that such a move “will help apply more stress to it reduces these violent organizations “and the ability of their leaders to manage their groups”.
But of the 13 groups listed in his letter, which his office provided to BuzzFeed News, at least four have disappeared, one is a California-based American club that has split and renamed itself, and another has changed its name to Slotkin’s letter six years ago when he became part of the National Guard of an allied nation.
“It was a great list – in 2018,” Matthew Feldman, director of the Radical Law Analysis Center in London, told BuzzFeed News. “Everyone [the listed groups] he was active. Everyone was dangerous. “
Feldman praised Slotkin’s efforts and motivation behind the list, saying they are a step in the right direction. But he also said it serves as an example of how the U.S. government has been slow to recognize the threat of violent far-right extremists at home and abroad.
Biden has signaled his intention to fight domestic violent extremists – specifically white supremacists like those who were among the crowd that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and that the FBI sees as and a supreme threat. Alejandro Mayorkas, head of the Department of Homeland Security, told lawmakers last month that violent domestic extremism “poses the most lethal and persistent threat in terms of terrorism to the homeland.”
But experts say it’s also important to go after foreign extremist groups, which often communicate, coordinate and inspire their American counterparts.
If the Biden administration listed groups like those suggested by Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat, such as Official Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), or the minor designation of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT), it would help curb dangerous white supremacists, the member of Congress argued in his letter, which was before reported by Reuters.
“It would also give the U.S. Government more tools to engage and flag Americans who contact, support, train, and join these [white supremacist extremist] groups, ”Slotkin wrote.
But Elizabeth Neumann, former assistant secretary for fighting terrorism and preventing threats to the Department of Homeland Security during the Donald Trump administration, told BuzzFeed News that the process is long and difficult.
“The FTO process is a pretty high bar,” he said. “I was frustrated that we couldn’t get the Russian Imperial Movement. It wasn’t the only group we watched.”
In April 2020, the United States designated RIM and three of its SDGT leaders – the first time such a classification has been used.
Asked about Slotkin’s letter, a State Department spokesman told BuzzFeed News, “in general, we do not comment on the correspondence of Congress and we do not comment on appointments or deliberations in relation to the possible designations “. But Blinken said MSNBC Meet the Press Sunday that the designation of white overseas supremacist groups as foreign terrorist organizations is “something we watch.”
Slotkin, a former CIA analyst who had focused on foreign terrorist organizations in the Middle East, wrote that she was “struck by the threat of these white supremacist groups, the amount of contact they have with the extremists in the United States, of minimal intelligence and diplomatic relations “we are on these groups, and the relative lack of review taken by the United States Government.”
Among those Slotkin said deserving of terrorist designations is the National Action Group, a neo-Nazi organization founded in the United Kingdom and banned in 2016 that intended for British youth. A 2018 American counterterrorism report he described it as a terrorist group that promotes violence against politicians and minorities. A Metropolitan Police officer named Ben Hannam was condemned of accession on 1 April.
Another is the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, which is the same 2018 US report described as an anti-Western transnational organization behind violent attacks, even against Muslims and leftist groups.
But not all the groups she has asked the government to concentrate on are currently active.
Kacper Rekawek, a Slovak-based researcher at the Nonprofit Controversy Project, said Slotkin’s list is the kind of list that anyone looking for right-wing extremist groups on Google could draw up.
“Rep. Slotkin’s effort is commendable. Denominations, understated in the European context, should help counter the threat of violence from far-right organizations,” Rekawek told BuzzFeed News. “However, this should be informed by an in-depth analysis of local far-right scenes that include a crowd of actors who often speak out but do not walk the march as far as violence is concerned.”
The neo-Nazi groups Feuerkrieg Division, Sonnenkrieg Division, Atomwaffen Division Deutschland and Northern Order – all on Slotkin’s list – have disappeared, Rekawek and Feldman said. The members of the groups – all inspired by the Atomwaffen Division of the United States and the neo-Nazi American James Mason “Siege culture, “- have been linked to violence or violent plans in in the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Canada, and elsewhere.
Rise Above Movement (RAM), a white supremacist wrestling club founded in Southern California with ties to neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine and the Balkans, were even more or less dissolved after three of their members were jailed for participating in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. RAM founder Robert Rundo, a native of New York, is was charged in a separate federal case for violence in several protests across California. The charges were dismissed in June 2019 but restored last month.
Following the publication of this story, Slotkin’s staff clarified that they include RAM on the list to identify the group’s foreign affiliates.
Another problematic group on Slotkin’s list is the Azov Battalion of Ukraine. The paramilitary force was formed in 2014 by far-right extremists who volunteered to take up arms against Russian-backed forces when the war in eastern Ukraine broke out. In January 2016, he became part of the country’s National Guard and has since been known as the Azov Regiment.
His political wing, the National Corps, has been labeled a “nationalist hate group” by the State Department. But designating the regiment as a foreign terrorist organization is likely to pose challenges, especially because of its attachment to the state and the fact that Ukraine is an ally of the United States.
BuzzFeed News reached out to Slotkin for comment on the list. An aide said they had been informed of Azov’s status and the dissolved groups after the representative’s letter was reported by Reuters. But, the aide said, they plan to move forward with at least one group on the list that remains active.
“We’re sure we can have some level of designation,” the aide said.
Read Slotkin’s full letter.