Originally published in New York Daily News.
As the testimony and evidence before the bipartisan Select House Committee investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection has demonstrated, we very nearly lost our democracy on that dark day. It is also clear that to save our democracy, we must confront the specter of white supremacy that lies at the heart of the danger.
We know from the Select Committee that white supremacists were the organizers and shock troops of the assault on Capitol Hill. Indeed, hundreds of followers of avowedly anti-Semitic, racist groups such as the Oath Keepers, the KKK, the Proud Boys, and QAnon have been arrested and convicted for their role in the insurrection. A “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirt was proudly flaunted by one rioter. Of the more than 140 Capitol Police officers injured or killed in the riot, many were beaten with the Confederate flag, as stark a symbol of white supremacy and treason as any.
According to the Government Accountability Office, in the past two decades, white supremacist organizations were responsible for more than 70% of violent extremist incidents in the United States that resulted in death. Just this year, the National Security Council designated U.S. domestic terrorism as the “most urgent terrorism threat the United States faces today.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also reported that U.S. domestic terrorism investigations have more than doubled in the past year, with attacks targeting Jews representing the majority of all religious-based hate crimes in 2020.
A misunderstanding about white supremacist terrorism in the United States is that the threat is solely domestic. Indeed, U.S.-based white supremacist extremist groups — such as The Base and the Proud Boys — have been designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) by our allies, including Canada and the United Kingdom. The reality is that many domestic extremist and white supremacist groups enjoy material support from internationally recognized white supremacist groups and operate within global white supremacist networks. According to research from the Soufan Center, white supremacist extremists are “strengthening transnational networks and even imitating the tactics, techniques and procedures of groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State,” making them FTOs. This insight is key to fighting them.
The Biden administration can use its authority to designate these groups as FTOs. The Base, for example, is a violent extremist group that, according to the FBI, seeks to “incite a race war and establish a white ethno-state.” The organization was designated by Canada and the U.K. as a terrorist organization in 2021. However, the lack of a terrorist designation in the U.S. has crippled our ability to effectively combat the organization’s clear and urgent threat to both our citizens and our democracy.
For example, in October 2021, two members of The Base were convicted of plotting an attack in Virginia that aimed to kill a large number of people and damage critical infrastructure in an effort to start a race war in the U.S. Yet despite the fact that the court found that the defendants committed crimes to promote terrorism, and even though The Base maintains known and active global links to designated FTOs, only the non-terrorism charges of firearms and alien-related charges could be used to sentence the conspirators to nine years in prison. An FTO designation for The Base would have changed that.
Other domestic extremists like the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Blood and Honor have carried out attacks in North America and Europe. Additionally, the American neo-Nazi organization Atomwaffen has international off-shoots that have been designated as terrorist organizations in the U.K., Germany, Canada, and the Baltics. Social media platforms like Gab add fuel to the fire, enabling such extremists to peddle disinformation globally and collude with like-minded groups across international boundaries at great speed. These groups function as FTOs, so let’s call them that, and bring to bear America’s intelligence and law enforcement resources against them.
The FTO designation would empower the State and Treasury Departments to hinder the travel of terrorists to the U.S.; criminalize support to designated groups; block the movement of assets to those groups; and allow for the Justice Department to prosecute individuals for providing material support to these groups. To supplement this domestic initiative, the Biden administration could also make this a priority by creating an informal working group of countries to combat this global issue, led by the United States.
The fight against white supremacist extremism must be at the center of our national efforts to save our democracy. Confronting it directly by acting against the global nature of this threat is essential to rolling back the insurrectionist threat against our people and institutions. Until then, the danger to our democracy will continue to grow. And it may very well succeed.
Max Rose represented Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jack Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress.
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