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State Dept. Considering Measure That Would Make It Easier to Charge Members of Neo-Nazi Group


The U.S. Department of State is reportedly backing a new measure that would allow it to designate “at least one” of the nation’s violent white supremacist groups as a Foreign Terror Organization (FTO) in order to combat a heightening threat.

According to Politico, the organization most likely to be placed on the list is Atomwaffen, a neo-Nazi group based in the southern United States that has expanded to the U.K., Canada, and Germany. The group has been connected to several homicides since it emerged in 2015 on the now-defunct Iron March online forum. Per the report:

Designating a white supremacist group such as Atomwaffen as a foreign terrorist organization will allow federal prosecutors to more easily charge suspected members with providing material support to terrorists if the suspect has trained with and/or offered advice, personnel or funding to the group.

And while there are no designations for domestic terror organizations, “designating subsidiaries or foreign offshoots of a group that was founded in the U.S. would make it easier to track and prosecute alleged members operating within the country,” the report noted.

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas Law School Bobby Chesney noted that the FTO designation “triggers 18 USC 2339B (providing–or attempting or conspiring to provide–‘material support to designated groups).'”

As previously reported by Law&Crime, Atomwaffen’s former leader, John Cameron Denton, and several alleged members of the group were arrested by federal officials last month. They were accused of plotting to intimidate journalists as part of a prolific “swatting” scheme – wherein law enforcement officials are deceived into sending emergency response teams to targeted victims under false pretenses.

Targets included included a cabinet official living in Northern Virginia; Old Dominion University; and Alfred Street Baptist Church, prosecutors said. Calls affected 134 law enforcement agencies, and were primarily made in November and December of 2018, federal investigators said.

Counterterrorism expert Joshua Geltzer, who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, told the news outlet that such discussions were “long overdue.”

“There are 68 groups on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations, and not one is a violent white supremacist group,” Geltzer said. “We don’t use national security tools just to be symbolic, but I think finally adding to this list a white supremacist organization would really show that the U.S. recognizes the threat these groups pose, is willing to confront them using appropriate tools, and is now awakened to their distinctly transnational nature.”

President Trump’s handpicked FBI director Christopher Wray has called white supremacist groups a “persistent and pervasive threat” to national security. Four State Department officials told Politico that the department wants to have the designation finalized by next week but has not yet gotten approval from the White House.

[image via BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.