WASHINGTON — The U.S. officially labeled a white supremacist group a terrorist organization for the first time ever.
The designation fell on the Russian Imperial Movement, a group based in St. Petersburg believed to be responsible for training neo-Nazi groups in Western Europe, including two men accused of bombing of a cafe and attempting to bomb of a refugee camp in Sweden, according to U.S. officials.
“These designations are unprecedented,” State Department counterterrorism coordinator Nathan Sales said in a briefing on Monday. “This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacist terrorists, illustrating how seriously this administration takes the threat. We are taking actions no previous administration has taken to counter this threat.”
Most of the groups designated as terrorists by the U.S. are Islamic fundamentalist groups or separatists who engage in violence. But national security and extremism experts have for years, and with increasing urgency, sounded the alarm about the threat of white nationalist terror.
The designation freezes any assets the group might have in the U.S. and makes transactions with Americans illegal. Members of the group can be banned from entering the U.S., and its leaders were sanctioned: Stanislav Vorobyev, Denis Gariev and Nikolay Trushchalov.
Monday’s decision follows other recent signs that the U.S. government has been waking up to the threat posed by white nationalists and neo-Nazis at home and abroad.
After the deadly Christchurch mosque attacks last year, President Trump appeared to shrug off the idea that white nationalist terror posed a major security threat. His administration has, in the past, defunded and dismantled Department of Homeland Security programs designed to counter violent and far-right extremism.
But in February the FBI announced it had elevated racially-motivated violent extremism to a “national threat priority.” In remarks to Congress, the bureau’s director Christopher Wray said that the designation put those groups or individuals on the same footing as ISIS in terms of the resources the FBI will devote to them.
Last September, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled a new counterterrorism strategy that, for the first time, recognized white nationalism as a major threat. Congress has held well over a dozen hearings on the matter, and lawmakers have called on the State Department to designate international far-right networks as foreign terror organizations, and on DHS to produce threat assessments of those networks.
Cover: Signage is displayed outside the U.S. State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)