On Sunday morning, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked President Trump’s National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, whether he thinks “systemic racism” is a problem in law enforcement agencies in the United States. O’Brien responded: “I don’t think there is systemic racism. I think 99.9 percent of our law enforcement officers are great Americans,” said O’Brien. “But … there’s a few bad apples.”
There are two flaws in O’Brien’s response. First, O’Brien ignores the well-documented support by law enforcement officers of alt-right extremist ideology throughout the country. Second, O’Brien misunderstands the nature of systemic racism—a term that means that institutions we have in place produce racially disparate effects on minority populations—in his discussion of individual officers.
An FBI intelligence assessment—titled “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement” and published in 2006 during the administration of President George W. Bush—raised alarm over white supremacist groups’ interest in “infiltrating law enforcement communities or recruiting law enforcement personnel.” The report, based on FBI investigations and open sources, warned, for example, that skinhead groups were actively encouraging their members to become “ghost skins” within law enforcement agencies, a term the report said white supremacists use to describe members who “avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes.”
In 2015, a classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide, obtained by The Intercept, stated that “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.”
In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on right-wing extremism and its relationship to “violent radicalization” in the United States. The report’s principle researcher on the subject, Daryl Johnson, later told The Intercept:
Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the ATF — are aware that extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups.
This may not be a coincidence.
An investigation published in 2019 by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers are members of Confederate-sympathizing, anti-Islam, or anti-government militia groups on Facebook. Within these private groups, members often are openly racist. [Continue reading…]