For the first time, the Trump State Department is designating a white supremacist group as terrorists, and of course the group is Russian in origin.
The Trump administration is expected to announce on Monday that it is designating an ultranationalist group based in Russia as a terrorist organization, according to officials. It is the first time the government will apply the label to a white supremacist group.
While the label of specially designated global terrorist has been frequently used for Islamist extremists, there have been growing concerns among U.S. officials about violent white supremacists with transnational links over the past five years. In 2018, the White House added that threat to the government’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism.
“These designations are unprecedented,” said Ambassador Nathan A. Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator. “This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacists as terrorists, and this illustrates how seriously this administration takes the white supremacist terrorist threat. We are doing things no previous administration has done to counter this threat.”
The State Department’s designation for the organization, the Russian Imperial Movement, sets up the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to block any American property or assets belonging to the group. It will also bar Americans from financial dealings with the organization and make it easier to ban its members from traveling to the United States.
The United States is also designating three of the group’s leaders — Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov — as individual terrorists who will face similar sanctions, the officials said.
The authority for either the Treasury Department or the State Department to deem a group or an individual a specially designated global terrorist traces back to an executive order issued by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. President Trump in September signed an executive order expanding that authority to cover groups that provide training for terrorists even if the groups are not directly linked to any attack.
The system parallels in some ways but is different from when the government designates a group as a foreign terrorist organization, which has separate criteria and applies only to groups rather than individuals.
The move could cut against criticism that the Trump administration has played down the threat of white nationalist violence for political reasons, based on the so-called alt-right’s support for Mr. Trump and his statement in 2017 that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
The Russian Imperial Movement is not considered to be sponsored by the Russian government, officials said, although President Vladimir V. Putin has tolerated its activities and it has helped advance the Russian government’s external goals by recruiting Russian fighters to aid pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.
On one side, yeah, this is Trump saying "See, we're not racists, and we are tough on Russia!" On the other hand, it's even easier to imagine that Putin has told Trump that RIM's political usefulness has come to an end, and that Putin wants help in pressuring them. Besides, it's win-win for both of them.
Concerns have been escalating for several years that there is a growing transnational white supremacist or alt-right movement, as illustrated by the 2019 mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by an Australian man who streamed the killings of 51 people on Facebook Live.
Against that backdrop, national security officials are said to have been searching for a neo-Nazi-style group that the U.S. government could designate as a foreign terrorist organization.
One challenge to finding an appropriate candidate was that designating a group with significant American ties would also raise major First Amendment issues, officials said. Although a Russian Imperial Movement member has visited the United States, the organization does not appear to have domestic members. It is not clear if the group has provided training to U.S.-based neo-Nazis.
So domestic white supremacist terrorists can carry on as normal, and Trump can say he's doing something about foreign white supremacist terrorists.