The Trump Administration has begun a new phase in the war on terrorism by sanctioning a white supremacist group as a foreign terrorist organization for the first time in history. The action puts Russia on notice for its promotion of pro-Putin white supremacists within the West, including the United States.
The State and Treasury Departments blacklisted the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) and three of its leaders. The group has two terrorist training camps in St. Petersburg that are â€œlikely being used for woodland and urban assault, tactical weapons and hand-to-hand combat training.â€
Tellingly, the group has offered paramilitary training to U.S.-based neo-Nazi groups that took part in the â€œUnite the Rightâ€ rally in 2017, where a white supremacist killed one counter-protester and injured 40 in a vehicular attack. RIM claims that no American groups have taken up its offer.
The Russian dictatorship uses RIM as a proxy: In Ukraine, RIM is actively fighting for the Russian cause. This activity is happening with the Putin regimeâ€™s acquiescence, if not direct collaboration.
RIM is at least indirectly responsible for terrorist attacks in Sweden. In 2016, a terror cell tried to set off three bombs targeting an immigration office, a cafÃ© popular among left-wing activists and a housing area for refugees seeking asylum. Only one bomb detonated, injuring an employee of the immigration office.
Three neo-Nazi terrorists who belonged to the Nordic Resistance Movement were charged with the bombings. Prosecutors believe, however, the three were disillusioned with this group for not being violent enough. For training, they went to St. Petersburg for instruction from the Russian Imperial Movement for 11 days.
RIM openly says it wants to create a â€œRight-Wing Internationalâ€ that will â€œshare the experience of political [and] information warfare and joint squad tactics training.â€
In 2015, RIM began a relationship with the now-defunct Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP), one of the entities involved in the 2017 â€œUnite the Rightâ€ rally.
The partyâ€™s leader, Matthew Heimbach, met with a RIM representative in Washington, D.C. and Gettysburg in 2017. He told Think Progress:
â€œThe big thing was being able to identify that their goals and our goals are very similar: being opposed to liberalism, being opposed to really Left and conservative reactionary politics, spiritual revival and nationalist principles. And it looks like weâ€™re really aiming to have TWP kind of be the representative of America at the future gatherings of the Russian Imperial Movement.â€
The State Department explained that its actions against the RIM were made possible by an order signed by President Trump that made it easier to sanction and prosecute terrorists.
â€œThanks to this order, the State Department can now designate groups and individuals that participate in training to commit acts of terrorism. We can also designate the leaders of terrorist groups, without needing to show that they were involved in particular attacks,â€ it said.
The State Department is likely to designate other foreign white supremacist groups. It was reported last month that the administration was considering designating foreign branches of the Nazi terrorist group Atomwaffen as well as The Base as terrorists.
In February, the FBI arrested eight members of The Base planning attacks on U.S. soil. The Base also has strong links to Russia.
It is led by a New Jersey-born, former military contractor named Rinaldo Nazzaro. He now resides in St. Petersburg.
According to the BBC, Nazzaro wears pro-Putin shirts and in 2019 â€œwas listed as a guest at a Russian government security exhibition in Moscow, which â€˜focused on the demonstration of the results of state policy and achievements.â€™â€
RIM is just one part of Putinâ€™s strategy to develop a pro-Russian fifth column in the U.S. and the West more broadly.
Russia has become the ideological capital for white supremacists. As Portland State University lecturer Alexander Reid Ross puts it, â€œRussia has become a safe, central organizing hub for U.S. paramilitary fascist organizations and global fascist networks.â€
Pro-Russian White Supremacists
The Clarion Projectâ€™s Clarion Intelligence Network, which monitors extremist activity and works with law enforcement agencies, has reported dozens of white supremacists to the authorities and noticed the strongly pro-Putin sentiment among them. These white supremacists regularly interact with like-minded extremists in Russia, Ukraine and Europe.
Although they despise Muslims, some of them cheer the success of jihadists. Opposing brands of extremists seek each otherâ€™s destruction, but a victory for one is viewed as a victory for all because of their shared goal of global confrontation.
One of the main points of congregation for these supremacists is the League of the South, an organization that claims to have chapters in 16 states.
In 2015, the League of the South celebrated the fact that the Russian media covered its â€œrally in support of the New Russia.â€
In October 2016, the group published an open letter to Russia explaining that it favors Putin over the United States, which it seeks to dismember:
â€œWe traditional Southerners look upon the people of Russia as fellow white Christians who are seeking to protect themselves and their national interests from the corrupt and diabolical forces of globalism. We want no part of a war with the Russian Federation instigated by the USA/NATO alliance, the heart of the globalist cabal.
â€œFor over two decades, The League of the South has opposed the infernal machinations of The American Empire. We still seek our independence from it for the survival and well-being of our peopleâ€“the Southern nation.â€
These words of treachery are matched with actions of militancy. The League publicly says it engages in paramilitary activity.
In 2017, it called on supporters to join its Southern Defense Force in order to prepare for a war in â€œself-defenseâ€ against Antifa, Black Lives Matter and other groups.
â€œAs a League member, you will have opportunities to increase your proficiency with hand-to-hand defense skills, firearms training (both pistols and long weapons), and other related skills. Also, you will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other Southern warriors in an organization dedicated to the survival, well-being, and independence of the Southern people,â€ it said.
A former League of the South leader tried to form his own camp in Tennessee by purchasing 44 acres in 2017 for a project called the Wotans Nations. Wotanism is based around the Norse Gods of white Europeans. Its Facebook group had about 300 members.
The project was led by a neo-Nazi couple. Eric Meadows led the Leagueâ€™s paramilitary training in Georgia and reportedly had served in the Army and Navy. He was also a member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement.
Thankfully, the press caught wind of the Wotans Nation project in 2018. The group subsequently erased its online presence and claimed it was abandoning its plans for the land, saying they were misunderstood.
White supremacists find ideological inspiration from Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Dugin, a political strategist who has been dubbed “Putin’s Brain” and “the most dangerous philosopher in the world.” Dugin promotes a fascist ideology known as “Eurasianism.”
In 2015, Dugin participated in the launch of the Traditionalist Workers Party by addressing the group remotely. Top white supremacist leaders in America, such as Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor and David Duke, also profess a desire for Russia to lead the world.
The white supremacists arenâ€™t the only secessionists that Russia is rooting for. Others, such as movements for California and Texas to become independent countries, are looked upon fondly.
Russia has modernized its long-standing Cold War strategy of proliferating disinformation, conspiracy theories and anything that can intensify tensions between different identities within the West. It should be assumed that other regimes have done the same.
Russiaâ€™s Ideological Offensive
Russiaâ€™s ideological offensive is broader than supporting militant fascists. There is a â€œsofterâ€ strategy aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the common person.
In 2014, I warned that Russia was waging an ideological offensive to win over American Christians, even as Putin persecutes Christians and limits evangelism. His hope is that Christians will abandon pro-Western Christianity in favor of pro-Russian, authoritarian Christianity.
Thereâ€™s a parallel effort in the Islamic world. Aleksandr Dugin says that the two countries where he is finding a receptive audience besides Russia and the U.S. are Turkey and Iran.
The Strategy to Balkanize America
The Russian dictatorship, white supremacists and virtually all of the extremists have come to a common judgment: The way to defeat the U.S. is to turn it against itself. The United States of America only exists on paper if it is no longer united.
All of these adversaries are attempting to foment a “War of the Extremes,” a phenomenon where opposing extremes fuel each otherâ€™s growth.
A microcosm of this symbiosis can be found in the common name of â€œThe Base,â€ a Nazi group, and Al-Qaeda, which means â€œThe Baseâ€ in Arabic.
The Nazi â€œBaseâ€ finds inspiration from ISIS and Al-Qaeda, even as it pledges to wage war on Muslims. Islamist supremacists have a history of embracing white supremacists, and groups like Al-Qaeda point to anti-Muslim extremists as proof of the necessity of jihad.
As the destructive ideologies grow, the destabilization will lead to unhealable divides, tribalism and political paralysis.
The extremists believe that they can create an environment toxic enough to trigger violent uprisings, anti-government revolutions, civil wars and, ultimately, the breakup of the United States.
For Putin and other foreign authoritarian forces (such as Islamists and communists), the strategy has two appeals even if the U.S. isnâ€™t splintered into pieces:
First, the decline of the U.S. as a global geopolitical competitor. Internal strife hurts the ability of America to project power.
Second, it helps tyrannical regimes to hold onto power by discrediting the ideology of the West.
Putin, Erdogan, Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and others desperately need to point toâ€”and magnify — Americaâ€™s difficulties in order to argue against constitutional republics and freedom.
If the ideology represented by the U.S. is seen as having failed and not fit for modern times, then authoritarian leaders need not worry about protesters marching with hand-made replicas of the Statue of Liberty.
Watch Clarion Project’s National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro explain how white supremacist terror groups fit into the “War of the Extremes” they are trying to ignite by clicking here.