May 22, 2012

Domestic Threat

White Supremacy Extremism


It was a gruesome and hateful crime—three men with white supremacist tattoos punching and kicking the face and body of an African-American man at a bus stop in Houston last summer simply because of the color of his skin. All three were recently convicted of the attack, following an investigation by the FBI and its partners.

It’s not an isolated case. It seems like a throwback to a different era, but white supremacy—which sees whites as inherently superior to those of other races—still exists in America today. Having those kinds of beliefs is not against the law…as a matter of fact, it’s protected by the First Amendment. But white supremacy becomes a crime—and for the FBI, a form of what we call extremism—when it is furthered through threatened or actual use of force or violence or other illegal activity.

The Bureau has been investigating the criminal activities of white supremacy extremists like Ku Klux Klan members since as early as 1918. Today’s extremists are more challenging than ever. They’re affiliated with a variety of white supremacy groups, and they can be motivated by any number of religious or political ideologies. We’re also seeing more lone offenders and small, violent factions of larger groups at work, which makes detection of these crimes tougher.

White supremacy extremists specifically target racial, ethnic, and religious minorities; the federal government; and in some instances, even each other. Their tactics include assault, murder, threats and intimidation, and bombings. They also commit other kinds of crimes—like drug trafficking, bank and armored car robberies, and counterfeiting—to fund their hate-filled activities.

Over the years, the federal government has successfully charged white supremacy extremists using a number of federal statutes, including civil rights violations, racketeering, solicitation to commit crimes of violence, firearms violations, explosives violations, counterfeiting and forgery, and witness tampering.

In recent months, the FBI has led or participated in several significant investigations involving violence or attempted violence by self-admitted white supremacists. A few examples:

  • In February 2012, an Arizona man was sentenced to federal prison after pleading guilty to possessing and transporting improvised explosive devices near the U.S.-Mexico border. Details
  • In January 2012, the last of four Arkansas defendants charged with firebombing the home of an interracial couple was sentenced to federal prison. Details
  • In December 2011, a Washington man was sentenced to 32 years in prison for attempting to bomb a Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Day march in Spokane. Details
  • In May 2010, an Oregon man pled guilty to mailing a hangman’s noose to the home of the president of a local NAACP chapter in Ohio. Details

Moving forward, we see three keys to turning back the ongoing scourge of white supremacy extremism:

  • Our increased emphasis on the lawful gathering, analyzing, and sharing of intelligence on current and emerging trends, tactics, and threats.
  • Continued collaboration with our local, state, tribal, and federal partners, especially on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces around the nation.
  • And most importantly, the support of Americans who find these types of crimes abhorrent and antithetical to our way of life.

If you have information on domestic terror threats of any kind, submit a tip or contact your local FBI field office.