Investigation of white supremacy groups and other extremists on the right end of the political spectrum frequently turns up links to law enforcement officers. This point was once again raised by the recent release of official FBI counterterrorism guidelines from 2015.
According to the Bureau’s policy guide, police officers that are suspected of collaborating with or joining problem groups can be added to the national terrorism watchlist as “silent hits.” This allows the FBI to monitor them discreetly. Treating them as conventional terror suspects would add their names to databases accessible by any law enforcement agency; by tracking them separately the Bureau can avoid tipping them off.
The 2015 policy guide is a classified set of guidelines for counterterrorism operations not intended for release to the general public. This is just the latest FBI publication that acknowledges the ties between police officers and white supremacists, sovereign citizens groups, militias, and other extremist organizations. Concern over this issue was raised in an internal assessment conducted in 2006.
More significantly, a 2009 intelligence study warned that far-right extremism was on the rise. The Department of Homeland Security commissioned the report after President Obama’s election. The troubling connection between individual law enforcement officers and extremist groups was noted by Daryl Johnson, the lead researcher responsible for the report. Johnson described the ties as “infiltration” by extremist groups and said that the ATF and Federal Marshals, along with the FBI, were aware of the problem.
Because of the sensitivity of this issue, the 2009 report was disavowed by Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security at the time. Johnson was pushed out of his job over the report, and he has publically called the DHS’ neglect of right-wing terror threats “deeply disappointing.”
While the FBI stays quiet about its awareness of ties between law enforcement officers and extremist groups, anecdotal evidence of those ties is regularly brought into the public eye. Anti-governmental groups that actively attempt to recruit law enforcement personnel (both current and former officers) include the Constitutional Sheriffs Associations and the Oath Keepers.
The CSA entered the news in early 2016 when one member, an active-duty sheriff in Oregon, expressed public support for the militant forces occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. In October of that year, a snapshot of an Oath Keepers hat displayed in a Maryland squad car resulted in the suspension of the police officer who owned the hat.