Trump administration designates White supremacist group in Russia as terrorists


The State Department announced Monday that it is classifying a foreign white supremacist organization as terrorists, marking the first time the U.S. government has made such a designation.

The State Department designated the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), a Russian ultranationalist group, as specially designated global terrorist (SDGT), which comes amid growing concern by national security officials that such groups pose a potential violent threat to U.S. and global interests.

While Islamic extremist groups frequently receive such designations, Monday marked a new shift, with the U.S. government broadening the umbrella of groups it considers terrorists.

“These designations are unprecedented,” Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said during a State Department teleconference. 

“This is the first time the United States has ever designated foreign white supremacist terrorists, illustrating how seriously this administration takes the threat. We are taking actions that no previous administration has taken to counter this threat,” Sales added.

Sales also said three of the group’s leaders are going to be labeled as SDGTs as well: Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov. 

RIM has trained neo-Nazis and white supremacists to fight paramilitary-style at its training facilities in St. Petersburg, according to Sales. Two Swedish men who received 11 days of training with RIM in 2016 later went on to carry out a series of terrorist attacks in Gothenburg, Sweden, by placing bombs outside of places like a migrant center and a campsite used to house refugees. 

While the two men were later arrested, the prosecutor overseeing their case argued that RIM helped radicalize and train them for the attack. 

“This group has innocent blood on its hands,” said Sales.

With the SDGT designation, the U.S. government can begin taking action against the group and individuals — including blocking Americans from conducting business with the group and freezing any U.S. property or asset owned by RIM.

“Even if a foreign terrorist group doesn’t have a bank account at a U.S. bank, a designation still has a significant financial impact on them because it increases the difficulty of them moving money,” Sales said.

The U.S. first began expanding its designations of terrorist groups and individuals after the attacks on 9/11, and then-President George W. Bush issued an executive order to expand this authority.

President Trump subsequently issued an executive order in September to broaden this authority, which now allows the government to label groups as terrorists even if they have not been linked to an attack.  

While some reports indicate RIM has reached out to Americans, the group is not believed to have strong ties to the U.S.

Sales noted that the agency lacks the authority to “designate groups with a substantial connection to the United States,” in large part because it would raise questions around freedom of speech. 

“The United States does not have the authority to designate groups on the basis of constitutionally protected speech. So when we look at whether a group meets our standards for designation, we’re always looking at the presence of violent action. That’s the sort of conduct that is necessary to get a foreign group on our list,” the ambassador added.

And unlike a Foreign Terrorist Organization designation, the U.S. government cannot criminally charge a U.S. citizen for providing material support to a group under a SDGT designation. Sales noted that the FBI and the Department of Justice do have other tools they can use against people with ties to SDGTs.

While Sales also acknowledged that there are reports that indicate RIM helped the pro-separatist forces fight to annex Crimea, he declined to say whether Russia is cooperating with the U.S. government in cracking down on this group. Rather, he said they encourage the Kremlin to live up to its pledges to counter terrorism. 

The announcement Monday was seen as a step towards addressing white supremacist terrorism, which has surged in recent years.

“Today’s designations send an unmistakable message that the United States will not hesitate to use our sanctions authorities aggressively, and that we are prepared to target any foreign terrorist group, regardless of ideology, that threatens our citizens, our interests abroad, or our allies,” said Sales.

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