The fallout surrounding a photo showing recent graduates of a corrections officers’ training program throwing up Nazi salutes was just the most recent example of how prevalent white supremacist allegiances are in law enforcement across the country. And while at least three of the more than 30 officers in West Virginia were fired after being exposed for glorifying the racist gesture, chances are that won’t stop the continued infiltration of police departments by white supremacists, which is all but an American tradition.
“The two academy trainers and a cadet were not identified in a statement from the state’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety,” NBC News reported. “Thirty-four people remain suspended without pay amid the investigation by the department and its Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation.”
The episode in West Virginia came on the heels of a police officer in Connecticut being outed as a member of the Proud Boys, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a hate group whose “leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists.” The Connecticut cop reportedly left the Proud Boys because he suspected its members would be slammed by “far-left political organizations” and labeled as bigots due to their “love” for President Donald Trump — not because he disagreed with the group’s racist philosophy.
About five months earlier, a lawyer published a searchable database that shows thousands of racist social media posts made by thousands of police officers around the country. The Plain View Project 5,000 posts and comments made by police officers through verified accounts. About 2,800 of the officers, some of them high-ranking, were still on the job as of June.
In Philadelphia, the Inquirer reported that 15 of the city’s high-ranking officers are in the database because of racist, misogynist, Islamophobic and pro-violence posts. One Facebook post made by Captain George Mullen was a meme featuring the image of the late Sammy Davis Jr. holding a microphone and pointing to the viewer. The words going across the image stated: “Instead Of Hands Up Don’t Shoot How About Pull Your Pants Up Don’t Loot.”
At the St. Louis Police Department one officer, Ronald Hasty, who went by the name “Ron Nighthawk” on Facebook, posted several racist memes, including one with a Confederate flag and the words “If The Confederate Flag Is Racist, So Is Black History Month.” He also shared another post by a group called “Proud to be a White American” that read “March is national ‘Stop Blaming White People Month!’ Accept responsibility for your own bad choices. Hug a white person!”
The Portland Police Department in Oregon has become especially notorious for its apparent embracing of white nationalists applying to be cops there. That included one officer who exchanged hundreds of text messages with the leader of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, which has organized violent demonstrations in the city.
And in Oklahoma, the Achille Police Department knowingly hired an open white supremacist last year who used to be the Texas coordinator of a skinhead group called Blood and Honor, an international coalition of racist skinhead gangs.
Historically, police departments were an instrument to enforce segregation and other racist policies. It’s no wonder that the FBI has warned about ongoing relationships between white supremacists and police departments.
In October 2006, the FBI published a report titled “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement,” in which the agency discussed the threat of white supremacist groups permeating police departments to hamper investigations and to recruit like-minded officers. It’s unclear whether police officials ever heeded the warning, PBS.org said a decade after the report was issued.
There is a lot of history at the root of the alliance between white supremacy and law enforcement. As part of its program to address racially biased law enforcement, the District of Columbia’s police department has sent officers to the African American History Museum to learn about that history.
“People who were supposed to serve and protect had played in the enforcement of discriminatory, racist and unjust policies and laws,” Police Chief Peter Newsham said standing outside the African American History Museum when the program was announced in 2018. “The museum includes very honest and poignant stories of the role that policing played in some of the historical injustices in our country.”
And while having racists in police departments is troubling enough, there was a sign — literally — that white supremacy has infiltrated the highest levels of law enforcement in the country: the Supreme Court of the United States. That indication was all but confirmed when a woman flashed the “OK sign” during the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh last year. The woman, Zina Bash, has been described as a former assistant for Kavanaugh whose husband also has a relationship with Kavanaugh, a conservative justice credibly accused of sexual assault who still went on to be confirmed to the lifetime position on the highest court in the land.