Another day, another major accomplishment for President Donald Trump.
The Trump administration made history earlier this year by designating a Russia-based far-right group and its leaders as global terrorists.
The action marked the first time that a classification often used for Islamic terrorists has been applied to a white supremacist group.
In announcing that the Russian Imperial Movement and its top leaders were being labeled “specially designated global terrorists,” a State Department official said the president has sent a message that white supremacism will not be tolerated.
“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,” Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said during a Monday.
“These designations are unprecedented,” Sales said. “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.”
The State Department said the RIM was added to the list because it runs two paramilitary training camps in St. Petersburg, Russia, that attract neo-Nazis from around the world.
“This group has innocent blood on its hands,” Sales said.
The State Department’s action means the group cannot access any American property or assets.
Americans also cannot conduct financial dealings with the group.
“We are aware of public reports that RIM has reached out to Americans or even travel to the United States to reach out to Americans,” Sales said. “We’re not in a position to comment on whether or not those reports are accurate, but I can tell you that, as a general matter, any foreign terrorist group, if it seeks to make common cause with Americans, is a grave concern to the United States, a grave concern to the State Department, and we will not hesitate to aggressively use our authorities to counter such groups.”
Three of the group’s leaders — Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev, and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov — were officially designated as terrorists.
Mary McCord, a former head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said the Trump administration’s action was significant.
“It is important,” she told The New York Times. “Far-right extremist causes, in particular white supremacy and white nationalism, have become more international. It is appropriate for the State Department to have been scrutinizing whether there are organizations that meet the criteria for that designation because, with it, the organization becomes a poison in terms of doing business with it or providing funds, goods or services to it.”
Connections between domestic and foreign terror groups are growing, some commentators said.
“Every counterterrorism professional I speak to in the federal government and overseas feels like we are at the doorstep of another 9/11,” Elizabeth Neumann, a senior Department of Homeland Security official, said this year during a hearing on white supremacist terrorism. “Maybe not something that catastrophic in terms of the visual or the numbers but that we can see it building and we don’t quite know how to stop it.”
Sales said white supremacist extremism is international.
“The global white supremacist terrorist community is very much a transnational phenomenon,” he said. The man who carried out the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart last year later told investigators he was inspired by the Christchurch attacks on mosques in New Zealand — representing “a bloody and grisly demonstration of how these networks interrelate with one another and inspire one another,” Sales added.