The Guardian, 12/13/2019
Ever since he was a teenager, Joshua Doggrell has believed that the former slave-holding states of the American south should secede from the United States. When he was a freshman in college at the University of Alabama in 1995, Doggrell discovered a group whose worldview chimed with his – the League of the South.
The League believes that white southern culture is in danger of extinction from forces such as religious pluralism, homosexuality, and interracial coupling. In 2006, when he was 29 years old, he applied to be a police officer in Anniston, Alabama. On his police application, Doggrell wrote that he was a member of the League. Shortly after, he was hired.
During nearly a decade on the police force, Doggrell was a vocal advocate for the League, working to recruit fellow officers to the group. He encouraged his colleagues to attend the League’s monthly meetings. On Facebook, he posted neo-Confederate material, including a photo of an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and wrote that he was “against egalitarianism in all forms”.
Often, he refused to be in the room when the department recited the pledge of allegiance in front of the American flag. Although it is unusual for a police officer to be so open about his involvement in an extremist organization, for decades, anti-government and white-supremacist groups have been attempting to recruit police officers into their ranks. “It is something a lot of folks are overlooking,” says Vida B Johnson, an assistant professor of law at Georgetown University.
“Police forces are becoming more interested in talking about implicit bias – the unconscious, racial biases we carry with us as Americans. But people aren’t really addressing the explicit biases that are present on police forces.” According to Johnson’s research, there have been at least 100 different scandals, in more than 40 different states, involving police officers who have sent racist emails and text messages, or made racist comments on social media, since the 1990s.
A recent investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from around the country were members of confederate, anti-government and anti-Islam groups on Facebook. But there is no official record of officers who are tied to white supremacists or other extremist groups because, in the US, there is no federal policy for screening or monitoring the country’s 800,000+ law enforcement officers for extremist views. The 18,000 or so police departments across the country are largely left to police themselves.
While not every police officer who is tied to a white supremacist group will necessarily act out their beliefs, violently, the presence of even a single radicalized officer can terrorize a community. “Even if the number of officers is numerically small, because of the intense risks posed of having a ticking time bomb like that in a department, that’s a big deal,” said Brian Levin, a former NYPD officer who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism in California.
In a number of cases, ideologically radicalized police officers have gone on to commit extreme forms of violence. In 2006, a leaked report from the FBI’s counterterrorism division warned that white supremacists have spent decades trying to “infiltrate law enforcement communities or recruit law enforcement personnel.”
The document, first reported on by The Intercept, noted that the term “ghost skins” had gained currency among white supremacists, to describe extremists who “avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes”. But experts have difficulty gauging the number of white supremacists within law enforcement. Some give ballpark figures in the low hundreds, while others can’t give an estimate at all.
Inside the U.S. Military’s Battle with White Supremacy and Far-Right Extremism; NBC, 5/25/2019 https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/inside-u-s-military-s-battle-white-supremacy-far-right-ncna1010221
Several High Profile Racist Extremists Serve in the U.S. Military; Intelligence Report, 8/11/2006 https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2006/several-high-profile-racist-extremists-serve-us-military
Why Can’t the Military Root Our Far-Right Extremism in its Own Ranks? Pacific Standard, 4/17/2019 https://psmag.com/social-justice/why-cant-the-military-root-out-far-right-extremism-in-its-own-ranks
One in Four Troops Sees White Nationalism in the Ranks; Military Times, 10/23/2017 https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2017/10/23/military-times-poll-one-in-four-troops-sees-white-nationalism-in-the-ranks/