NYC Police Department Forms Special Unit to Combat Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism


Bottom Line Up Front

  • The NYC Police Department has formed a special unit to combat white supremacy extremists and others motivated by race or ethnicity to commit violence.
  • The announcement came on the heels of a targeted domestic terrorism attack at a Jewish Deli that killed four people, including a police officer.
  • Recently, the Institute for Economics and Peace released its Global Terrorism Index, highlighting a 320 percent increase in far-right terrorism incidents worldwide over the last five years.
  • In September 2019, the Soufan Center issued a report on the transnational rise of white supremacy extremism that highlighted the global nature of this threat.

In response to the rise in domestic terrorism incidents, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new specialized unit within the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to address ‘Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism (REME).’ The REME unit, within the NYPD’s intelligence bureau, is expected to focus on investigating ethnically and racially motivated terrorism including white supremacist organizations such as the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group.

The announcement came quickly after the December 10, 2019 Jersey City, NJ attack at a Jewish Deli that claimed the lives of three civilians and injured another. Prior to the attack, the perpetrators also killed a police officer. One of the assailants involved has been linked to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, an entity that has no connection to mainstream Judaism and is labeled a hate-group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The same assailant has also published anti-Semitic posts online according to law enforcement officials.

The new REME unit will reportedly include representatives from the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State police as well as federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. New York City’s convening authority is of particular importance because some investigators in New Jersey are unable to keep pace with the evolving far-right threat. Recently, in Sussex County New Jersey, police arrested multiple individuals linked to the far-right but the state, especially at the county level, remains under-resourced to handle a rapidly burgeoning threat. According to reports, REME already has multiple open investigations. In contrast to the proactive steps taken by NYC government officials, the executive branch of the U.S. government has been slow to respond to the increasing threat posed by domestic terrorists. While the U.S. government’s 2018 National Strategy for Counterterrorism highlighted the need to prioritize domestic terrorism investigations, insufficient human and financial resources have been directed towards countering the rising threat posed by violent white supremacy extremists. For example, the United States government has still yet to sanction any type of white supremacist group as a foreign terrorist organization.

While the Jersey City domestic terrorists were not white supremacists, their motivations and targeting of an ethnoreligious group, Jews, were similar to the October 2018 white supremacist attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By most accounts, to include findings in a recent November 2019 report by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), incidents of far-right terrorism have been increasing in the West, particularly in Western Europe, North American, and Oceania. The total number of far-right terrorism incidents increased by 320% over the past five years. And, also according to the IEP report, in 2018, total deaths attributed to far-right groups increased by 52%.

The findings of the IEP report reflect many of the trends previously noted in the September 2019 Soufan Center report on white supremacy extremism and its transnational nature. That report highlighted specific white supremacist extremism attacks like the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques attack carried out by Brenton Tarrant that resulted in 51 deaths. The Soufan Center’s report also documented the flow of more than 17,000 foreign fighters traveling to Ukraine – an emerging epicenter of white supremacy extremism. While Ukraine has become a playground and laboratory for white supremacists to hone battlefield tactics, the intellectual current that electrifies the movement remains in the United States.  While the United States may be a net exporter of white supremacist ideology, domestically it continues to face an array of domestic threats that remain under-investigated. The NYPD’s efforts to dedicate new resources to the challenge should serve as an example for other law enforcement agencies, including federal agencies, on what more can be done to curb the rise of domestic terrorism and white supremacy extremism in the United States.

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