US designates white supremacists as foreign terrorist group for the first time

WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday (Apr 6) branded a Russian far-right group as a foreign terrorist organisation, the first time it has targeted white supremacists with tools regularly used against Islamist extremists.

The State Department said that the Russian Imperial Movement runs paramilitary training camps in St Petersburg and has drawn neo-Nazis from across the Western world.

"This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacist terrorists, illustrating how seriously this administration takes the threat," said Nathan Sales, the State Department counter-terrorism coordinator.

The measure comes after the State Department in its latest annual terrorism report last November said ethnically and racially driven terrorism had risen alarmingly in 2018 both worldwide and in the United States.

READ: Commentary: Why Asia may not be immune to far-right terrorism

Russian Imperial Movement's (RIM) members cast themselves as Russian Orthodox nationalists who favor restoring the monarchy and privileging the interests of ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Belarussians.

Typically in such designations, the US Treasury department freezes any assets the blacklisted group or people might have in the United States and bars any US nationals from entering into financial transactions with those designated.

Such designations run the risk of being only symbolic if the blacklisted group has minimal financial exposure in the United States.

Russian Imperial Movement, Sales said, had "innocent blood on its hands" and cited a series of attacks from late 2016 in the Swedish city of Gothenburg carried out by two members of RIM who Sales said had received paramilitary-style training in Russia.

READ: New Zealand PM Ardern says racist threat lingers after mosque attacks

READ: Record number of anti-Semitic incidents logged in Britain, again

Swedish authorities arrested, tried and convicted the attackers, Sales said. 

"The prosecutor who handled their case blamed RIM for radicalising them and providing the training that enabled the attacks," he said.

Reuters could not immediately verify Sales' account.

Sales added that Trump administration's efforts to counter 'white supremacist terrorism' abroad will continue. 

"We’re bringing all of our counter-terrorism tools to this fight – information sharing, counter-messaging, combating terrorist travel, engaging with tech companies, and building partner capacity to protect soft targets like synagogues and mosques."

The State Department is also specifically blacklisting three people - Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Denis Valliullovich Gariev - deemed as leaders of the group. 


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