The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups have actively tried to infiltrate U.S. law enforcement, according to an FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April, 2015, reviewed by investigative journalism outlet the Intercept. Additionally, “militia” and “sovereign citizen” groups appear to have made similar inroads.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups may often pass unperceived by acting as “ghost skins,” or those who hide their beliefs with the intention alerting their comrades to any impending investigation into their activities. According to the report, it can be relatively easy for such individuals to enter law enforcement: There are no nationalized standards for the recruitment process at the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies.
Outside of the report, there’s also other evidence of racist groups in the police force. While the Ku Klux Klan may conjure up the Southern racist stereotype recently lamented by Sen. Lindsey Graham, major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago have also uncovered members of white supremacist groups in their ranks.
The latter city actually has one of the most iconic of such cases. Jon Burge, police commander from 1972 to 1981, was eventually convicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2011 after being saved by the statute of limitations when courts found that he had tortured more than 100 African-American men.
Rumors also allege that Burge was a Ku Klux Klan member himself. Others stated that he referred to the electric shock mechanism he used for torture as “the n***er box.” In a 2014 article in the Atlantic, Joey Mogul, a lawyer who worked on the case for years, said that she found that such acts were carried out disproportionately against people of color.
“For years, political leaders, the media, they refused to even describe these acts—electrically shocking people on their genitals, suffocating people with plastic bags—as acts of torture. […] It’s been a battle for us, and I think it’s a battle to this day. What I see is that when we have domestic acts of torture by police and prison guards, mostly against African-American and Latino people within the United States, people do not want to describe those acts as torture.”
In some instances, the Ku Klux Klan charges go far beyond rumor. In 2014, two Florida cops who had trained several other lower-ranking members of the force were removed after it was revealed that both were members of KKK. At the same police station, another officer was dismissed after it was revealed that he was receiving and sending KKK literature using a P.O. Box.
In 2001, a Texan officer was let go after actively trying to recruit for the Ku Klux Klan in the force. After being reported, he told investigators that he thought his fellow deputies shared his “white, Christian, heterosexual values.”
In 2009, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the firing of a State Trooper for his membership in the Knight’s Club, a Klan-affiliated group, reported NBC News. Justice John Gerrard wrote that it was impossible for an officer of the law to rectify the racially discriminatory foundations of the group with the fair execution of justice.
“One cannot simultaneously wear the badge of the Nebraska State Patrol and the robe of a Klansman without degrading what that badge represents when worn by any officer.”
Larissa Moore, a researcher who focuses on police relations with the African-American community, told Fusion that the links between the KKK and law enforcement have historical precedence that makes it difficult for her to believe that such views are no longer prevalent in the force today.
“If you think about the history with the police department, they were pretty much set up to continue white supremacy… [even when we first] had black officers [in 1940s Georgia] they could not arrest white people.”
Last year, Norfolk city Councilwoman Angelia Williams Graves stirred up controversy when she said that the Ku Klux Klan had taken off their hoods and “put on police uniforms.” The legacy of her city, which was a hotbed of KKK activity after World War II, made these comments difficult to swallow, but she argued to the Washington Post that it was important to see the way that those who espouse bigoted views have altered their approach.
“It was never meant to imply that all of anybody is anything, because that would be the same as saying that all black people are the same way… The point was that [racists have] changed. The racists in our country have changed how they go about inflicting injustice.”
The investigation of such activities has been limited, however, after a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report caused controversy with conservatives for suggesting that right-wing extremist groups were preying on veterans. Since then, those who worked on the offending report, such as Daryl Johnson, have continued their research at other agencies. He reports that the problem has “gotten much worse,” and that the FBI is the only one monitoring the situation now that the DHS has distanced themselves from the research.
“Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the ATF — are aware that extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups… There’s not even any training now to make state and local police aware of these groups and how they could infiltrate their ranks.”
White supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, expressed jubilation over Donald Trump’s win of the U.S. presidency. Since then, Trump has promised to end the “anti-police” attitude in the country to empower officers. On the campaign trail, he promised to reinstate a program that would transfer surplus military equipment to local law enforcement, reported Al Jazeera.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]