Over the past several years, high-profile terrorist attacks by violent white supremacist extremists have gained worldwide attention and thrust the movement onto the front page of the news. From the deadly mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand to a violent rampage motivated by xenophobia in El Paso, Texas, the violent white supremacist movement is on the offensive and is gaining momentum. Its legions of followers congregate online to spread propaganda, recruit new members, and intimidate minorities. And as the movement continues to grow, it has sought to expand its network globally.
Among the most high-profile organizations in the broader constellation of ultra-nationalist and white supremacist organizations is the Russian Imperial Movement, or RIM, a group that has served as a catalyst for politically motivated violence from St. Petersburg to Stockholm and beyond. And while groups like The Base, Atomwaffen Division (AWD), or the Azov Battalion might get the most media attention, RIM has efficiently built an infrastructure that has allowed it to expand its network, train terrorist operatives, and entrench itself as a viable entity in Russian society, even as its primary objectives are, at times, at odds with the Kremlin’s priorities.
Internationally, the far-right continues to mobilize in Europe, where organized marches took place in Budapest, Hungary and Sofia, Bulgaria, and were attended by neo-Nazis from Germany, Sweden, Poland, the United States and elsewhere. In February 2020, in Hanau, Germany, a town located 15 miles east of Frankfurt, a lone individual went on a terrorist rampage, shooting patrons at two separate hookah bars and murdering nine people. The terrorist involved in that attack has been described as motivated by a mix of anti-immigrant beliefs, eugenics, conspiracy theories, and extreme misogyny – many of the same ideological beliefs that motivate white supremacist terrorism worldwide. These events are merely the latest in a series of global incidents 8 INSIDE THE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL MOVEMENT of violence linked to the far-right and white supremacy, which has staged a resurgence in recent years.
International institutions are recognizing the threat that far-right and white supremacy groups pose and are growing increasingly concerned about their transnational connections. In November 2019, following a global spike in white supremacist violence, the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law hosted a scoping workshop on Racially- and EthnicallyMotivated Terrorism (‘REMT’) in Valletta, Malta. The workshop brought together 35 policy practitioners from 12 countries across Africa, Asia, North America and the Caribbean, as well as 13 international organizations to better define and understand the threat posed by ‘REMT.’ The United Nation’s (UN) Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED), a counterterrorism body of the UN Security Council, published a trends report in April 2020 underscoring concerns by UN member states of the growing and increasingly transnational threat of extreme right-wing terrorism. The report2 included research indicating an alarming 320 percent rise in terrorist attacks by individuals or groups affiliated with such movements over the past five years, noting the deadly attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand (March 2019), El Paso, United States (August 2019), Halle, Germany (October 2019) and Hanau, Germany (February 2020).
This special report of The Soufan Center analyzes the significance of the U.S. State Department’s designation of RIM as a terrorist organization, against the backdrop of the rising white supremacy extremism (WSE) threat to the United States and the West. This paper elucidates the practical implications of the State Department’s designation and how U.S. government agencies and the private sector can use an expanded set of tools to pursue RIM and those who do business with the organization and its leadership. Finally, this paper reveals RIM’s global reach, tracking its transnational links and activities across the West and beyond, including the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
RIM is an ultra-nationalist and paramilitary group dedicated to fighting against globalization, multiculturalism, and liberalism. The group also plays a prominent role in the violent white supremacy movement, as documented by the September 2019 report of The Soufan Center titled ‘White Supremacy Extremism: The Transnational Rise of the Violent White Supremacist Movement.’
On April 6, 2020, the U.S. State Department designated RIM as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224.4 At the same time, also pursuant to E.O. 13224, the State Department designated three of the group’s leaders, Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev, and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov. The 5 recognition of the threat posed by RIM, via the action taken by the State Department to sanction INSIDE THE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL MOVEMENT this group and three of its leaders as terrorists, is both a major symbolic milestone and a practical step in U.S. and international efforts to counter violent white supremacy and its broader supporting network.
This is the first time in history that the U.S. government has taken such an action against a white supremacy group, as historically, such sanctions have been almost exclusively applied to Salafijihadist groups including the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaida, and its affiliates. This move demonstrates that the threat of white supremacy has reached, and arguably surpassed, the threat of IS, al-Qaida, and Salafi-jihadist groups to the U.S. homeland. FBI Director Christopher Wray has also elevated the threat level of WSE groups, noting that the FBI has made ‘racially motivated violent extremism’ a top-level priority, ‘so it’s on the same footing in terms of our national threat banding as ISIS and homegrown violent extremism.’
The State Department reported that it was able to designate RIM thanks to an expansion of E.O. 13324 via an order that U.S. President Donald Trump signed in September 2019, noting that it was ‘the most significant expansion of federal terrorism sanctions authorities since the aftermath of 9/11.’ The State Department’s designation is unique in that RIM and its 7 leadership are the first white supremacist group and individuals to be sanctioned pursuant to U.S. law.
The State Department’s RIM designation offers U.S. authorities a wider array of tools to monitor RIM and its activities. This includes blocking RIM from participating in the U.S. financial system; preventing RIM and its supporters from entering the United States; providing law enforcement authorities new surveillance and investigatory tools to build cases against RIM members and those who do business with them; and providing an impetus for social media and technology companies to take down RIM’s websites and limit its social media presence, which can help to stop RIM from spreading its hateful ideology online.
Finally, now that the United States has designated one violent supremacist group, it has established a crucial precedent to consider designating other white supremacist groups that are also deemed a national security threat to the U.S. homeland. In U.S. President Donald Trump’s ‘National Strategy on Counterterrorism,’ released in 2018, it includes the mention of several white supremacy and nationalist groups and movements abroad whose ‘use of violence and intent to destabilize societies often puts American lives as risk.’ Among the groups singled out is the Nordic Resistance Movement, which, as this paper describes, maintains ties to the Russian Imperial Movement. According to the strategy document, NRM has ‘demonstrated against the U.S. Government actions it perceives are supportive of Israel and has the potential to extend its targeting to U.S. interests.’
Another WSE organization mentioned in the strategy is the neo-Nazi 10 INSIDE THE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL MOVEMENT group, National Action, a terrorist organization banned by the United Kingdom. As the strategy explicitly mentions, the National Action group, while based in the United Kingdom, has connected with like-minded organizations in the United States, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia and Poland.
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