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Will the California Senate Confront White Nationalism in Uniform?

Grassroots advice would strengthen antifascist efforts.

Police congregate during a counter-protest on August 27, 2017, in Berkeley, California. (Photo: Taliesin Gilkes-Bower)

On August 21, California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León announced that hearings will be held in September by the State Senate on how the Golden State can best confront the growing threat of white nationalist terror. De León stated the heads of the California Highway Patrol and each of California’s public universities will be called to testify as to what they feel are the most effective solutions for countering the growing wave of white nationalist rallies, recruitment and attacks. On its face, this is a noteworthy move that makes the California legislature one of the few in the country taking on white terror in a time when Donald Trump is all but embracing this terrible movement.

However, such hearings may prove to be more pomp and posturing than achieve anything of substance. De León’s decision to invite authorities who, so far, have responded to this challenge in dubious ways strongly suggests such an outcome is likely. If the people of California expect the state legislature to live up to the bold promise made on November 9, 2016, then this approach must be challenged by the people of California. There are two critical questions that must be answered if a solution is to be found which guarantees the rights, safety and future of all Californians and leads the way for the rest of the United States in these troubling times.

Will law enforcement be fully investigated for white nationalist affiliation and complicity?

The first question that must be raised, especially in light of the police’s handling of events in Berkeley, was first put forward by the FBI. In 2006 a report was issued by the FBI warning of the growing danger of white nationalists infiltrating US law enforcement agencies. The report specifically warned of the danger of “ghost skins,” white nationalists who concealed their true politics and worked to slowly advance the movement’s goals by shaping the police from within.

Since this report was filed, by all accounts things have gotten worse. A more recent report, first uncovered by The Intercept, strongly suggests the situation has reached dire proportions. In the 2015 report, the FBI admits they have no idea how extensive white nationalist infiltration of US police agencies actually is. Prior to Trump’s elimination of funding for this work, the FBI used a system of silent flags to ensure their targets didn’t catch wind of such investigations.

Considering these reports, it is absolutely essential that the California State Senate seriously address this problem. If white nationalists have indeed infiltrated California’s police departments, then any changes in policy would be easily subverted by individuals or even high-ranking officers advancing white nationalist objectives. It doesn’t matter what the law says if rogue police are actively undermining them.

Will the conditions that have allowed for such groups to take root be addressed?

Yet these concerns are only the tip of the iceberg. White nationalists would not be able to worm their way into police departments if policing in the US weren’t so racially biased in the first place. Even in California, which prides itself on its diversity and progressivism, police abuses against Black, Latino, Indigenous and other marginalized communities run rampant.

Numerous studies have found that Black and Latino Californians are far more likely to be stopped and arrested by the police based on little to no concrete evidence than white Californians. This pattern has deadly consequences as far more people of color are slain by police than white residents of the Golden State. White supremacist gangs like the Lynwood Vikings would never have formed in the first place if these systemic biases didn’t provide cover for their activities and it is likely no accident, given these conditions, that white nationalist leader Nathan Damigo came from a police family.

These deeper, systemic abuses must be decisively resolved if Californians are to be sure their communities will truly be safe. What point is there in dealing with the most obvious, blatant displays of racist violence in society when everyday violence continues without end? White nationalists in uniform are not possible without the systemic racism in law enforcement, and white nationalist terror is all the more dangerous when those charged with stopping it are secretly advancing its goals. It is simply impossible to slay one head of this hydra by ignoring the others.

These are the real questions before Kevin de León and the State Senate. If we, as a state and a country, are to survive Trump’s deadly rhetoric, then we must do more than paper over the superficial causes with highly publicized hearings. We must attack the roots of the poisonous tree if we are to ensure the safety of California’s citizens, set an example for other states and overcome the many crises surrounding us. Answers to these two questions must be demanded by the people, and if elected officials fail to resolve them adequately, we must hold them accountable.

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