On Monday, April 6, the Trump administration designated the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), an ultranationalist white supremacist group, as a terrorist organization on the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” list and imposed sanctions upon its members.
The step was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his counterterrorism coordinator Nathan Sales. The designation makes it illegal for Americans to engage in any transactions with the group and freezes any assets it may have in U.S. jurisdictions.
The members who were sanctioned are all leaders within the group: Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev, and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov. The leaders were individually added to the OFAC list and face the same sanctions as the group, in addition to a travel ban.
This action marks the first time a white supremacist group has been named a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” Sales emphasized the significance of this action in a statement: “This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacist terrorists, illustrating how seriously this administration takes the threat. We are taking actions no previous administration has taken to counter this threat.”
Indeed, this move is significant as it will make it easier for national security prosecutors at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to bring terrorism-related charges against anyone engaging in financial transactions to people associated with RIM.
It also allows the U.S. to use a powerful counterterrorism tool – international intelligence sharing – to effectively go after the group and its supporters. Now, to gain information, the U.S can, “reach out to foreign partners and trace financial flows, find incriminating statements, and otherwise disrupt plots and move toward prosecution. It can also prevent white supremacist groups from working in coordination across national borders, making them far less effective as a result.”
Furthermore, recognizing a white supremacist group as a terrorist group shows the white supremacist community that it can be targeted by law enforcement if it does not reject violence.
While RIM is relatively small and does not have large global influence, it is a good candidate for designation. The group not only conducts its own violent activities, but it has also attempted to build an international movement as part of a broader Russian effort to breed white supremacists. RIM is alleged to provide paramilitary training to neo-Nazis and white supremacists and has recruited volunteers to fight on the Russian side of the Ukraine war. Notably, in 2016, the group allegedly trained two Swedish nationals who later conducted a series of terrorist attacks in a café and refugee campsite in Gothenburg.
Interestingly, the designation comes “amid doubts the [Trump] administration believes extremist organizations of that type merit such sanctions.” In this quote, The New York Times is referring to the “organizations of that type” as white supremacist groups. Previously, Trump has solely focused on targeting Islamist terrorism, sending a potential message that Islamic terrorist organizations are more dangerous than white supremacists. In fact, the administration has been criticized for not even appearing to take the threat of white supremacism seriously. A specific instance that drew this criticism was when Trump did not respond strongly to violence caused by neo-Nazi groups in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 that left one person dead.
Now, the designation potentially underlines the idea that white nationalist groups can be just as dangerous as groups like the Islamic State (ISIS) and that Muslims themselves are at risk from white supremacist violence.
Hopefully listing non-Islamist groups indicates the U.S. will start taking all forms of violence against citizens seriously and that any threat to the U.S. necessitates a reaction, regardless of the ideological motivation.