While many of the bizarre and disturbing personalities involved in the Capitol invasion have been discussed at length elsewhere, and to a lesser extent on this blog1, there is another aspect has not been examined in detail until more recently. The participation of off-duty police officers in the invasion of the Capitol building in Washington has raised concerns that there are a considerable number of white-supremacists within police departments across the U.S. This is thought to have been a contributing factor to the violence at the Capitol by convincing some members of the defenders to ‘run dead’ in their defence of the building, and in the downplaying of the risk to the Capitol and the politicians inside. As the Federal Bureau of Investigation said almost a decade and half ago: ”Having personnel within law enforcement agencies has historically been and will continue to be a desired asset for white supremacist groups.”2
Because white supremacists tend to keep their activities secret, it is hard to say how many of them are in police departments. But since 2009 police officers in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana have been identified as white supremacists, while more than 100 police departments in almost all states have had to deal with scandals involving racist e-mails, texts or other online comments sent by police department staff. Just this week, a high-ranking officer in the New York Police Department was found to be behind a string of racist posts online.2 Between 2015 and 2020, police officers were revealed as having ties to far-right groups such as the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, and the League of the South all three of which had members on the ground at the rally in Charlottesville in which a woman was killed. In Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Michigan during that interval, some officers were even revealed to have been recruited to the Ku Klux Klan.3
While the phrases ‘only in America’ or ‘it can’t happen here’ have been thrown around in the wake of the Capitol building invasion, it would be foolish to think that is so. The Proud Boys operate in Australia and appear to be friendly with Lyle Shelton, former head of the Australian Christian Lobby and former candidate for the now defunct Australian Conservatives4. There are several other groups, past and present, who are from the far right in Australia, they include the now defunct United Patriots Front (of which Blair Cottrell was leader); the now defunct Lads Society (who kept their white supremacism quiet), and the neo-nazi National Socialist Network, Blood and Honour, and Southern Cross Hammerskins. The mass murderer who killed people in Christchurch had links to the Lads Society.5,6
Whether this same degree of infiltration has occurred in Australia is unclear. At a Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney in June of 2020, a NSW police officer was caught on camera flashing the “OK” hand gesture as he passed by. Whether or not the officer was signalling support for white supremacist ideology, as the Proud Boys did when being out on the town with Lyle Shelton, is unclear7. NSW Police stated that the officer was signalling that the night was going “OK”, and was not aware that this was a white supremacist gesture. However, a Victoria Police officer flashed the same sign at a young woman of Asian heritage at a climate change protest in Melbourne in November 2019 and he has been revealed as a fan of well-known alt-right and fascist memes8.
At least five Australian citizens, including former members of the Australian Defence Force, with links to US-based transnational far-right group Atomwaffen Division, travelled to the Ukraine to participate in combat operations during the recent war. There was an attempt by the Lads Society to infiltrate the Young Nationals to influence their agenda. Additionally, Fraser Anning, the former One Nation Senator, has links to known far-right extremist Blair Cottrell and attended his United Patriots Front rally in Melbourne.7
The sending of racist or otherwise offensive e-mails has been a constant problem in the various Australian state police forces9, and that betrays an endemic racism in police forces around the country10. Whether this is because it is through active infiltration is difficult to determine, but given that many Australian police have been found to indulge in similar racist activities as their American counterparts, it does make you wonder if similar processes are operating here.