Category Archives: Police Officer Racist Groups on Facebook

To Protect And Slur American cops have openly engaged in Islamophobia on Facebook, with no penalties Part Three

To Protect And Slur American cops have openly engaged in Islamophobia on Facebook, with no penalties Part Three
By Will Carless and Michael Corey
https://www.revealnews.org/article/american-cops-have-openly-engaged-in-islamophobia-on-facebook-with-no-penalties/

“WELL, LOOK WHO THE DEMS HAVE AS A DEPUTY CHAIR!”

The message by Richard Crites, a sheriff’s deputy in Missouri, starts off like so many political posts on Facebook. Then there’s the kicker:

“A RAGHEAD MUSLIM.”

In New Jersey, prison guard Joseph Bonadio posted repeated insults about the Prophet Muhammad and shared memes of roasting pigs with the message “Happy Ramadan.” In Georgia, retired cop Claude Stevens Jr. railed against Muslims for months, posting conspiracy theories and Islamophobic memes.

They are among dozens of current and former American law enforcement officers whom Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting identified as members of Facebook groups dedicated to Islamophobia. With names such as “Veterans Against islamic Filth,” “PURGE WORLDWIDE (The Cure for the Islamic disease in your country)” and “Americans Against Mosques,” these groups serve as private forums to share bigoted messages about Muslims, and they have proven attractive for cops.

Reveal’s yearlong investigation found police officers across the country belonging to a wide spectrum of extremist groups on Facebook, such as Confederate groups filled with racist memes and conspiracies and groups run by the anti-government militias Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. Islamophobic behavior was notably brazen. While officers shared slur-filled jokes about African Americans, Latinos and the LGBTQ community behind the walls of closed groups, anti-Muslim comments often were posted on public pages for all to see.

“The problem with law enforcement officials engaging in this type of behavior is that it’s probably influencing the way in which they police in their communities,” said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at the civil rights group Muslim Advocates. “If they hold these biases towards Muslims, we’re very deeply concerned about the ways in which that manifests itself when it comes to being a first responder or being somebody who is investigating crimes against Muslims.”

The findings come as hate crimes against American Muslims continue at historically high levels. Muslim places of worship across the country have been set on fire and had their windows broken. Islamophobes have left slabs of bacon and scrawled graffiti on the doorsteps of mosques. Muslims have been shot, stabbed and had their religious garments ripped off. They’ve been shouted at, kicked, threatened and spit on.

Islamic centers and places of worship across the country also have boosted security since the horrific attacks against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, often asking local cops to stand guard during services.

Muslim Americans long have been the targets of discriminatory policing, most notably in New York City in the years after the 9/11 attacks. In 2018, the New York Police Department settled the last of three major lawsuits in which it was accused of spying on the local Muslim community for more than a decade, infiltrating mosques and creating a team of informants with the help of the CIA.

We notified nearly 150 departments about their officers’ behavior on Facebook and membership in extremist groups. Some departments launched immediate investigations, and one detective in Houston was fired for posting racist memes about African Americans, in violation of department policy.

However, other departments were unbothered by their officers’ social media activity. Some police leaders were angry that we even asked them about it.

Not a single department has said it disciplined an officer for Islamophobic posts or membership in an anti-Islam group.

‘This group is for those who wish to speak out about the evils of Islam’

We were able to identify cops in these groups by writing software to scour Facebook for connections between users who belonged to both extremist and law enforcement groups on the platform, then verifying the identities and professions of active-duty and retired officers. (Read more about our methodology here.)

Through that search, we found people such as Crites, a sworn member of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office in Missouri.

In addition to his 2018 “raghead Muslim” comment, which he used to introduce a news story about then-Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, Crites was a member of three different extremist Facebook groups, including one called “STOP OBAMA AND CRONIES : RADICAL LEFTIES, ISLAMISTS, MEDIA LIES,” which we joined. Inside the group, which was full of Islamophobic content, we saw Crites posting several times, including writing, “Stop Obama stop the Muslims.”

Lawrence County Sheriff Brad DeLay said Crites is a volunteer deputy but carries a gun and has arrest powers. Asked about Crites’ activity on Facebook, DeLay said he’s never heard any concerns from the community about his deputy’s work.

“I’m looking at disciplinary records now, and there aren’t any complaints,” he said.

DeLay wouldn’t provide us with those records, and Crites didn’t respond to numerous calls for comment.

Joseph Bonadio is a senior corrections officer for the New Jersey Department of Corrections. He also was a member of a group called “Infidel Brotherhood Worldwide.”

Islamophobic groups often use the word “infidel” as a dog whistle to attract people with similar views on Islam. Facebook is full of “infidel” groups, including “Any islamist insults infidels, I will put him under my feet,” “The Infidel Den – Anti Islam Coalition” and “Infidel Elite – Against Islam, by the Pen and/or Sword,” all of which count law enforcement officers as members.

Inside these groups, members often traffic in disproven theories that Muslims are invading the United States and plan to impose Sharia law and that this “Muslimification” already has happened across much of Europe.

Often, though, members just express their disgust with a religion practiced by about a quarter of the world’s population.

“The rabies that is islam being passed down from deluded parent to deluded and brainwashed child,” reads a typical civilian comment in “Infidel Brotherhood Worldwide.”

Bonadio, who works at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center, a prison in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey, hasn’t actually posted in the group. Instead, he posted openly anti-Muslim content on his public Facebook wall:

1. “Known fact Jesus is better then (sic) goat FUCKER Muhammad,” he posted in 2015.

2. “I love the smell of bacon on Ramadan … Smells like America,” reads a meme he posted in May, at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

3. “Happy Ramadan,” he posted the same day, captioning a photo of a pig being roasted over a barbecue.

In addition to posting anti-Muslim content, Bonadio poked fun at the LGBTQ community, especially transgender people. He also has posted memes more than once that depict former first lady Michelle Obama as a man and questioned whether white Americans should be blamed for bringing slavery to the country.

After we sent screenshots of Bonadio’s Facebook activity to the New Jersey Department of Corrections, a spokesperson sent the following statement: “We are aware of the allegations referenced. These allegations will be investigated and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken, if warranted.”

Bonadio did not respond to a call for comment.

Many working police officers were careful to hide their identities on Facebook, using pseudonyms, not listing their place of work or sometimes claiming to work in nonexistent jobs. An officer in Chicago, for example, listed his job as “Bent Over at City of Chicago.” Several cops used variations of their real names, such as Texas State Trooper Kevin Lashlee, who called himself “KD Lash” on Facebook and posted in a group containing racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic content.

But retired law enforcement officers were far more brazen.

Claude Stevens Jr., who retired from the Waynesboro Police Department in Georgia in 2015, since has joined at least six closed anti-Muslim groups, including “DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER” and another named “Rage against the veil.”

Stevens’ personal Facebook page was awash with anti-Islamic memes, and he’s actively commented in at least two of the closed groups. For example, he wrote under a video of Islamic immigrants in Germany, “The Prophet Muhammad eat’s (sic) dog shit and is a follower of Satan/Allah” in March 2017.

When reached for comment, Stevens initially was defensive of his views. He called Islam “evil” and said America needs to be extremely wary of Muslim immigrants, who he claims seek to impose Sharia law in a Christian nation. However, he claimed that as a police officer, he always treated people fairly, no matter what their religion.

Asked how he could treat all people equally while at the same time posting about how Muslims are “filthy” and “animals,” he paused and said: “I would have to concede to you that I probably have to back off on my words and look at it differently.”

As a transit officer with the New York Police Department, John Intranuovo policed a city that’s home to more than 600,000 Muslims. Now that he’s retired, he has used a group called “Stop the War on Christianity and White America” to rail against Muslims.

Intranuovo had a simple reaction to a post about former President Barack Obama endorsing Amir Malik of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who was seeking election to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2018. “No muslims,” he wrote. In another comment, Intranuovo called Muslims “evil people.”

Intranuovo also was a member of two more anti-Muslim Facebook groups: “The Infidel Den – Anti Islam Coalition” and “THE VOICE OF THE AMERICAN INFIDELS,“ neither of which allowed us to join, but both of which contained openly anti-Islam sentiment in their public descriptions.

“This group is for those who wish to speak out about the evils of Islam. All members of this group want Islam removed from America,” reads the public description for “THE VOICE OF THE AMERICAN INFIDELS,” which can be viewed by anybody on Facebook.

‘These are law enforcement officers who are sworn to protect us’

Earlier this year, Facebook announced a big push against hate speech.

As part of founder Mark Zuckerberg’s pledge to turn around the social media behemoth, Facebook first promised to ban white nationalist and white supremacist content, then followed up by ousting several prominent purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric, including Milo Yiannopoulos and Laura Loomer. But anyone hoping these moves would mark an end to widespread hate speech on the platform was disappointed.

Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University in North Carolina who tracks hate groups on Facebook, frequently reports such groups and content to moderators. She said the social media platform acts only on reports of hateful speech, rather than proactively searching for content that violates policy. And even when groups and content are reported, Squire said, Facebook traditionally has been more accepting of “politicized hate” against Islam – that is, groups claiming to protest not Islam itself, but “radical Islam” or “creeping Sharia law.” Inside these groups, we found, slurs and hateful comments most often were directed at all Muslims in a blanket fashion.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes the keynote speech at F8, Facebook’s developer conference, on April 30 in San Jose, Calif. CREDIT: Tony Avelar/Associated Press

“This horrifies me,” said Qasim Rashid, an attorney and author of several books on the Muslim experience in the United States. “These are law enforcement officers who are sworn to protect us. If a guy is in a group on Facebook called ‘Death to Islam’ or ‘Purge Islam as a disease,’ and they’re patrolling our neighborhoods and streets, then who are they really protecting?”

He said tropes linking Islam with terrorism or suggesting that Muslims plan to “take over” countries are unfair and misguided from the start.

“Terrorism has no religion. We’ve seen plenty of examples of so-called Christians who have committed mass shootings,” Rashid said. “If I started a page about ‘radical Christianity’ and started demonizing every Christian out there as a suspected ‘radical Christianist,’ I would be rightfully mocked and ridiculed and called a bigot.”

In a year of studying extremist groups on Facebook, we noticed how groups have adapted to content moderation practices on the platform. Openly racist groups such as those connected to the Ku Klux Klan don’t last very long on the site. The racist groups that survive have adopted the coded language typical of the alt-right movement or disguised themselves as Confederate history groups.

By contrast, Islamophobic groups are transparent in their intentions and even in their names. While in recent months Facebook has removed groups tied to white nationalist organizations such as the Proud Boys – like the group “Proud Boys Southern Chapter” – the social network continues to host groups that are openly hostile to Muslims, such as “DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER.” Every day, users post hateful content in these groups, often pledging violence against American Muslims.

Facebook denies treating anti-Muslim hate, in whatever guise, differently from other forms of hate speech.

“Our policies against extremist content/organized hate groups are longstanding. Our Community Standards are clear that we don’t allow hate groups to maintain a presence on Facebook,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.

Ahussain said Muslim Advocates is just one of many advocacy groups pushing Facebook and other social media companies to take hate speech more seriously.

“Facebook provides a platform and a space where people feel like they can say these things,” she said.

That’s particularly true when it comes to hate speech directed against Muslims, Squire said. Islamophobia on Facebook can be a gateway to other forms of intolerance, she said.

The majority of U.S. hate crimes motivated by religious bias are anti-Semitic, and Reveal’s investigation found plenty of anti-Semitic activity in private groups. But the public nature of the Islamophobic activity on the platform resonates with Squire’s observation from years of monitoring Facebook: that anti-Muslim hate speech is “the last accepted form of bigotry in America.”

Researchers Daneel Knoetze and Michael Dailey contributed to this story. It was edited by Andrew Donohue and Matt Thompson.

Will Carless can be reached at wcarless@revealnews.org, and Michael Corey can be reached at mcorey@revealnews.org. Follow Carless on Twitter: @willcarless.

To Protect And Slur The American militia movement, a breeding ground for hate, is pulling in cops on Facebook Part Two

To Protect And Slur The American militia movement, a breeding ground for hate, is pulling in cops on Facebook Part Two
By Will Carless and Michael Corey
https://www.revealnews.org/article/the-american-militia-movement-a-breeding-ground-for-hate-is-pulling-in-cops-on-facebook/

In the years since he founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, Stewart Rhodes has made a bold claim: Within the ranks of his sprawling anti-government militia are thousands of retired and active law enforcement officers.

Rhodes’ organization embraces wild conspiracy theories. Like the Three Percenters and other militia groups, the Oath Keepers refuse to recognize the authority of the federal government. Instead, many inside the movement claim that local sheriffs and police chiefs are the highest-ranking officials in America and that the Constitution is the only legitimate law governing the United States. It is part of a broader militia movement that has proven to be a breeding ground for racism and domestic terrorism.

It’s been difficult to figure out whether Rhodes’ claims were real or simply bluster, because of the secretive nature of the movement and because cops tend to keep their militia affiliations quiet, fearing disciplinary action.

However, over the last year, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting identified almost 150 current and retired cops who were members of Facebook groups run by and for Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and other militias. These law enforcement officers are a subset of a larger contingent of cops we identified as members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or other extremist groups on Facebook.

We were able to identify cops in these groups by writing software to scour Facebook for connections between users who belonged to both extremist and law enforcement groups on the platform, then verifying the identities and professions of active-duty and retired officers. (Read more about our methodology here.)

Our analysis includes some of the most extensive evidence yet that militias are drawing support ­– and membership – from within American law enforcement. These connections place a number of American cops on a collision course with the federal government.

Daryl Johnson, a security consultant who spent six years as the senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, said the presence of militia members in police and sheriff departments should concern every chief and sheriff in the country.

“At a bare minimum, just think about operational security or counterintelligence or insider threats,” Johnson said. “Most of these militia members have sworn an oath to a body that’s separate to their department. If they’re called on to investigate or arrest a fellow member of that militia group, or if they have insider information about police tactics or equipment or training, then where do their loyalties lie?”

‘When the Collapse comes they will call them all out to kill Americans’

The Oath Keepers and Three Percenters both say they’re the last line of defense against a new world order seeking to enslave everyday Americans. They promote the conspiracy theory that the federal government is controlled by a mysterious elitist cabal, which plans to take away Americans’ guns, overthrow local governments and install martial law over citizens, including setting up concentration camps to kill dissenters.

Militia groups want cops to join because they have guns, experience and training that will prove invaluable when, as their ideology contends, America’s next civil war begins.

Threaded into this worldview is the idea that military personnel and law enforcement officers represent the final word on the Constitution. Members of the Oath Keepers pledge to follow the group’s orders and bylaws over those of their own agencies or politicians.

The extent to which some cops have embraced the conspiracy theories pushed by militia leaders is on display inside the closed Facebook groups we joined.

For example, Greg McWhirter, a sheriff’s deputy at the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office in Montana and a member of at least 15 militia-connected Facebook groups, posted a video of Rhodes in the Facebook group “Idaho Oath Keepers” earlier this year. The clip touts a conspiracy theory that the left is trying to flood America with immigrants who will vote for Democrats and upset the balance of power.

McWhirter also has appeared in one of Rhodes’ official Oath Keepers videos, giving fellow militia members advice on how to patrol voting stations after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump warned, without evidence, that the 2016 election would be rigged. Without revealing where McWhirter works, Rhodes introduced him as a member of the group’s national board of directors and a “peace officer liaison.”

“What this is, is a video tutorial from our experienced police officers,” Rhodes says in the video. “We’re asking you to go out as part of our call to action to go and hunt down and look for vote fraud.”

Sheriff’s Deputy Greg McWhirter appears in an official Oath Keepers video on YouTube, advising fellow militia members on how to patrol voting stations during the 2016 election. CREDIT: YouTube

In the closed Facebook group “Central New York Oathkeepers,” under a story about the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordering submachine guns, former New York Police Department Sgt. John Mahoney asked a reasonable question:

“Why? Why would the Department of Agriculture require Sub-Machine Guns? Whom are they planning to shoot???”

Another former NYPD cop and group member, Pearse Columb, had an answer:

“They are arming ALL these depts because when the Collapse comes they will call them all out to kill Americans that have no food and the money is worthless.”

Reached by phone, Mahoney said he still is involved with the Oath Keepers, which he described as an honorable group. He said he doesn’t agree with the actions of all Oath Keepers, but said the organization’s principles are sound.

Columb didn’t respond to several calls for comment.

Valerie Van Brocklin, a former federal prosecutor who trains police departments and other public employees on social media use, said many police officers mistakenly believe that they can say whatever they want in their spare time.

“Most cops think that if they’re off-duty and using their own computer, then they have their First Amendment rights,” Van Brocklin said.

But it’s not as simple as that, she said. Police departments have codes of conduct and ethics, and many have developed specific social media policies that employees must abide by, even when they’re not working. It’s all part of the long-standing concept of “conduct unbecoming a police officer,” she said.

‘They hate Muslims and they hate immigrants and they hate the government’

The American militia movement’s rise has been fed by white supremacy, conspiracy theories and bigotry.

The first wave of modern militias was sparked by the 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, during which federal agents surrounded a rural family’s home after charging the family patriarch, Randy Weaver, with weapons violations. Weaver was a white supremacist who attended meetings of the Aryan Nations – facts that were somewhat lost in the ensuing shootout, in which Weaver’s son and wife were killed by federal agents. Weaver became an overnight cause célèbre for conspiracy theorists who, convinced that Ruby Ridge marked a watershed moment for American liberty, started preparing for a coming civil war.

Militia growth sped up in the aftermath of the botched federal siege at the Branch Davidian religious sect compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993, then slowed after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, carried out by an anti-government terrorist steeped in the militia movement.

Recent years have seen more heated standoffs between militia groups and federal law enforcement, and militia groups have been widening their targets beyond the federal government and toward immigrants and Muslim Americans.

In 2008, with the election of Barack Obama as president, militia groups began actively recruiting again, spurred on by the racist “birther” movement, which questioned Obama’s nationality and thus his legitimacy as president. Both the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers were founded out of the fear that he was about to start taking away Americans’ guns. The two groups now are the largest and most well-known organizations in a crowded field of militia groups that vary from clubs of just a few people to thousands-strong collectives.

The Three Percenters, founded by an Alabama gun rights activist, is a loosely affiliated organization with no linear leadership. Named for the highly contested theory that only 3 percent of Americans took up arms against the British during the Revolutionary War – most historians believe the number was significantly higher – the group concentrates on Second Amendment issues.

The core principle of the Oath Keepers is that members take an oath to defend the Constitution above all else. The group describes its aims in theoretically reasonable terms, noting on its website that enlisted military personnel are obligated to refuse any order that “is not constitutional or according to regulations” and listing a “declaration of orders we will not obey,” which includes orders to disarm American citizens, impose martial law or set up concentration camps in U.S. cities.

However, in practice, the group’s actions have proved problematic, giving militia members justification to take the law into their own hands, often at gunpoint and often in conflict with law enforcement agencies assigned to keep Americans safe.

In April, the militia group United Constitutional Patriots began detaining hundreds of border-crossers at gunpoint before handing them over to U.S. Border Patrol agents. The group had received a visit from Rhodes, the Oath Keepers founder, a month before. After news spread of the group’s actions, the FBI arrested its leader and the local police department kicked the militia out of its campsite.

In 2014, the Oath Keepers and other militia groups flocked to Nevada to aid a family, the Bundys, which had for years grazed its cattle on federally managed land without paying legally mandated fees. Despite years of legal wrangling and courts’ repeated rejection of the Bundys’ claim of a constitutional right to graze cattle on the land for free, militia members took the position that they, not the courts or the federal government, were the final word on the claim.

In Oregon two years later, militia members – including Oath Keepers – gathered again to protect two ranchers who had been found guilty of arson for setting fires on federal land and had been ordered to report to prison to serve their sentences. Again, the justification militia members gave for rallying to the ranchers’ aid already had been rejected numerous times by the courts. In the end, a lawyer for the ranchers wrote to the local sheriff saying that the militia members did not represent his clients’ views and that they didn’t want their help.

Beyond these high-profile clashes with local, state and federal governments, militia members also have taken to supporting racist and violent causes.

These groups have become highly visible at rallies organized by white supremacist groups, most notably the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. And since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, anti-government militias have spawned domestic terrorists. In the last 15 months alone, militia members have been convicted of planning at least two violent acts of terrorism against Muslim Americans.

In April 2018, three members of a militia group connected to the Three Percenters were convicted of conspiring to bomb a Somali community in Kansas. Their lawyers argued in court that they worried President Barack Obama was on the verge of declaring martial law after the election of Donald Trump and that militias needed to step in to kill Muslims, whom they described as “cockroaches.”

In January, two members of a group called the “White Rabbit Three Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia” pleaded guilty to the 2017 bombing of a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota. (A third member, the group’s alleged ringleader, pleaded not guilty and faces trial.) Again, the group was heavily influenced by conspiracy theories. Days before he was arrested, the group’s leader posted a video claiming that the federal government was descending on Clarence, Illinois, and calling on militia groups to rally to his defense.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, claims that his militia includes thousands of retired and active law enforcement officers. CREDIT:  Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Law enforcement agencies themselves have expressed concern over the militia movement. In 2014, three-quarters of the nearly 400 law enforcement agencies surveyed by North Carolina researchers said anti-government extremism was “one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction.”

Lane Crothers, a political science professor at Illinois State University and the author of a book on the militia movement, said that unlike neo-Nazi groups and white supremacist groups, militia members typically don’t acknowledge that their views are extremist. They don’t see themselves as bad guys, he said.

“The militias have this kind of notion of an idealized America,” Crothers said. “This notion is a racialized one and a gendered one, but somehow or another, they believe that it’s reflecting some kind of constitutional spirit. So from their point of view, they’re actually patriots.”

Crothers, who has spent hundreds of hours alongside law enforcement officers researching another book, said the very nature of police work can make officers susceptible to conspiracy theories. Cops are being lied to constantly, he said, both by the civilians they have to deal with every day and often by the departments for which they work. In the end, he said, it can become hard to separate fact from fiction.

“You live in a world where the PR people have just put out some statement about an incident that you were at, and you know that every word in the PR statement is false,” Crothers said. “It gets very easy to accept the deceptions and to imagine the power of conspiracies.”

Johnson, the former domestic terrorism analyst, was starker in his analysis of militia groups.

“These are hate groups,” he said. “They pretend they’re not, and they’ve learned to portray themselves as innocent neighborhood watch-type groups, but they’re hate groups. They hate Muslims and they hate immigrants and they hate the government. And police officers have been entrusted to protect and serve our communities, so they should be open-minded and unbiased.”

‘He will squish you like the little bug that you are!’

Inside one Facebook group we briefly joined before being banned, we identified 17 current and former law enforcement officers, including retired cops from Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Arkansas, Illinois and Texas and cops and sheriffs who are still on-duty in New York, Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky.

The group, “XII% Dirty Dozen National,” is an offshoot of the Three Percenters. It was founded by Diane Zauderer Miller, whom members call “the General.” Here’s how she describes the group’s name: “We all know of 3% patriot organizations, however I believe that *more* than 3% of patriotic Americans are willing to stand our ground against threats both foreign & domestic – more like a DOZEN PERCENT – that’s 12% or in Roman numerals: XII%.”

The group, which has more than 14,000 members on Facebook, serves as a place where budding militia members can organize and discuss real-life meetups and the formation of new militia chapters.

Zauderer Miller regularly appoints quasi-military titles to members around the country, such as “Commander of Oklahoma” and “1st Sergeant of the Oklahoma Battalion.” Reached briefly by direct message on Facebook, Zauderer Miller, like other militia leaders, denied her group is a militia, calling it a “humanitarian group.” But the group’s own website calls it a “civil defense force.”

“We train our people/squads to be able to provide Security and Protection to themselves and others who need it within our jurisdiction,” the site reads.

Like several other similar Facebook groups we joined, this group serves as a gathering place for conspiracy theorists and Islamophobes.

A typical civilian post, for example, warned readers of an Islamic takeover of the United States ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, because more than 90 Muslims were running for political office across the country.

“Wake up people don’t let this happen,” one commenter wrote.

“Need to go back to their own shit hole,” another commented.

More recent posts and comments have taken aim at Somali American Rep. Ilhan Omar. In April, one poster encouraged someone to put a “bullet in her head,” using several slurs to describe her.

At least two active-duty and four retired law enforcement officers commented inside this group.

Arthur Terwilliger, a detective at the Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department in New York, has been a member of Dirty Dozen since November 2015. In that time, he has commented a few times, including writing “Yes” under a meme featuring a photo of Trump saying, “I will halt the entry of all Muslim immigrants until we can figure out what the hell is going on. Are you with me? Comment ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ ”

In another comment, under a post about an undocumented immigrant allegedly threatening the president, Terwilliger wrote, “He will squish you like the little bug that you are!”

Reached by phone, Terwilliger called Reveal’s reporting “bogus.”

“I love my country, and I think Donald Trump is the best thing to ever happen to America,” he said when asked about his activity in the Dirty Dozen group.

Inside other Facebook groups we joined, police officers searched for militia groups for real-life training and meetings.

When Todd Johnston, an officer at the Rocky Top Police Department in Tennessee, posted a message introducing himself to a group called “Militia Wanted Tennessee,” a fellow member immediately asked if he was looking for a militia group to join.

“Sure thing, my friend,” Johnston replied.

The member responded that Johnston could join a local Three Percenter group, then suggested they continue their discussion via direct message.

Johnston did not respond to phone and Facebook messages seeking comment. Rocky Top Police Chief Jim Shetterly didn’t respond to our letter or several phone messages.

In Massachusetts, John Rocca, a program manager for the Department of Veterans Affairs Police, discussed the dates and location of a forthcoming meeting with a fellow group member inside “Oath Keepers of Massachusetts” in 2015.

In the same group, Charles Ricko, who retired from the Charlemont Police Department in Massachusetts last year, helped to organize meetings and offered moral support to fellow militia members. After another member posted about having organized a successful meeting, Ricko responded enthusiastically, “sign them all up!”

In Missouri, Patrick Burton, chief of the Licking Police Department, was a member of the Facebook group “Missouri Oath Keepers” for at least three years.

And in Boundary County, Idaho, Deputy Dave Schuman posted so frequently inside the group “Oath Keepers of Boundary County” that he appeared to be using the group to advertise his political campaign. He was running for sheriff.

Burton and Schuman did not respond to calls for comment. Rocca and Ricko both said that while they had been briefly interested in the Oath Keepers, they soured on the organization as it became more radical. Both said that they had not been involved with the Oath Keepers for several years and that they disagreed with the group’s current direction.

“I signed up at their tent at a motorbike rally, but that’s as far as I ever got,” Rocca said. “I never attended any meetings or anything like that.”

‘Call the FBI, call the terrorist watch list, call whoever you want’

In late 2018 and earlier this year, Reveal sent dozens of letters to departments whose officers were members of groups connected to the militia movement.

We detailed each officer’s activity on Facebook – whether the officer simply was a passive member or was actively participating or posting inside the extremist groups. The responses we received from department heads ran the gamut. Some expressed genuine concern and launched internal investigations. Others didn’t respond. Some chiefs and sheriffs were furious that we would even question the motives and activities of their employees.

“Call the FBI, call the terrorist watch list, call whoever you want,” Chief Steven Dixon of the Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department screamed at a reporter in a phone call when we told him about Terwilliger’s activity in the Three Percenters group. Dixon then hung up.

Until recently, Officer Eric Salmestrelli of the Portland Police Bureau in Oregon was a member of at least two extremist groups on Facebook – one devoted to the Oath Keepers and one Islamophobic group.

Inside the Oath Keepers group, Salmestrelli had posted several times, including posting a meme asking, “Is Barack Obama a Saudi-Muslim ‘Plant’ in the White House?”

Under an article posted by another member about Obama-era policies, Salmestrelli wrote, “Fuck him. And his progressive jihadi agenda.”

The Portland Police Bureau recently came under scrutiny after it was revealed that officers there had a cozy relationship with the group Patriot Prayer, which regularly holds rallies and events in Portland and elsewhere that attract white nationalists and white supremacists. Shortly after we contacted the bureau, Salmestrelli’s profile disappeared from Facebook.

In late March, the bureau’s acting Internal Affairs Lt. Amanda McMillan said the department had decided to take no action against Salmestrelli. His posts, she wrote, had taken place prior to Salmestrelli joining the department.

“Ultimately, it was determined that, as the posts in question all occurred prior to the member’s employment with PPB, no jurisdiction existed,” the letter states.

Salmestrelli couldn’t be reached for comment.

At a recent congressional committee hearing on the rise of domestic terrorism in the United States, Michael McGarrity, the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism, joined high-ranking officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department in stressing that well-armed militias like those police officers have joined across the country pose a significant threat.

“There have been more arrests and deaths in the United States caused by domestic terrorists than international terrorists in recent years,” McGarrity said at the hearing. “Domestic terrorism continues to pose a persistent threat to the homeland. We currently have 850 predicated domestic terrorism investigations.”

Asked later about that figure, McGarrity said approximately half of those are open investigations into “anti-government, anti-authority” groups.

Researchers Daneel Knoetze and Michael Dailey contributed to this story. It was edited by Andrew Donohue and Matt Thompson.

To protect and slur Inside hate groups on Facebook, police officers trade racist memes, conspiracy theories and Islamophobia Part One

To Protect and Slur:
Inside hate groups on Facebook, police officers trade racist memes, conspiracy theories and Islamophobia Part One
By Will Carless and Michael Corey
https://www.revealnews.org/article/inside-hate-groups-on-facebook-police-officers-trade-racist-memes-conspiracy-theories-and-islamophobia/

Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the United States are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook, a Reveal investigation has found.

These cops have worked at every level of American law enforcement, from tiny, rural sheriff’s departments to the largest agencies in the country, such as the Los Angeles and New York police departments. They work in jails and schools and airports, on boats and trains and in patrol cars. And, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting discovered, they also read and contribute to groups such as “White Lives Matter” and “DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER.”

The groups cover a range of extremist ideologies. Some present themselves publicly as being dedicated to benign historical discussion of the Confederacy, but are replete with racism inside. Some trade in anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant memes. Some are openly Islamophobic. And almost 150 of the officers we found are involved with violent anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

More than 50 departments launched internal investigations after being presented with our findings, in some cases saying they would examine officers’ past conduct to see if their online activity mirrored their policing in real life. And some departments have taken action, with at least one officer being fired for violating department policies.

U.S. law enforcement agencies, many of which have deeply troubled histories of discrimination, have long been accused of connections between officers and extremist groups. At the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, marchers flew a “Blue Lives Matter” flag alongside anti-Semitic and white supremacist messages. In Portland, Oregon, police officers were found to have been texting with a far-right group that regularly hosts white supremacists and white nationalists at its rallies. A classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015, obtained by The Intercept, warned that white supremacists and other far-right groups had infiltrated American law enforcement.

It can be difficult to determine how deep or widespread these connections run. Researchers recently found numerous examples of police officers posting violent and racist content on their public Facebook pages. Reveal’s investigation shows for the first time that officers in agencies across the country have actively joined private hate groups, participating in the spread of extremism on Facebook.

Most of the hateful Facebook groups these cops frequent are closed, meaning only members are allowed to see content posted by other members. Reveal joined dozens of these groups and verified the identities of almost 400 current and retired law enforcement officials who are members.

One guard at the Angola prison in Louisiana, Geoffery Crosby, was a member of 56 extremist groups, including 45 Confederate groups and one called “BAN THE NAACP.”

A detective at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston, James “J.T.” Thomas, was a member of the closed Facebook group “The White Privilege Club.”

The group contains hundreds of hateful, racist and anti-Semitic posts; links to interviews with white supremacists such as Richard Spencer; and invites to events such as the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Users regularly post memes featuring Pepe the Frog, the alt-right mascot, with captions such as, “white people, do something.” And there are explicitly racist jokes, such as one with a photo of fried chicken and grape soda with the caption, “Mom packed me a niggable for school.”

Thomas once posted the logo for the Black College Football Hall of Fame inside the group with a simple caption: “Seriously. Why?” Soon after, he posted a meme about an elderly African American woman confusedly responding to a reporter’s question by naming a fried chicken restaurant.

After being presented with Thomas’ postings on Facebook, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office fired him in February for violating a number of employee conduct policies.

“These policies state that ‘an employee’s actions must never bring the HCSO into disrepute, nor should conduct be detrimental to the HCSO’s efficient operation. … Personnel who, through their use of social media, cause undue embarrassment or damage the reputation of, or erode the public’s confidence in, the HCSO shall be deemed to have violated this policy and shall be subject to counseling and/or discipline,” the department said in an email.

In a hearing to appeal his firing, Thomas said he didn’t realize he was a member of the closed group and defended his behavior. “If you remove the black female out of the picture, what’s racist about it?” he said. The Harris County Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission upheld his firing.

Lonnie Allen Brown of the Kingsville Police Department in Texas, a member of three Islamophobic groups, posted a photo of a young black man with a pistol to his head with the header, “If Black lives really mattered …. They’d stop shooting each other!” He also posted an image that read: “Islam. A cult of oppression, rape, pedophilia and murder cannot be reasoned with!” Neither he nor his department returned calls for comment.

Peter Simi, an associate professor of sociology at Chapman University who has studied extremist groups for more than 20 years, said biased views like those expressed in these Facebook groups inevitably influence an individual’s decision-making process.

“The perceptions we have about the world at large drive the decisions we make,” Simi said. “To think that people could completely separate these extremist right-wing views from their actions just isn’t consistent with what we know about the decision-making process.”

While Facebook vows that it prioritizes meaningful content, its algorithms also appear to play a role in strengthening biases. The more extreme groups we joined, the more Facebook suggested new – and often even more troubling – groups to join or pages to like. It was easy to see how users, including police officers, could be increasingly radicalized by what they saw on their news feed.

What’s harder to see is how these views affected their policing offline.