The FBI vetting of National Guard troops deployed for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration amid fears of an insider attack has put the current and former security officials who participated in the January 6 assault on the Capitol in the spotlight – as well as the overlooked issue of links between some security officials and White supremacist groups.
More than 25,000 National Guard members from all US states and territories have been deployed to the US capital for Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration, more than three times the number of US troops currently in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Jacob Fracker is not among them.
Fracker’s Virginia National Guard unit members were among the camouflage-clad troops streaming into the DC-area over the past few days, securing national monuments in the capital and attending briefings on their support mission to secure a hallowed event in American democracy: the official transfer of power.
However, the 29-year-old Virginia National Guard corporal is unlikely to get anywhere near the US Capitol steps, where Biden will be sworn into office on Wednesday. Fracker was in the US capital two weeks ago. But judging from selfies posted on social media and a criminal complaint filed in a district court, he did not appear to be supporting a peaceful transfer of power or adhering to the rule of law.
On January 6, as supporters of President Donald Trump gathered in Washington DC to protest against the result of a free and fair election, Fracker – who is also a local police officer in Rocky Mount, Virginia – was part of a hardcore mob that stormed the Capitol.
A selfie snapped with another Rocky Mount police colleague shows Fracker with a raised index finger before the statue of American revolutionary hero, John Stark, in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
Exuding the confidence and certainty of a professionally trained fighter, Fracker glowers at the camera, defiant and disconcertingly at ease in the company of White supremacists, right-wing extremists and QAnon conspirators who believe a cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibalistic paedophiles control a “deep state” in the USA.
In a Facebook post that has since been deleted, Fracker wrote, “Lol to anyone who’s possibly concerned about the picture of me going around,” according to a criminal complaint filed by the US Capitol Police. “Sorry I hate freedom? Not like I did anything illegal … y’all do what you feel you need to.”
The US justice system and Fracker’s superiors at the Rocky Mount police department have done what they feel they need to – so far. These include slapping him with criminal charges of knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
Fracker and his Rocky Mount police colleague, Sergeant Thomas Robertson, were arrested and then released on a $15,000 bond and barred from going to Washington DC or participating in any demonstration or protest as criminal cases continue.
The Rocky Mount police force meanwhile has put the two men on paid leave pending federal and local investigations. The National Guard, in a statement to CNBC, said Fracker “is not currently on duty with Virginia National Guard troops in Washington, DC,” adding, the “Virginia National Guard will conduct an investigation into the matter”.
Fracker is one of at least 30 current and former law enforcement and military officers who participated in the Capitol riot, according to US media reports. As images of the assault were broadcast live, their presence was evident to security experts and journalists familiar with combat and law enforcement operations, including an alarming “Ranger File” of camouflage-kitted rioters holding the collars of men in line in preparation for a “stack up” to breach a building.
The images have raised concerns over right-wing extremist links and sympathies within US military and law enforcement forces, a phenomenon that experts say was largely overlooked by top security officials and policies makers – until the events of January 6.
Christopher Miller, the acting defence secretary, said on Monday that the FBI was assisting the US military in vetting National Guard troops deployed to Washington DC for the inauguration. In a statement posted on Twitter Monday, Miller said the vetting was “normal for military support to large security events … While we have no intelligence indicating an insider threat, we are leaving no stone unturned in securing the capital.”
The acting Pentagon chief’s statement came as the Washington Post reported that the FBI “privately warned law enforcement agencies Monday that far-right extremists have discussed posing as National Guard members in Washington”.
Citing an intelligence briefing, the Post reported that the FBI had picked up “suspicious traffic” while monitoring communications between some participants in the Capitol siege, including an “interest in infiltrating security checkpoints at the inauguration”.
‘White privilege’ – again
The recent acknowledgment that uniformed personnel tasked with policing the people need policing themselves is the latest blow for US security services after a year marred by excessive police violence against Black Lives Matter protesters.
Allegations of “White privilege” resurfaced in the aftermath of the January 6 assault, with civil rights activists questioning how Trump supporters could overwhelm security at the Capitol in stark contrast to the heavy policing at Black Lives Matter protests last year.
During the summer of 2020, US media coverage of the protests exploded with reports of double standards, as videos circulated of security officials tear gassing and charging unarmed protesters while allowing armed vigilantes through, fist-bumping, and even offering water bottles to far-right militia members at counter-demonstrations.
“The time for applying band-aids and making excuses for a few ‘bad apples’ has passed,” said Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s arms and military operations advisor, in a June 2020 report.
But in communities that have historically borne the brunt of racist policing, few expected the era of bad apple excuses – which date back to slavery and the birth of the USA – to end.
Over the past two decades, while the war on terror and jihadist threats grabbed headlines and boosted sales of weapons and surveillance gear for US security officials, experts on homegrown extremism were warning about efforts by right-wing militants and White supremacist groups to recruit supporters with military and law enforcement training.
Their warnings were largely overlooked by federal and local authorities, lawmakers, top security officials and police officers. They also mark a break in the so-called blue wall of silence, or the informal code among police officers to avoid reporting misconduct or abuses committed by colleagues in uniform.
Fears of cops ‘alerting’ white supremacist allies
Back in the early 1990s, when Michael German, then a young FBI agent, was preparing for an undercover assignment to infiltrate neo-Nazi groups in California, the Justice Department warned him to be careful about sharing details of his investigations with the police, because some of them had ties to White supremacist groups themselves.
“It has long been known in law enforcement that there are police officers who sympathise with these groups and associate with these groups,” said German in an interview with the On Point show on US National Public Radio (NPR).
This was borne out in a 2015 FBI counterterrorism policy guide which, according to German, recommended was that FBI agents “mute” subjects of far-right investigations on a terrorist watch-list so that the information was available to FBI agents, but not police officers. The reason for keeping police departments in the dark, German explained, was “because of the knowledge that police officers who are sympathetic to White supremacists might use that access to alert those people under investigation”.
In an August 2020 report, Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement, German – who has since left the FBI and is currently a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice – noted that the official response to the problem has been “strikingly insufficient”.
The report noted that “only a tiny percentage of law enforcement officials are likely to be active members of White supremacist groups”. But it also explained that “explicit racism in law enforcement” can take many forms, “from membership or affiliation with violent White supremacist or far-right militant groups, to engaging in racially discriminatory behavior toward the public or law enforcement colleagues, to making racist remarks and sharing them on social media”.
‘We got Jan. 6 because no one took us seriously’
Police departments are aware of the phenomenon, but the “problem is that most law enforcement agencies don’t have written policies specifically addressing the issue”, German explained in an interview with Mother Jones.
While police departments are reactive to public outcries, the lack of rules and guidelines stymies an effective official response. “So when communities or civil rights activists identify police officers with links to far-right groups, police departments “end up disciplining them under broad prohibitions against engaging in public conduct detrimental to the public interest, or similarly worded policies”, German explained.
“Sometimes this doesn’t stand up to the due process scrutiny that’s designed to protect innocent officers from being treating unfairly. So they end up getting their jobs back after they’re fired,” he added.
German has long argued for a national strategy to address the issue. His August 2020 report includes recommendations for Congress to direct the Justice Department to undertake a host of measures beginning with a working group to assess the problem and present it in a report to lawmakers.
It’s the stuff of reports that tend to get overlooked by policy makers. But the January 6 assault on the Capitol could change that, forcing an issue that has long dogged minority communities into the halls of US power. As Congressmen and women scrambled for cover, and were evacuated minutes before rioters poured into the House Chamber, the awareness of the problem hit home.
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As investigators probe the security response at the Capitol, US journalists have uncovered cases of Black police officers complaining of racism in their ranks. The investigative website, ProPublica, last week reported that Black Capitol police officers had been filing discrimination law suits since at least 2001. “Nothing ever really was resolved. Congress turned a blind eye to racism on the Hill,” Sharon Blackmon-Malloy, a retired Capitol Police officer who was the lead plaintiff in a 2001 discrimination lawsuit, told ProPublica. “We got Jan. 6 because no one took us seriously.”
In the aftermath of the January 6 attack, Representative Jamaal Bowman from New York introduced a bill requiring an investigation into whether any Capitol Police members have ties, directly or indirectly, to White nationalists and White nationalist sympathisers.
Meanwhile two bills introduced in the Senate in 2019 are awaiting approval. The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2019 calls for the establishment of “an interagency task force to combat white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of the uniformed services”, while the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act seeks a ban on racial profiling.
Experts such as German warn that there’s no quick fix to a systemic problem. “It’s important to understand that the United States was founded as a White supremacist nation, so our laws enforced White supremacy, so those who were sworn to enforce the law were enforcing White supremacy. After slavery ended, you had Jim Crow. After the civil rights era, you still had sundown towns, where the police enforced unwritten rules about who could stay in town past dark. To imagine there was somehow a miraculous event that cured the police of that problem is foolish,” he told Mother Jones.
But as a new president prepares to enter the White House, there are hopes that the end of the Trump era will push the supremacist edge of America’s white anxiety back to the fringes.