As a former soldier and FBI agent, we both risked our lives to fight Al Qaeda. But the enemy we currently face is not a jihadist threat. It’s white supremacists — in the United States and overseas.
One American group, The Base, peppered a recruitment video with footage of our faces, intercut with shots of masked men machine-gunning a spray-painted Star of David. The Scandinavia-based Nordic Resistance Movement called us out by name, referring to us in a recent statement as “the Jew Max Rose” and “Arab F.B.I. agent Ali Soufan.” Defenders of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, which the FBI calls “a paramilitary unit” notorious for its “association with neo-Nazi ideology,” accuse us of being part of a Kremlin campaign to “demonize” the group.
Why the sudden attention? Because we, along with dedicated colleagues from across the political spectrum, are working to expose the truth about so-called domestic terrorism: There is nothing domestic about it.
Over the past several months — at congressional hearings, in a report by the Soufan Center, and in a letter to the State Department signed by 40 members of Congress — we have documented the existence of a global network of white supremacist extremists that stretches across North America, Europe and Australia. White supremacists today are organizing in a similar fashion to jihadist terrorist organizations, like Al Qaeda, in the 1980s and 1990s. They transcend national barriers with recruitment and dissemination of propaganda. And just as jihadists exploited conflicts in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Syria, so too are white supremacists using the conflict in Ukraine as a laboratory and training ground.
Yet despite these profound similarities, United States law has not caught up to the new threat we face. International white supremacist groups are still not designated as foreign terrorist organizations, which means our law enforcement and intelligence agencies cannot access the full suite of tools available to them in countering groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda.
A few examples lay bare the extent of this tangled, transnational web.
The Australian who in March last year murdered 51 worshipers at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, claimed in his manifesto that he had traveled to Ukraine; during the attacks he wore a symbol used by the Azov Battalion. The FBI director recently warned that American extremists, too, are traveling overseas for paramilitary training. Among those who have trained with Azov are several of the men responsible for fomenting violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017. James Alex Fields Jr., who murdered a protester with his car, was a member of Vanguard America, a group with ties to the British network that celebrated Thomas Mair, the far-right extremist who assassinated the British legislator Jo Cox in 2016.
Mr. Mair, who is serving a life sentence, was himself closely connected with National Action, a British group that has sought to funnel fighters to Ukraine. This past June, two more British citizens were convicted of terrorism offenses for promoting, among other groups, the United States-based Atomwaffen Division, of which The Base is an offshoot. Recently, Atomwaffen has begun publishing ISIS-style recruitment videos featuring a masked man gesticulating with a hunting knife as he promises a wave of “ever-encroaching terror.” The effect of these far-reaching connections on our homeland is clear. Since 9/11, far-right terrorists have killed 110 people on American soil, while jihadists have killed 107. And the trend is worsening: 2018 was the worst year for far-right violence since Timothy McVeigh attacked Oklahoma City in 1995.
Almost twice as many foreign fighters have traveled to join the civil war in Ukraine than to Afghanistan in the ’80s — a conflict which birthed Al Qaeda. The government is aware of the threat: In 2018 the Trump administration warned of violent foreign neo-Nazi groups forging ties with organizations in the United States.
Yet no white supremacist group has ever been designated a foreign terrorist organization under federal law. This omission leaves American law enforcement hobbled in its efforts to combat these groups and the rising tide of violence they represent. The arrest of members of The Base in January, including a Canadian national, illustrates not only the FBI’s recognition of the threat and resolve to protect Americans, but also the international connections of American groups. But law enforcement cannot utilize the most effective tools to protect the country.
Designating these groups as foreign terrorist organizations would offer authorities three important advantages — ones they currently enjoy when dealing with jihadists. First, they could monitor communications between people connected to the designated groups. Second, they could share intelligence with our allies overseas, an important asset when dealing with international terrorism. And third, they could bring charges for providing material support to the designated groups, with appropriately severe penalties attached.
Terrorism is terrorism, however its perpetrators justify it inside their twisted minds. If these peddlers of hate hoped to silence us by attacking us online, they have failed. They’ve only hardened our resolve.
Max Rose, a veteran of the United States Army, serves New York’s 11th District in Congress.
Ali H. Soufan is a former FBI special agent and the author, most recently, of “Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State.”