Everybody knows what happened last week. Everybody knows: the streetside roadrage execution of Delrawn Small under the indifferent glare of a Brooklyn stoplight on July 4th. The parking lot tackle-and-slaughter of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge for the crime of selling CDs outside a store on July 5th. The videotaped, thoughtless murder of compliant, doing-everything-right school cafeteria manager Philando Castile—pulled over for having a “wide nose”—in a Minnesota suburb on July 6th. And then—the planned, clocktower-style killing of five police officers during a Dallas Black Lives Matter rally, by military veteran Micah Johnson, ending in his death by explosive robot, on July 7th.
Everybody knows. The only difference is whether the people around you were following the horror from the beginning, or whether they came into work on Friday and asked if you’d heard about “the tragedy in Dallas last night.”
I’m not here to moralize or rationalize over the most Ideologically Correct leftist view to take on the death of these agents of the state. This is, after all, the “spirit of resentment” that Malcolm X spoke of so long ago. This is Lenin’s “violent revolution,” his “destruction of the apparatus of state power.” Yet it is also—as a number of activists have recently pointed out—not necessarily within the purview of nonblack radicals to champion these deaths, considering the likely further backlash against black citizens, except inasmuch as they took a few more fascists off the streets in the physical sense. So no—I’m here to talk about Nazis.
Every time an innocent black American is killed by police, the media works overtime to search through their backgrounds for any hint of disobedience. CNN runs two-hour panels on the afterschool detention served back in eighth grade by a victim in his forties. But no one ever investigates the police—whether killers or killed—with such a fine-toothed comb. This weekend, that changed.
A few friends and acquaintances of mine did the legwork and discovered that slain Dallas police officer Lorne Ahrens was a proud, open white supremacist. His ring finger bore an Iron Cross tattoo, his Facebook cover photo was a massive Thor’s Hammer symbol, and his left arm was emblazoned with a “crusaders’ shield,” common to those right-wing Christians who believe that Christianity is engaged in a centuries-long war with Islam. His Facebook likes included pages which bore similar iconography—more Iron Crosses and a Confederate flag or two. The real surprise here, of course, is that this news is gaining any traction whatsoever. Historically, the police and the violent far right have always enjoyed a, shall we say, cozy relationship.
Modern police departments, of course, trace their origins directly back to “Slave Patrols” (intended to recapture runaway slaves) and “Night Watches” (designed to control, intimidate, and harass minority communities). These institutions eventually evolved into the local and state police departments we see today—and their mentalities have hardly changed significantly since the days of the Underground Railroad.
In 2006, an FBI report warned that white supremacist groups such as the KKK and the American Nazi Party continued to “infiltrate” US police departments:
Since coming to law enforcement attention in late 2004, the term “ghost skins” has gained currency among white supremacists to describe those who avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes.
While the full FBI document is worth a read, if only to get a true sense of the organized presence of white supremacists in US law enforcement groups, this concept of “ghost skins” is reflected in the actions of Ahrens, as his white supremacist symbolism was less overt than the prison-style swastikas and Totenkopf skulls often conjured up in the public imagination. Thus, he was allowed to move within generally right-leaning groups (such as conservative white America in general, and a Texas police department in particular), engaging in their military fetishism and love of authoritarianism without ever explicitly claiming allegiance to Nazism (perhaps the only right-wing political ideology still somewhat taboo to the average white American, if only in name).
There are countless examples of the white supremacist nature of US police departments throughout recent history. Here’s an extremely brief rundown:
- Last year, Louisiana detective Raymond Mott was fired after photos surfaced featuring Mott in a KKK uniform giving a Nazi salute. He had the most arrests of any officer in his department.
- In the 90s, an entire white supremacist gang, operating out of the Lynwood police department in Los Angeles, was composed wholly of Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies. The Lynwood Vikings “probably” no longer exist within the LASD.
- Two lieutenants from Anniston, AL, spoke onstage at the 2013 National Conference of the League of the South, a neo-Confederate organization steeped in racism, anti-Semitism, and pro-secession rhetoric.
- Three Florida corrections officers were charged with conspiracy in 2015 and revealed to be members of the Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK.
- Seven San Francisco police officers lost their jobs last year for a string of racist texts, including such phrases as “White Power” and references to lynchings and burning crosses.
- Up to a dozen officers in the Dothan, Alabama police department were implicated as members of a neo-Confederate extremist organization, and regularly planted drugs and guns on racial minorities.
- In 1992, a Boynton Beach officer was suspended from the force after getting a highly visible leg tattoo of a swastika, along with the initials of Charles Manson.
- In Pocomoke City, Maryland, the police turned on their own, when white officers racially harassed and used slurs against three black officers (including the chief!) for more than three years. Formal charges were brought earlier this year.
- In 2014, a Florida deputy chief resigned (and one of his officers was fired) after their KKK memberships were revealed—the second time in five years that such revelations had been made within the department.
- Robert White, a former Grand Dragon of the Maryland KKK, allegedly worked as a Baltimore police officer during daylight hours.
With this information in mind, the question no longer becomes “Are these cops racists?” but rather “Just exactly how racist are these cops?” In this particular instance, there is no evidence as of yet to suggest that Micah Johnson was anything but indiscriminate in his targeting of the police he killed. Yet, even with no prior knowledge, he still managed to hit a Nazi, completely at random. What does that tell you about the nature of our police departments?
And what does it tell you about the possibility of “reform”—the impossible task of “fixing” a law enforcement system born of fascism, steeped in authoritarianism, and filled to overflowing with open, unafraid, violent white supremacists? A system that—as shown by even a cursory examination of its history—is working as it was always intended?
Art by Rilo Harris.