A Right Wing Watch special report
UPDATE (JULY 16, 2021) – Since we published this report on July 6, the Washington Post tracked down two additional law enforcement officers charged with taking part in the insurrectionist melée of Jan. 6, 2021. The table in this article includes those arrests.
Among the more shocking developments in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol by fans of former President Donald J. Trump was the revelation that a number of active and retired law enforcement officers took part in the Capitol breach—some with deadly intentions. Six months after that unprecedented moment in American history, this report explores the relationship between police culture and the authoritarian mindset displayed in the insurrections, and the role of police unions in protecting and advancing that culture.
We may never know just how many members of the law enforcement community took part in the melée that day, in which participants aimed to stop the certification of Electoral College votes in Congress by shutting down the process by force. (Some in the mob that overran the Capitol stated their aim to do so by maiming or killing the elected leaders who were presiding over the certification procedure.) In its April report, “The Military, Police, and the Rise of Terrorism in the United States,” the Center For Strategic and International Studies notes that an uptick in the involvement of current and former law enforcement officers in domestic terrorism more broadly. Since 1994, CSIS identified six terrorist incidents involving active or former law enforcement officers (not including the insurrection), noting with some alarm that all six took place in the years since 2017, the year in which Donald Trump was inaugurated. From the CSIS report:
The growth is notable since individuals with a military or law enforcement background have skills that extremists want—such as proficiency in firing weapons, building explosive devices, conducting surveillance and reconnaissance, training personnel, practicing operational security, and performing other types of activities. The data should serve as a cautionary tale. While the numbers are relatively low, they are growing—and the military and law enforcement agencies need to take preventive action now.
In the cases resulting from the Jan. 6 insurrection, some members of law enforcement communities may have escaped scrutiny if they took part in the insurrection, while the scrutiny visited upon others may never be known to the public. For instance, in the wake of the siege, 12 members of the Capitol Police force were put on desk duty while the department investigated whether any had aided the insurrectionists. However, because the Capitol Police are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, the American people may never know the answer to that question.
Among the more than 500 people charged with federal crimes by the Department of Justice for their participation in the Capitol breach, Right Wing Watch has been able to identify 15 law enforcement officers—some actively employed by law enforcement entities, and some retired—based on local and national news reports and corresponding charging documents. (Table below has been updated to include an additional two since identified by the Washington Post.) They hail from a total of 12 states, and departments as small as the police force of Rocky Mount, Va. (population 4,700) and as large as New York City’s (population 8.2 million). Their crimes range from conspiracy to trespassing, with a number of felonies and misdemeanors in between.
Article continues after table.
Known Law Enforcement Officers (Active & Retired) Charged with Crimes in the Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection
|NAME||LAW ENFORCEMENT ENTITY||POP. OF JURISDICTION||STATE|
|CALDWELL, Thomas||Federal Bureau of Investigation (2009-2010)*||330 million||Va.|
|CARPENTER, Sara||New York City Police Dept. (1994-2004)||8.2 million||N.Y.|
|CHWIESIUK, Karol||Chicago Police Dept. (2018-present; relieved of police powers June 2)||2.1 million||Ill.|
|COLON, Louis Enrique||Blue Springs Police Dept. (2003-2006)||54,850||Mo.|
|DAUGHTRY, Michael Shane||Pelham Police Dept. (fired in 2020)||3,549||Ga.|
|FISCHER, Joseph Wayne||North Cornwall Police Dept. (suspended after Feb. 19 arrest; 18-year veteran)||7,931||Penn.|
|FRACKER, Jacob||Rocky Mount Police Dept. (fired Jan.26, after arrest; served 18 months)||4,745||Va.|
|HARDIN, Michael Lee||Salt Lake City Police Dept. (retired in 2017; served 20 years on the force)||1.2 million||Utah|
|HOSTETTER, Alan||La Habra Police Dept. (former CHIEF; ret. 2010; formerly of Fortuna PD and other law enforcement positions for 20 years.)||60,594||Calif.|
|LENTZ, Nicholes||North Miami Beach P.D. (left in 2020; Port St. Lucie PD 2014-206)||42,971||Fla.|
|PHAM, Tam Dinh||Houston Police Dept. (resigned Jan. 14; 18-year veteran)||2.3 million||Texas|
|ROBERTSON, Thomas||Rocky Mount Police Dept. (fired Jan.26, after arrest; served 16 years)||4,745||Va.|
|STEELE, Laura||High Point Police Dept. (1992-2004 – fired; school officer)||111,714||N.C.|
|SUAREZ, Marissa A.||Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office (resigned after arrest)||Monmouth County Jail – 835||N.J.|
|TUCK, Kevin||Windermere Police Dept. (resigned after arrest)||3,430||Fla.|
|TUCK, Nathaniel||Apopka Police Dept. (2018-2020)||51,800||Fla.|
|WEBSTER, Thomas||New York City Police Dept. (retired 2011)||8.2 million||N.Y.|
*Claimed by defendant; not confirmed by FBI.
Click on name to view charging documents. Or view expanded version of table here.
In examining the events of Jan. 6, it is critical that the insurrection be seen in the context of America’s history of racial oppression and those who feel it their duty to act against the empowerment of Black and brown people, often in the name of nationalism. The false narrative of a 2020 presidential election allegedly stolen from Trump is itself a smear of Black and indigenous people, who mounted a robust turnout for that election, giving Democratic candidate Joe Biden the margins he needed in such battleground states as Pennsylvania and Arizona. You don’t need a PhD in sociology to comprehend just whom Trump implies did the stealing. This lie is what fueled the violence visited upon lawmakers in the Capitol as they set about the business of certifying the Electoral College votes that ultimately showed Biden to be the winner. And it is the fuel provided by that lie, that racialized lie, which endangered American democracy on Jan. 6, and continues to do so today.
In a Sept. 2020 Science magazine article, scholars Vesla M. Weaver and Gwen Prowse explained the concept of “racial authoritarianism” and the threat it poses to democracy itself:
Just as racial slavery defined U.S. democracy historically, racial authoritarianism continues to define the practices of our democracy. In the current political moment, recognition of the fraying of democratic institutions has collided with a movement for Black liberation from police atrocities. Scholars often do the work of making such a connection legible more broadly. But if scholars continue to keep the former separate from the latter by ignoring racial authoritarianism, we will continue to have an anemic and distorted conception of U.S. democracy, with potentially dire consequences for policy. It is perhaps unsurprising that the media has followed suit, presenting racialized policing as distinct from democratic backsliding…
Black scholars and other academics in recent years have sought to shine a light on links between law enforcement communities, authoritarianism and violent white supremacist groups. While those who participate in or are complicit with such extremist groups as Proud Boys, Oath Keepers or the Three Percenters may comprise a small percentage of law enforcement, they are especially dangerous because of their tactical knowledge and access to confidential information, not to mention the authority carried by those who wear the badge. Yet it is not they alone who are responsible for this problem; their presence in these hate groups could not take place without the tacit acceptance by a far greater number of a more common sort of racist and bigot in the law enforcement ranks (and society at large), creating a toxic police culture that is predisposed to the ethos of authoritarianism, often encouraged by police unions.
In this report, we examine this violent subculture through the lens of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the crimes of several of the law enforcement officers who took part in it, each of them reflecting a different dynamic at work in the insurrectionist movement. We also explore some of the historical roots of the authoritarian mindset that pervades many of today’s police forces.
The Authoritarian Ethos of U.S. Policing
Among the earliest organized police forces in the United States were slave patrols or slave-catchers—armed white men who set out to hunt enslaved people who had escaped their enslavers. According to historian Gary Potter:
Slave patrols had three primary functions: (1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside of the law, if they violated any plantation rules.
Anyone who is “subject to summary justice, outside of the law” is living in an authoritarian society where police are the enforcers.
After slavery ended and Jim Crow laws mandating racial segregation took shape, police forces remained true to their original purpose: to protect and serve the elites of the dominant culture by enforcing the established order of society. That established order, of course, placed Blacks and indigenous Americans at the bottom of the ladder; the white working class, just a rung or two up, were encouraged to view African Americans as unworthy competitors for a chance to move up. It was from the ranks of that white working class that police forces were drawn.
As if that imprinting wasn’t problematic enough, the militarization of police forces throughout the nation since the 1980s, as illustrated by Michelle Alexander in her groundbreaking book, “The New Jim Crow,” has intensified the “us versus them” mentality of many law enforcement officers. It’s not just the equipment they’ve obtained—the armored personnel carriers, the combat gear—it’s also the boot-camp-style training that many cops are given, which ultimately teaches police to behave like an occupying force.
Another, more insidious problem in a military-style academy is the behavior modeled by the academy staff. Those without power (recruits) submit without question to the authority of those who have power (academy staff). Rule violations are addressed by verbal abuse or physical punishment in the form of pushups and extra laps.
Given these dynamics, it should not surprise us that some law enforcement officers have become radicalized, seeing themselves as people with a sacred trust to enforce the established order with regard to race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Most prominently, hate groups feed on white anxiety about displacement or erasure from the national culture. In fact, Proud Boys, a far-right fight club that took part in the Jan. 6 insurrection, describe themselves as “chauvinists” in the defense of “Western culture.”
Oath Keepers, a number of whose members have been charged with conspiracy in the Capitol insurrection, specifically recruits from law enforcement and military communities. The whole aim of the organization is to get law enforcement officers and members of the military to defy any law they themselves deem to be unconstitutional.
With his many racist statements and threats to protesters at his rallies, former President Donald Trump is an avatar for the radical violent right, even as he remains the head of one of the nation’s two major political parties. When their president summoned them to Washington with the promise of a “wild protest!” on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, members of the radicalized violent right took him at his word, and showed up ready to fight—to seize back the presidency from the Black and brown people they falsely believe had stolen it from them.
The Buddy System: An Oath Keeper’s Holiday
Early in the morning of January 5, Laura Steele, 52, of Thomasville, N.C., got in her car with her brother, Graydon Young, 54, and headed for Washington, D.C., her tactical gear packed. Only two days before, she signed up for membership in Oath Keepers, and now she was on a planned mission at the U.S. Capitol. Young, who formerly served in the Army Reserve and the Navy Reserve, appears to have steered Steele down this path, having only joined the Oath Keepers chapter in Florida, his home state, a month before; his Tar Heel sister dropped his name into her Jan. 3 email to the Florida Oath Keepers requesting membership, according to the criminal complaint filed against Steele. In the box labeled “Skillsets” on the application, according to the complaint, Steele wrote:
I have 13 years of experience in Law Enforcement in North Carolina. I serviced as a K-9 Officer and a SWAT team member. I currently work Private Armed security for [company name redacted]. I am a licensed PPS through the North Carolina Protected Services.
Steele, an officer on the High Point (N.C.) Police Department from 1992-2004, now worked as a security guard at a local hospital, according to The Dispatch, a Lexington, N.C., newspaper. High Point claims a population of 111,714. Steele’s husband, Ken, had just retired from his job as the High Point PD assistant chief. He does not appear to be involved in the Oath Keepers and did not travel to the Capitol. He later told investigators of his dislike for his brother-in-law. “Not my favorite person,” he said.
Along the way, Laura Steele and Young would meet up with Kelly Meggs, the self-described head of the Florida Oath Keepers chapter, and Meggs’ wife, Connie. On Dec. 21, then-President Trump posted his famous tweet calling for his followers to come to the nation’s capital on Jan. 6 for a “wild” protest. It appears that Kelly Meggs got plans for this expedition going the very next day, when on Facebook he posted, according to the government’s complaint:
“Trump said It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to D C pack your shit!! … Nice, we will have at least 50-100 OK 3 there.”
Meanwhile in Charlottesville, Va., Thomas Caldwell, a former Navy intelligence officer and an Oath Keeper who claims also to have served as an FBI section chief, was working out some coordination among the Oath Keepers members who would be part of this mission, including Jessica Watkins of Ohio, who also played a coordination role. But Caldwell’s special task was on the Virginia side of the D.C. borderline, where he would coordinate a “quick reaction force”—armed with weapons that are legal in Virginia but not in the nation’s capital. Should firearms ultimately be required to finish off the job at the Capitol, Caldwell’s “QRF” would be at the ready to move in. In its Feb. 19 press release announcing the conspiracy indictments of Steele, Young, the Meggses, Caldwell, Watkins and three others, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia described Caldwell’s use of the abbreviation QRF as “a term used by law enforcement and the military to refer to an armed unit capable of rapidly responding to developing situations, typically to assist allied units in need of such assistance.”
In the government’s criminal complaint against Caldwell and his acquaintances, prosecutors note that on Jan. 1, Caldwell took to Facebook to state his intentions for Jan. 6:
I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. I did the former, I have done the latter peacefully but they have morphed into pure evil even blatantly rigging an election and paying off the political caste. We must smite them now and drive them down.
Though it remains unclear from a strategic assessment just what these Oath Keepers—all dressed in tactical gear, several with helmets and body armor—were planning to do, they were one of the groups seen moving up the Capitol steps in a “stack,” a military formation in which troops march single-file, each with their hand on the back or shoulder of the infantryman ahead of them. They were dressed similarly, in camouflage decked with Oath Keepers patches.
The criminal complaint against the group that includes Steele, Young, the Meggses, Caldwell and Watkins describes a conversation had by Watkins with an unnamed individual over the communications app Zello, on a channel named “Stop the Steal J6.” In the discussion, an unnamed person talking to Watkins apparently refers to Congress as “this assembly,” instructing Watkins and crew to execute a “citizen’s arrest.” From the complaint:
An individual directed, “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.” WATKINS responded, “We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here.” An individual responded to WATKINS, telling her to be safe, and stated, “Get it, Jess. Do your fucking thing. This is what we fucking [unintelligible] up for. Everything we fucking trained for.”
In addition to the rack of charges that apply to Caldwell—whose QRF was apparently not deployed—and his confederates (conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting; destruction of government property and aiding and abetting; and entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds), he and Young were both charged with tampering with documents or proceedings for having deleted and unsent Facebook material related to the insurrection.
On the morning of Jan. 6, Young and Steele left their hotel in Springfield, Va., and boarded a Metro train headed into Washington, D.C. Steele made the fatal error of boasting to a text group that she was on the train, en route to the Capitol. A member of the text group was interviewed by investigators, telling them that Steele had been on the Metro. Investigators reviewed security footage of Steele and Young in the Metro station, and they were positively identified against photos taken later that day both outside and inside the Capitol.
None of this explains why Steele joined the Oath Keepers group just days before the group’s planned breach of the Capitol and agree to take on an assignment that could cost her livelihood, which it has done. Perhaps the boredom of security work drove her to extremes? A yearning for adventure? Perhaps it was peer pressure from her brother, Gray Young. And where was Young radicalized? Was it among his military brothers, or just happenstance? Until we learn how to get at the answers to these questions, this movement of malcontented (mostly) white people will only grow.
After legal wrangling, Steele was released from federal custody under “high intensity supervision.” She pleaded “not guilty” to all charges. Her brother, Graydon Young, pleaded guilty to two counts and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, saying he felt “duped” by the Oath Keepers. In exchange for Young’s cooperation, the judge dropped four other charges against him listed in the government’s complaint.
Young was the second person from an Oath Keepers contingent to agree to cooperate with the government, following the flipping of John Schaffer, an Indiana rock musician who claims to have co-founded the Oath Keepers. Federal prosecutors seem intent on building a conspiracy case that may implicate Oath Keepers President Stewart Rhodes, who has not been charged, but was reportedly in contact with Oath Keepers groups while and after they breached the Capitol building, possibly giving direction.
Rhodes appears to have begun planning some kind of action immediately following the election. On Nov. 9, according to reporting by the Washington Post, Rhodes addressed his troops in a virtual meeting:
Rhodes allegedly told those in attendance, including Meggs and Watkins: “We’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country. Because if you don’t, guys, you’re going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war and a bloody — you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or fight.”
And as Right Wing Watch reported, at a so-called Stop the Steal rally on Dec. 12, Rhodes made a similar claim, saying that if Trump failed to invoke martial law, the rally-goers would be forced to take matters into their own hands in what would be “a much more bloody war.”
Thomas Robertson, then a police officer in Rocky Mount, Va. (population 4,745), took part in the insurrection with a buddy from the force, Jacob Fracker—which ultimately led to both Robertson and Fracker being fired from the department. In comparison to the charges racked up by the Oath Keepers crew, the counts against Robertson and Fracker seem minor. They engaged in “disruptive behavior,” and photographed themselves in front of a statue of the Revolutionary War hero John Starks as Fracker raises his middle finger.
But Robertson was later found to have a dangerous sideline: bomb-making and gun-hoarding.
At the time he was initially charged, the judge forbade Robertson from keeping guns in his living quarters and from acquiring more. Undeterred, Robertson went ahead and ordered eight guns. This again landed him before the judge, who gave him a warning and sent him home. Robertson responded by ordering another 34 guns online. That got the FBI’s attention, so they got a search warrant for Robertson’s home and outbuilding and on June 29 found a partially assembled pipe bomb, as well as the explosive powder required to make it detonate. The box occupied by the almost-ready-to-go bomb was labeled “Booby Trap.” They also found piles of ammunition, and a loaded M4 Carbine rifle. Robertson told them he had not yet picked up the nearly three dozen guns he ordered from Gunbrokers.com.
On June 30, federal prosecutors filed a motion asking the judge to issue an arrest warrant for Robertson for violating the terms of his release a second time. They also asked that his bond be revoked. At press time, the judge had not ruled on the motion.
Robertson was employed by the Rocky Mount police department for a total of 16 years, beginning in 2001, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In 2010 he deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as a member of the Army Reserve, and returned to his policing job in Rocky Mount in 2014.
A sergeant on the police force, Roberston supervised Fracker, who had been with the department all of 18 months at the time of the duo’s arrests on Jan. 12. When the photograph of the two appeared on social media, Rocky Mount salon owner and Black Lives Matter activist Bridgette Craigshead flagged it for authorities. After an investigation by the police department of Fracker’s and Robertson’s participation in the insurrection, the two were fired on Jan. 26.
A town meeting following the firings of Fracker and Robertson turned into a contest between Black Lives Matters activists, and others—some wearing insignia of the anti-government Three Percenters militia—who supported the officers, believing they had “done nothing wrong,” as Robertson claimed. The sergeant said the Capitol Police had escorted him and his subordinate into the Capitol, telling them where they could and couldn’t go.
Now that we know of Robertson’s arsenal and explosives stash, it’s chilling to think that a police officer with 16 years on the force has been building bombs and accumulating deadly weapons in his spare time. And it’s hard not to wonder if there are more like him hiding in their sheds.
On Jan. 6, in the early morning before the insurrection, pipe bombs were planted at both the Democratic and Republican National Headquarters on Capitol Hill. They were found and defused before they were timed to go off. The person who planted the bombs remains at large.
The Big-City Cop and His Local Union
In society at large, labor unions overall constitute a force for good, protecting workers from exploitation. But with police forces throughout the country inculcated in the us-versus-them mentality, especially with regard to the Black communities they police, some local police unions have evolved into a legal protection force for bad cops. And in cities as large as Chicago and Philadelphia, we find friendly relations between the local chapters of the Fraternal Order of Police and such extremist groups as the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters.
In the hours following the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6, John Catanzara, president of FOP Lodge 7 in Chicago, dismissed the outcry over the assault. “There was no arson, there was no burning of anything, there was no looting, there was very little destruction of property,” Catanzara told WBEZ, the Chicago Public Radio station. “It was a bunch of pissed-off people that feel an election was stolen, somehow, some way.
“This is not some mass insurrection, coup attempt,” he continued. “They’re not destroying or burning down the fricking Capitol building. This hyperbole and this emotion that the media is spewing now, like this is some kind of end-of-times scenario, is ridiculous.”
At FOP’s national headquarters, the national union president, Patrick Yoes disavowed Catanzara’s remarks, saying that they do not represent the union.
After experiencing this and other backlash, Catanzara walked back his defense of the insurrectionists, yet seems to have done so grudgingly. In a Feb. 2 interview with John Williams at WGN radio, after allowing that those who breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 “should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Catanzara launched into white grievance mode, saying:
Well, I can tell you, I’ve received overwhelming support—sure, there’s been a couple people that said “tone it down,” or even a handful of others who are sensitive to the racial overtones that always get thrown around in this city, specifically. And I just refuse to be called a racist I, I know who I am or what I stand for. And when you’re dealing with politicians in this city, who the only cards they have in their poker hand are the race card. it’s unavoidable … I’m not going to go cower down in the corner; I know that someone’s going to keep saying I’m racist to you.
At the time that interview occurred, Catanzara was facing possible firing by the Chicago police board from his police department position for a 2017 Facebook post calling for violence against Muslims, as well as for firing a false report against Eddie Johnson, the former police chief. On Feb. 1, nearly 80 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, called for his ouster in an open letter.
But the problem with Chicago’s FOP lodge goes beyond Catanzara. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, a 2019 rally organized by the union, drew members of the far-right white supremacist groups American Identity Movement and American Guard, as well as the “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys to join in the union’s protest of Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx’s decision to drop charges against Jussie Smollett, the actor who falsely claimed to have been the victim of a racist attack. (Both Foxx and Smollet are Black.) Whether or not members of the far-right groups were invited by union leaders, the relevant fact is the attraction these groups felt to this police union event. White supremacist groups are always actively recruiting; it would not be surprising if their members saw a rich recruiting environment at the union rally.
Among those officers represented by the FOP lodge led by Catanzara was Officer Karol Chwiesiuk of the Chicago Police Department. While on medical leave, Chwiesiuk made his way to Washington, D.C., starting on Jan. 4 and arriving on Jan. 5. That evening, according to the criminal complaint made against him by federal prosecutors, Chwiesiuk left his downtown hotel to make a look-see visit to the vicinity of the U.S. Capitol, which was cordoned off with security barriers. According to cell-phone data obtained by the government, he also appeared to take a close look at the exterior of the Longworth House Office Building.
After joining in the siege of the Capitol the next day, Chwiesiuk took a selfie from inside the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley, which had been ransacked by a group of insurrectionists.
During a chat with a friend back home while inside the Capitol, Chwiesiuk, who has since been “relieved of his police powers,” used the N-word and claimed to have “fucked up a commie” the night before, according to the criminal complaint.
Local coverage of Chwiesiuk’s June 10 arrest by federal authorities for his actions on Jan. 6 revealed that his attorney on the case is Tim Grace, the same attorney used by the FOP Lodge 7. Right Wing Watch left a voicemail at the lodge’s phone number, requesting comment on the Chwiesiuk case, and sent an email directly to Chicago police union President Catanzara asking if the FOB is paying for Chwiesiuk’s defense against the federal government. At press time, we had received no response.
In Philadelphia, friendly relationships were shown to exist between members of the local FOP lodge and Proud Boys, including one incident in 2019 when Proud Boys bearing a flag with their logo turned up at a “Back the Blue” demonstration outside FOP Lodge 5 during a visit by then-Vice President Mike Pence to the lodge, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and were invited to a private after-party at the lodge. In another, men armed with a baseball bat, a wrench and metal pipes menaced Black Lives Matters protesters who were peacefully walking through the mostly white Fishtown neighborhood while cops stood by, allowing confrontations to take place.
Right Wing Watch contacted for comment the local police unions affiliated with the police departments that either employ or employed one or more of the 15 law enforcement offers known to have been charged by federal prosecutors for their part in the storming of the Capitol and attempts to stop the certification of Electoral Votes that was then taking place. Other than one lodge that replied to tell us they never had a member by the name we sought, all others failed to respond, except for the New York City Policemen’s Benevolent Association. When our investigative reporter called seeking comment on the arrests of two of its members in the events of Jan. 6, the person who answered the phone simply said, “No comment,” and ended the call.
The ethos of authoritarianism pervades police culture, inviting an us-versus-them view of the communities they police. Add to that the historically racist roots of U.S. policing, and the obvious threat to democracy posed by bigots with police powers and knowledge.
In its report, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement,” the Brennan Center for Justice notes:
Since 2000, law enforcement officials with alleged connections to white supremacist groups or far-right militant activities have been exposed in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and elsewhere. Research organizations have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in racist, nativist, and sexist social media activity, which demonstrates that overt bias is far too common. These officers’ racist activities are often known within their departments, but only result in disciplinary action or termination if they trigger public scandals.
The creation of a newly appointed House select committee to investigate the events of the Jan. 6 insurrection and those that led up to them provides a new opportunity to explore the infiltration of police departments by far-right extremist groups, and the culture of racial authoritarianism that exists in too many of them. It is unlikely that anything short of true police reform—a rethinking of the very structure and culture of police departments—will root them out.