They have taken an oath to serve and protect, but a week after the assault on Capitol Hill, the police and the US military are investigating the participation in the violence of some of their members.
From former soldier Ashli Babbitt, shot dead by a police officer as she forcibly tried to reach the Chamber of Representatives’ hemicycle, to Larry Rendell Brock, a former Air Force officer pictured at Senate dressed in a paramilitary uniform and equipped with links that can serve as handcuffs, not to mention the dozens of reservists and police identified in the images of the assault, all reveal a threat wielded for a long time by the experts: extremism and supremacism white within the American security services.
“We have neglected this threat for ten years. We ignore it, minimize it, we close our eyes, ”Daryl Johnson, a former domestic terrorism expert at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told AFP.
Christian Picciolini, a converted white supremacist who is now working to deradicalize extremists, says he is little surprised to see police officers and ex-soldiers among the perpetrators of the violence.
“White supremacists have long sought to infiltrate and recruit police, military and other emergency services,” he says.
Congressional police too?
Some fear that even the Capitol police, responsible for the security of elected officials, have also been infiltrated. Several of its members have been suspended and a dozen are under investigation after images were published showing them opening doors for extremists or posing for selfies with them.
In 2006, the FBI published a report on the infiltration of law enforcement by white supremacist groups and in 2009, the DHS warned that the military was also undercover, recalls Daryl Johnson.
Both times the warnings were ignored, he regrets.
“When the 2006 report came out, it was right after 9/11 and no one was interested in domestic terrorism,” says Vida Johnson of Georgetown University.
And in 2009, “the government of Barack Obama did not have the political capital to tackle this, especially with a black president,” she adds. “So we are there 11 years later: without concrete measures to eliminate white supremacists from the police and the army.”
For Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which identifies extremist groups, the problem began long before Donald Trump came to the White House, but the Republican president amplified it with his rhetoric.
Mr. Trump’s supporters are predominantly white males, an equally dominant demographic within law enforcement, so it is “no surprise” that the two groups overlap, she notes.
Daryl Johnson remembers contacting a police department in 2017 where more than 100 officers identified themselves on social media as members of the far-right group Oath Keepers.
The answer was that they had the right to free speech, he adds.
Now that the problem is finally attracting attention, specialists are calling for redoubled efforts to tackle it.
Heather Taylor, a former St. Louis detective who is now a spokesperson for the anti-racist group Ethical Society of Police, accuses police unions of playing a counterproductive role by protecting bad police officers at the expense of good ones.
“They are widening the gap between the police and the population,” she adds, suggesting that the country’s police services adopt zero tolerance for racist messages on social media and that police officers accused of such behavior be suspended without salary during any investigation.
At the Pentagon, an independent investigation has been opened into the Defense Department’s efforts to counter the rise of extremism within the US military, which 14 Democratic senators deemed insufficient.