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The U.S. Department of State Designates an International White Supremacist Group as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) for the First Time

On April 6, 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), a paramilitary and white supremacist group, and several of its leaders as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). This is the first time the United States has applied sanctions to a white supremacist group.

Impact of the Sanctions
The designation is made under Executive Order 13224, as amended by Executive Order 13886, and makes it unlawful for a person in the United States or subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in transactions or services with the RIM or leaders Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valiullovich Gariyev and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov. Their property and interests in property must be blocked where U.S. jurisdiction applies, including entities in which they have an ownership interest of 50 percent or more. The designation also bans members of the group from entering into the United States, and may result in the removal of foreign members of the group from the United States.

Further, the U.S. Secretary of State may apply sanctions to non-U.S. persons determined to have “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial material or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of” RIM or its designated leaders, as well as to a specific act of terrorism. The Secretary of State also may apply sanctions to persons determined to have an certain ownership or control links to parties designated as SDGTs, to be a leader or official of such parties, or to have participated in training related to terrorism provided by the same. Attempt and conspiracy to engage in any of the activities described above also can give rise to sanctions.

Increased Attention to Violent White Supremacist Groups
The U.S. sanctions announcement comes after several years of pressure from interest groups, and follows a trend by U.S. allies to consider treating such groups as terrorist organizations. The U.S. move also aligns with its increasing use of sanctions to target human rights violations.

The United Kingdom first acted against a white supremacist group in 2016, when the UK government designated the “National Action” group to the terrorist list. National Action is described as a “racist neo-Nazi group.” The UK government subsequently banned and listed as a terrorist organization Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD), a neo-Nazi group.

In the summer of 2019, Canada amended the Criminal Code List of Terrorism Entities by designating “Blood and Honour” as a terrorist group. The group is a known international neo-Nazi network.

The U.S. Congress has focused in recent months on policy responses to violent white supremacist groups. On October 16, 2019, New York Rep. Max Rose sent a letter to the State Department, co-signed by 39 members of Congress, questioning why White Supremacist groups and neo-Nazi groups are not being designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), despite fitting the criteria. On January 15, 2020, the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism held a hearing titled “Confronting the Rise in Anti-Semitic Domestic Terrorism.” The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) argued that the State Department should consider designating neo-Nazi groups as FTOs. On February 5, 2020, the Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, told the House Judiciary Committee, “we are particularly focused on domestic terrorism, especially racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.” He added that racial violent extremism is on the same footing as ISIS. On February 26, 2020, the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism held a second hearing on Anti-Semitic Domestic Terrorism.

It will bear watching whether the U.S. designation of RIM will be a first step in broader use of sanctions tools against white supremacist groups operating outside the United States. Generally, sanctions designations are a U.S. foreign policy tool and would not target domestic groups. However, many U.S. domestic groups have international affiliations with white supremacist and neo-Nazi networks, and thus could be indirectly targeted by further U.S. use of SDGT and other sanctions tools.