The Trump administration on Monday designated a Russian white supremacist group as a terrorist organization, calling it the first time the label had been applied to such a racially motivated movement.
The Russian Imperial Movement is an ultra-nationalist group based in St. Petersburg and believed to be responsible for training neo-Nazi militants in Western Europe, recruiting separatists to attack Ukraine and supporting election interference in the United States.
“These designations are unprecedented,” Nathan Sales, assistant secretary of state for counterterrorism, said in a statement he read to a briefing room all but emptied by coronavirus restrictions.
“This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacist terrorists, illustrating how seriously this administration takes the threat,” Sales added. “This group has innocent blood on its hands.”
He cited a string of 2016 bombings in Sweden that targeted immigrants. The attacks were allegedly committed by two Swedes who received 11 days of paramilitary training from the Russian Imperial Movement.
The terrorist designation — a tactic most frequently used for Islamic militant groups — allows the Treasury Department to blacklist the Russian Imperial Movement, seize any assets it has in the U.S., prohibit U.S. citizens from financial transactions with it and possibly bar its members from travel to the United States.
The action taken Monday was authorized under an executive order President Donald Trump signed last year that expanded the power to sanction foreign entities. Trump has been criticized for downplaying the gravity of white nationalist violence in the U.S.
In 2017 he declared there were “good people on both sides” of a neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., that left one counterprotester dead.
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