White “Rioters” & Black “Terrorists”: A Brief History of the DOJ as a White Supremacist Institution

An investigatory dive reveals the disturbingly white supremacist roots of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ku Klux Klan
Members of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan arrive at city hall in Meriden, March 21, 1981, escorted by Meriden police. The Klan was in Meriden to rally in support of local police – © 2015 Associated Press, Photo by Bob Child

February 28th, 2022 marked the beginning of the trial against Guy Reffitt, a white Texas man who participated in the attempted coup of the U.S. government on January 6th, 2021.

Reffitt is part of the white supremacist, extremist, militia movement called the Three Percenters — an entity that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government, and which was responsible for bombing a Minnesota mosque in 2018.

Guy Reffitt “told anyone within ear shot he planned to storm the Capitol that afternoon,” assistant U.S. attorney Risa Berkower said referring to Reffit during the January 6 Insurrection, “He said it over and over again.”

Reffitt was charged with civil disorder, five counts of obstruction, and entering the Capitol grounds with a firearm, and was also denied motions for acquittal and a new trial by the judge. Similar to other trials dealing with the attempted coup on January 6th, 2021, the jury was not convinced that Reffit was innocent.

But considering he participated in an act which fits the U.S. government’s definition of “treason,” as well as his membership in a far right terrorist organization, the public has since continued to (perhaps naively) ask: why was Reffit not charged with domestic terrorism?

Weapons lean on a panel during military-style drills of the III% Georgia Security Force in Flovilla, Ga. in November 2016. The militia calls itself the Georgia Security Forces (GSF). The group is part of the Three Percenters movement. (MOHAMMED ELSHAMY / Getty Images)

Reffitt not being charged with domestic terrorism is even more perplexing given the Biden administration’s announcement earlier this year on January 11th, 2022. Matthew J. Olsen, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, detailed the Biden administration’s plan to create a new Domestic Terrorism Unit. 

Olsen stated, “This group of dedicated attorneys will focus on the domestic terrorism threat, helping to ensure that these cases are handled properly and effectively coordinated across the Department of Justice and across the country.”

The announcement, which took place nearly on the anniversary of the attempted coup, prompted the Biden administration to assure the public that they are doing everything possible to hold the individuals involved accountable. This includes, they say, the creation and implementation of a new domestic terrorism unit to “prevent such an event from taking place again.”

Assistant Attorney General for National Security Division Matthew Olsen, seen from a video monitor, testifies remotely before a Senate Judiciary Committee during a virtual hearing to examine the domestic terrorism threat one year after January 6, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022,” in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

While the administration’s rhetoric purports that the new unit’s purpose is to help fight domestic white supremacist terrorists, many are rightfully skeptical of what the actual use of the new unit will be. 

Domestic terrorism laws in the U.S are (likely intentionally) vague. The FBI states that domestic terrorism is “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” Olsen states that this definition “provides us with expanded authorities, including enhanced sentencing for terrorism offenses.” 

With this definition, it would seem obvious to prosecute those involved in the attempted coup with domestic terrorism charges, yet this is not what has happened. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has been avoidant of persuing any domestic terrorism charges for those involved in the attack on the capitol, stating that prosecutors would rely on the “facts and circumstances of each case.” 

But when security guards and officers were nearly murdered, government property destroyed, and the lives of public officials threatened, what other “facts and circumstances” are needed?

“A man breaks a window as a mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, January 6, 2021.” Leah Millis | Reuters

A better question is: why were white supremacists who attempted to overthrow the government not charged with domestic terrorism, yet protestors acting against police brutality in the 2020 uprisings were?

Anyone who is familiar with United States history is sure to know the answer to that question, but a deeper look reveals just how implicated the Department of Justice itself is with white supremacist domestic terrorism.

In Oklahoma, District Attorney David Prater decided in June of 2020 to charge protesters with domestic terrorism. Those charged included Eric Christopher Ruffin, 26, and Malachai Davis, 18. Davis was charged with domestic terroism for allegedly breaking a window with brass knuckles, while Ruffin was charged with domestic terrorism for “encourging and inciting violence.” 

How did Ruffin encourage and incite violence? He recorded the incident on Facebook live.  

In New York City Urooj Rahman, 31, and Colinford Mattis, 32 were also charged with domestic terrorism. The New York lawyers were charged with allegedly setting fire to NYPD’s 88th precinct with Molotov cocktails. Unlike Ruffin and Davis, Rahman and Mattis are being charged on a federal level, carrying significantly greater potential punishments. Currently, they are each facing 10 years in prison and are set for trial in May. 

In both incidents, major property damage was done, but no person was harmed. Yet Ruffin, Davis, Rahman and Mattis are all facing domestic terrorism charges and the life destroying label of “terrorist.” Meanwhile the white supremacists who attempted to overthrow the U.S. government, destroyed federal property, and attacked police officers and security guards have nothing remotely close to such charges.

This is not the only example of domestic terrorism units being senselessly deployed On April 12th, 2022, while a mass shooter on a NYC Subway station was on the loose, NYPD’s Stragetic Response Group, a counter terror unit, was instead at Tompkins Square Park enforcing an encampent sweep against the homeless.

“While yesterday’s shooter is still at large, the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, a counter terror unit, is at Tompkins Square Park to enforce an encampment sweep.”

At this point it is brazenly clear that there is a double standard regarding who is charged with domestic terrorism and who is not. But the more grave danger of “domestic terrorism enforcement capabilities” goes deeper than hypocrisy. 

The label of “terrorist” or “terrorism” in the United States has never been about ensuring the safety of its citizens. If it was, vast swathes of white people in our country would have been or still would be incarcerated (to be clear I am not advocating for incarceration, simply making a point on principle).

Those who were in the KKK, or the white cops in Kansas City Kansas who have a documented history of sexual exploitation, murder, and other documented crimes that amount to acts of terror would have at the very least lost their jobs. 

The truth is that “terrorist” and “terrorism” are racialized, anti-Black, Islamaphobic categories that Department of Justice weaponizes as a policy and propaganda tool to effectively wage war on Black and brown revolutionary movements.

This can be seen with the FBI’s creation of the relatively nascent domestic terrorism program targeting “Black Identity Extremists” created in 2017. The program, unironically created amidst the Black Lives Matter movement, is eerily similar to the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO program which targeted (through assassinations, propaganda campaigns and more) and worked to dismantle Black liberation movements between 1956 and 1971. 

Black identity extremist likely motivated to target law enforcement, Intelligence Assessment

The “Black Identity Extremism” report was prepared by the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit, which is a part of the bureau’s Counterterrorism Division. The FBI produced the report by surveilling a handful of protests around the country that advocated against police violence. 

Despite finding no obvious connections between any of the protests that were deemed “violent and dangerous,” the FBI quickly manufactured the image of a new Black terrorist archetype that “must be dealt with.” 

Many of the individuals deemed as “terrorists” in the report were local activists, and despite having absolutely zero evidence or probably cause to surveil the individuals, their information was distributed to masses of local and federal law enforcement partners across the country by the FBI. 

With this context and historical understanding, it is no surprise that Black organizers continue to be deeply concerned. 

The Biden administration and Department of Justice cannot be trusted to effectively eradicate white supremacist domestic terrorism because law enforcement agencies are founded in and run by white supremacists themselves. 

Deputy Chief of Fruitland Park police resigned and second officer fired in scandal over links to KKK.
FPPD officer James Elkins, 33, revealed as KKK recruiter and resigned.

Black organizers across the country have continuously been arrested, harassed, brutalized and killed by the U.S government under the guise of “terrorism” while real white terrorists who attempt coups and wear police uniforms roam freely. 

In the age of surveillance, we must be critically aware of how the government will criminalize our every move. 

Black people are seen as criminals, delinquents, and a danger to society, so it’s no suprise that when we fight for the liberation of our people, the government will say we are terrorists. 

Defender News Briefing

America's #1 newsletter for Black politics, culture tech and world news.

Smart, brief, and straight to your inbox

You can unsubscribe at any time. Have a question? Contact us or read our privacy policy for more info.

Donate So We Can Make Our First Hire!

We want to hire a Development Director to help with fundraising so our news outlet can become sustainable. Will you donate to make sure radical Black news is here to stay?

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top