Two major busts of white supremacist gangs in less than a week have resulted in more than 80 arrests and the seizure of a rocket launcher.
On Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa, Florida announced the arrest of 39 people affiliated with two major white supremacist gangs. The groups, which are involved in drug-trafficking, were caught with meth, fentanyl, and 110 illegal weapons including pipe bombs and a rocket launcher. On Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Georgia’s southern district announced a bust of 43 members of a different white supremacist gang, the Ghost Face Gangsters, who were caught with meth, a sawed-off rifle, and counterfeit dollars.
The high-profile busts come weeks after several articles highlighted federal agencies’ limited action on white nationalist terror in the wake of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last year. But these gangs, which have large presences in the U.S. prison system, represent a different, less overtly political brand of racist violence than exhibited by many of the white supremacist groups that marched in Charlottesville.
They also had a rocket launcher, feds say.
The Friday bust in Florida turned up powerful guns, pipe bombs, and the military-grade weapon. Cops also recovered meth, fentanyl, and heroin. The drugs are typical for the gangs, which often work in drug-trafficking. The same is true of the Ghost Face Gangsters, a Georgia prison gang.
Feds announced the arrest of 43 Ghost Face Gangsters in “Operation Vanilla Gorilla” on Monday. In addition to drug charges, officials also accused the white supremacist group of possessing counterfeit bills and illegally altered weapons: a sawed-off rifle, and another weapon with an obliterated serial number. Sawing off the end of a long-barreled gun like a rifle allows users to hide it or use it at close range. Destroying a serial number makes the weapon harder to track.
Although all three sets of white supremacist gangs share the same racial animus as groups that organized under the “alt-right” banner, the gangs keep largely out of politics. They’re drug pushers and murderers for hire. The latter, who were most visible at Unite the Right in Charlottesville, have tried to adopt a different tack. More interested in online propaganda, these groups push white nationalist and fascist politics, and sometimes encourage members to present a clean-cut image, in order to make inroads with mainstream Republicans.
But despite their deliberate branding choices -- polo shirts instead of prison tattoos, meme wars instead of meth labs -- this newer white supremacist clique has proved just as deadly. The man accused of massacring 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue last month wasn’t radicalized in prison; he steeped himself in online neo-Nazi culture and posted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories until he allegedly committed mass murder.
Separately on Friday, police in Green Bay, Wisconsin responded to a domestic disturbance call and discovered an underground laboratory full of explosive materials. The lab’s alleged owner has large swastikas and Nazi SS lightning bolts tattooed on his stomach, mug shots from a prior arrest reveal.
A report by the Anti-Defamation League found that 20 out of 34 murders by extremists in the U.S. last year were committed by right-wing extremists.