Why the Russian Obsession at State?

The U.S. State Department has just designated an obscure Russian nationalist group known as the Russian Imperial Movement as a terrorist organization. This same bureaucracy has stubbornly refused to so designate the granddaddy of international jihad—the Muslim Brotherhood—despite repeated congressional pressure.

Those not familiar with the Russian Imperial Movement will be forgiven their ignorance, since the group is a small Russian ultranationalist organization founded by former Russian soldier Denis Gariev that, according to a 2017 write up in the Washington Post, teaches bored Russian white-collar workers to rappel down buildings and shoot AK-47s. The Post notes:

The “cadets” listening to Gariev were largely white-collar and self-employed workers from cities across Russia, men motivated less by an ideology than by the siege mentality that has surged here since the wars in Ukraine and Syria and a conviction that the modern Russian man should be combat-ready. They signed up to train for 12 hours a day or more in a week-long, military-style course that promises to increase one’s chances of survival “in case of a war or total collapse of modern society.”

The group caused a brief stir in August 2017 after Swedish prosecutors noted that three Swedish neo-Nazis had attended the Movement’s training program and later blew up a refugee center, although the perpetrators said they only attended the course “for fun.” The Daily Beast noted that, already, the Russian group’s influence was “dwindling.”

In September of the same year, the left-wing Think Progress noted ties between the RIM and Matthew Heimbach, one of several fringe organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. According to Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon, FBI sources said the group had offered various American white supremacist organizations linked to the rally “training.” RIM continued to insist that its “course” was available to all.

By April 2018, Think Progress reported that Russian efforts to impact the American far-right appeared to have “backfired.” Meanwhile, Heimbach was arrested after a domestic violence incident while reportedly having an affair with his mother-in-law.

Despite the fact that RIM was “dwindling” and Russian efforts had “backfired,” left-leaning “terror experts” were continuing to cite the group as a significant threat. Those invoking the specter of Russian terrorism included Michael Carpenter of the Biden Center for Global Diplomacy and Engagement, Ali Soufan, the Qatari-funded former FBI agent who testified about RIM before Congress, and the Soros-funded Just Security blog, which referenced RIM while attacking both the president and presidential advisor Stephen Miller for “white supremacy.” These critics have all restated the same basic case against RIM, without providing any additional examples of ties to terrorism.

Contrast the swift bureaucratic action against RIM with the unwillingness to designate a far more dangerous, better organized, subversive network with documented ties to international terrorism that has claimed thousands of innocent lives.

That network is the Muslim Brotherhood.  Many of the president’s supporters and foreign allies have repeatedly urged a terrorism designation for the Muslim Brotherhood, as it is a far more extensive and serious threat than any entity on the State Department list.

The Brotherhood and its members have spawned multiple terror groups over the years including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, the Hasm Movement, and Liwa al-Thawra, and they play a dominant role in both financing and recruiting for jihadist terror.

Yet despite multiple reports in the past several years that the Trump Administration was preparing a terrorist designation for the group, the United States still permits the Muslim Brotherhood, its operatives, and its front organizations to operate freely.

In fact, many of the reasons given for why action on the Russian Imperial Movement was necessary have been used as excuses for not designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist group. These include that the designation could impact foreign political parties that participate in elections (RIM reportedly has forged ties with the ultranationalist Rodina party) and that the designation could impact U.S. persons engaged in otherwise lawful—if odious—political activities.

Designating a foreign terrorist organization under the law requires only a few basic requirements that are not difficult to prove if they exist. These include being a foreign organization, evidence of engaging terrorist activity as defined by statute, and representing a threat to U.S. national security broadly defined. Designations under Executive Order 13224 are simpler to effect but require essentially the same criteria.

Yet the State Department repeatedly has shown a curious intransigence regarding designating rather obvious terrorist threats. Under Hillary Clinton, the State Department repeatedly refused to designate the terror group Boko Haram until action by the U.S. Congress forced its hand. The State Department never designated the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist organization despite nearly two decades of war.

It is possible classified intelligence exists which justifies the RIM designation beyond the rather flimsy information publicly available. The State Department should be called upon to explain the designation in clear terms. Certainly the United States need not tolerate foreign support for political extremists in the country, regardless of ideology, even if the terrorism designation may be a questionable policy tool for a response.

But in designating the Russian Imperial Movement without designating the Muslim Brotherhood, the U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy has brushed aside all the objections raised over the years for blocking designation of the foreign-based Islamist terrorist support network. President Trump needs to reassert his priorities and demand that the State Department immediately act against the threat of radical Islam by designating the Muslim Brotherhood. Otherwise, it may appear that the nation’s “national security” apparatus is serving its own agenda.

About Kyle Shideler

Kyle Shideler is the Senior Analyst for Homeland Security and Counterterroism at the Center for Security Policy. You can follow him at @ShidelerK on Twitter.

Photo: -/AFP via Getty Images

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