The United States is expected to designate a white supremacist group based in Russia as a terrorist organization, making it the first white supremacist group to receive the label, according to officials, The New York Times reported on Monday.
Global terrorist designations have generally been used for Islamist extremists, but US officials are now concerned with violent white supremacists with transnational links. In 2018, the White House added the threat to the government's National Strategy for Counterterrorism.
"This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacists as terrorists, and this illustrates how seriously this administration takes the white supremacist terrorist threat. We are doing things no previous administration has done to counter this threat," said Nathan A. Sales, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, according to the Times.
The terrorist designation of the Russian Imperial Movement, the white supremacist organization in question, would allow the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control to block any American property or assets belonging to the group. The designation would also bar Americans from financial dealings with the organization and make it easier to ban members from entering the US.
Three of the group's leaders – Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov – will also be designated as individual terrorists and face similar sanctions.
The group operated two facilities in St. Petersburg, Russia offering paramilitary training to neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
National security officials have been looking for a neo-Nazi-style group that could be designated as a foreign terrorist organization since the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last year, according to the Times.
The search was difficult because designating a group with significant American ties could raise First Amendment issues. It is unclear if the Russian Imperial Movement has provided training for US-based neo-Nazis.
The FBI and local authorities have made a wave of arrests in the fight against domestic terrorism, including violent white nationalists, in recent months.
The neo-Nazi groups The Base and the Atomwaffen Division have been the targets of the arrests. The FBI is investigating whether the leader of The Base, who lives in St. Petersburg, has ties to the Russian government's security or intelligence services, according to the Times.
Amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak in the US, Deputy Attorney-General Jeffrey Rosen warned officials in a Justice Department memo that they may encounter threats against individuals or the general public or even purposeful infection of others with the coronavirus and that such threats and actions may be considered terrorism.
ABC News recently obtained a FBI report stating that white supremacist groups across the United States are promoting their members to spread the coronavirus to members of the Jewish community as well as police officers.