Skip to main content

“Cops and the Klan”: Police Disavowal of Risk and Minimization of Threat from the Far-Right


Critical scholars argue that contemporary policing practices reproduce colonial logics through the maintenance of racial and economic inequality. In this article, I extend the framing of policing as a colonial project grounded in white supremacy to an analysis of police responses to white power mobilization during a heightened period of activity and violence (2015–2017). Borrowing from Perry and Scrivens (2018), I identify the two most common police responses—“disavowal of risk” and “minimization of threat”—in the official investigations into the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. Based on an analysis of newspaper reports from across the United States during the two-year period since then, I found that local and federal law enforcement consistently trivialized the presence of white power groups in the community, elevated the potential threat from protestors, concentrated intelligence efforts on activists, and provided differential protection to white supremacists.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    I avoid the term “white nationalist” due to its overuse (and misuse) in media. “White nationalism” emphasizes a country’s white racial identify, thereby limiting the public’s understanding of white supremacy as a global political project.

  2. 2.

    Many historians and writers on race in the US prefer to use the word “enslaved,” instead of “slave,” in order to show the humanity of the individuals who were disenfranchised, rather than their characteristics (as chattel)—much the way that “person with a disability” might be preferred to “disabled person” (see, e.g., Zorn 2019; see also The New York Times1619 Project ( As such, I employ the term “enslaved” throughout this article.

  3. 3.

    The racialization of labor categories into Black/White binaries was not an artifact of the South, but part and parcel of the “divide and conquer” strategies of colonization.

  4. 4.

    Both the “Governor’s Task Force report” ( and the report from investigator Timothy J. Heaphy, a former United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia (, are open access records.

  5. 5.

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has identified VRAs as a terrorist tactic, even though they have not referred to this incident as such. Along with Heather Heyer, two VSP officers also died in a helicopter accident while providing aerial coverage of the rally.


  1. Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: The New Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Allen, T. (1997). The invention of the white race (Vol. 2). London: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Anti-Defamation League (ADL). (2018). ADL report: White supremacist murders more than doubled in 2017. Retrieved January 18, 2019, from

  4. Associated Press. (2015). Vermont prosecutor, police to talk of KKK recruitment fliers. AP regional state reportVermont. November 12. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from

  5. Belew, K. (2018). Bring the war home: The white power movement and paramilitary America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bernstein, M. (2019). Lieutenant removed from rapid response team as portland police investigate his texts with Patriot Prayer’s Joey Gibson. February 15. The Oregon Live. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from

  7. Billings, W. M. (1991). The law of servants and slaves in the seventeenth century. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 99(1), 45–62.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Blackmon, D. A. (2008). Slavery by another name: The re-enslavement of Black Americans from the civil war to World War II. New York: Anchor Books.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Branwell, L. (2015). UPDATE: police arrest 5 Madison teenagers. April 15. Retrieved January 17, 2020, from–291962761.html.

  10. Brisman, A. (2016). Geometries of crime: How young people perceive crime and justice. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Brogan, B. (2017). KKK recruitment fliers in Maine House speaker’s neighborhood, state capital. Bangor Daily News (ME). January 30. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from

  12. Brogden, M. (1987). The emergence of the police—the colonial dimension. The British Journal of Criminology, 27(1), 4–14.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Browne, S. (2015). Dark Matters: On the surveillance of blackness. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Brucato, B. (2014). Fabricating the color line in a white democracy: From slave catchers to petty sovereigns. Theoria, 61(141), 30–54.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Butler, J. (2004). Precarious life: the powers of mourning and violence. New York: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Campbell, A. (2019). Virginia cop identified as part of white nationalist group. The Huffington Post. March 19. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from

  17. Carless, W., & Corey, M. (2019). To protect and slur: Inside hate groups on Facebook, police officers trade racist memes, conspiracy theories and Islamophobia. Reveal-Center for Investigative Reporting. June 19. Retrieved August 1, 2019, from

  18. Cei, L. (1975). Law enforcement in Richmond: A history of police-community relations, 17371974. Ph.D. dissertation, Tallahassee, Florida: Florida State University.

  19. Center for Research on Criminal Justice. (1977). The iron fist and the velvet glove: An analysis of the U.S. police (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Center for Research on Criminal Justice.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Chermak, S., Freilich, J., & Shemtob, Z. (2010). Law enforcement training and the domestic far-right. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 36(12), 1305–1322.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Correia, D., & Wall, T. (2018). Police: A field guide. London: Verso Books.

    Google Scholar 

  22. de Lint, W., & Hall, A. (2009). Intelligent control: Developments in public order policing in Canada. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Donner, F. (1990). Protectors of privilege: Red squads and police repression in urban America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. FBI Counterterrorism Division. (2006). White supremacist infiltration of law enforcement. Federal Bureau of Investigation Intelligence Assessment. October 17. Retrieved November 10, 2019, from

  25. Fiddler, M. (2018). Ghosts of other stories: A synthesis of hauntology, crime and space. Crime Media Culture, 15(3), 463–477.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. For a World without Police. (2016). Retrieved March 1, 2019, from

  27. Glick, B. (1999). War at Home. Boston, MA: War at Home: Covert action against U.S. activists and what we can do about it.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Gottschalk, M. (2016). Caught: The prison state and the lockdown of American politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Hadden, S. E. (2001). Slave Patrols: Law and violence in Virginia and the Carolinas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J., & Roberts, B. (1978). Policing the crisis: Mugging, the state, and law and order. London: Palgrave.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Hoey, D. (2017). Probe into Ku Klux Klan fliers in Lincoln County broadens. Portland Press Herald (ME). August, 18. Retrieved November 10, 2018, from

  32. Horne, G. (2018). The apocalypse of settler colonialism: The roots of slavery, white supremacy, and capitalism in seventeenth-century North America and the Caribbean. New York: Monthly Review Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Howell, A. (2018). “Forget ‘militarization’: race, disability, and the ‘martial politics’ of the police and of the university. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 20(2), 117–136.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Hughes, S., & Sommer, W. (2020). FBI got warrants for ‘Unite the Right’ organizer Jason Kessler, Antifa Activists. The Daily Beast. January 8. Retrieved January 8, 2020, from

  35. Jefferson, T. (1987). Beyond paramilitarism. The British Journal of Criminology, 27(1), 47–53.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Johnson, O. (2017). Raynham cops investigating distribution of Klan papers. Boston Herald (MA). August 25. Retrieved November 10, 2018, from

  37. Kienscherf, M. (2018). Race, class, and persistent coloniality: US policing as liberal pacification. Capital & Class.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Kindy, K., Horwitz, S., & Barrett, D. (2017). Far-right terrorism gets less scrutiny. The Washington Post, September, 3. Retrieved April 9, 2019, from

  39. King, M. (2019). Settler colonialism, race-making criminalization and state violence. Journal of Urban History.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Klippenstein, K. (2019). Leaked FBI documents reveal Bureau’s priorities under Trump. TYT. August 8. Retrieved January 10, 2020, from

  41. Landers, J. (2018). A leaked message board shows what white supremacists think of the police. Rewire News. Retrieved March 10, 2019, from

  42. Levin, S. (2018). Anti-fascists were stabbed at a neo-Nazi rally. Then police tried to charge them. The Guardian. December 5. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from

  43. Levin, S. (2019). Revealed: FBI investigated civil rights group as ‘terrorism’ threat and viewed KKK as victims. The Guardian. February 1. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from

  44. Linnemann, T. (2017). Bad cops and true detectives: The horror of police and the unthinkable world. Theoretical Criminology, 23(3), 355–374.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Longhine, L. (2019). Why are Charlottesville cops still driving this car? C-Ville Weekly. August 07. Retrieved January 12, 2020, from

  46. Loos, K. & Arias, J. (2017). Klan recruiting flyers found in Frederick cause concern. The Frederick News-Post. September 2. Retrieved November 1, 2018, from

  47. Lund, D. E. (2006). Social justice activism in the heartland of hate: Countering extremism in Alberta. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 52(2), 181–194.

    Google Scholar 

  48. McDowell, M. G., & Fernandez, L. A. (2018). ‘Disband, disempower, and disarm’: Amplifying the theory and ractice of police abolition. Critical Criminology: An International Journal, 26(3), 373–391.

    Google Scholar 

  49. McMichael, C. (2017). Pacification and police: A critique of the police militarization thesis. Capital & Class, 41(1), 115–132.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Monchalin, L. (2016). The colonial problem: An indigenous perspective on crime and injustice in Canada. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Murakawa, N. (2014). The first civil right: How liberals built prison America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Neocleous, M. (2014). War power, police power. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  53. O’Boyle, B. (2016). Police concerned by Ku Klux Klan fliers in Wilkes-Barre Township. The Times Leader. September 22. Retrieved November 10, 2018, from

  54. Oshinsky, D. (1997). Worse than slavery: Parchman farm and the ordeal of Jim Crow justice. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Parisot, J. (2019). The real history of imperialism: A comment on recent debates. Review of African Political Economy. Retrieved April 1, 2019, from

  56. Perry, B., & Scrivens, R. (2018). A climate for hate? An exploration of the right-wing extremist landscape in Canada. Critical Criminology: An International Journal, 26(2), 169–187.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Pyrooz, D., & Densley, J. (2017). To deal with antifa, designate it a street gang. The Wall Street Journal. September 17. Retrieved January 18, 2020, from

  58. Pyrooz, D., & Densley, J. (2018). On public protest, violence, and street gangs. Society, 55(3), 229–236.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Rabinowitz, H. (1996). Race relations in the Urban South 1865–1890. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Reiner, R. (2010). The politics of the police (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Reitman, J. (2018). State of Denial. The New York Times Magazine. November 11: 38. Published online as “U.S. law enforcement failed to see threat of white nationalism. Now they don’t know how to stop it” on November 3, 2019. Retrieved March 2, 2019, from

  62. Schiano, C. (2017). Charlottesville’s violence planned over dischord servers. Unicorn Riot. September 5. Retrieved January 12, 2020, from

  63. Sevcik, J. C. (2014). FBI links Deputy Police Chief and officer to KKK in Fruitland Park, Florida. UPI Top News. July 14. Retrieved November 13, 2018, from

  64. Siegel, M. (2018). Violence work: State power and the limits of police. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Simon, S. (2015). Little baggies of bigotry broadcast a hateful message? Paired with candy. Weekend Edition Saturday (NPR). June 27. Retrieved November 27, 2018, from

  66. Spencer, Z., & Perlow, O. N. (2018). Reconceptualizing historic and contemporary violence against African Americans as savage white American terror (SWAT). Journal of African American Studies, 22(2–3), 155–173.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Speri, A. (2019). Fear of a Black homeland: The strange tale of the FBI’s fictional Black identity extremist movement. The Intercept. March 23. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from

  68. Steinmetz, K. F., Schaefer, B. P., & Henderson, H. (2017). Wicked overseers: American policing and colonialism. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 3(1), 68–81.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Stevenson, B. (2015). Lynching in America. Equal Justice initiative report. Retrieved November 10, 2019, from

  70. Stokes, S. (2019). The lynching of Thomas Finch. Reveal-Center for Investigative Reporting. October 26. Retrieved January 10, 2020, from

  71. Sunshine, S. (2018). The big picture: Far-right mobilization in 2017. Political Research Associations. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from

  72. Vaughn, A. T. (1989). The origins debate. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 97(3), 311–354.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Virdee, S. (2019). Racialized capitalism: An account of its contested origins and consolidation. The Sociological Review, 67(1), 3–27.

    Google Scholar 

  74. Vitale, A. (2017). The end of policing. New York: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Von Daacke, K., & Schmidt, A. (2019). UVA and the history of race: When the KKK flourished in Charlottesville. UVA Today. September 25. Retrieved January 10, 2020, from

  76. Williams, K. (2015). Our enemies in blue: Police and power in America. Chico, CA: AK Press.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Wilson, T. B. (1965). The Black codes of the south. Birmingham, AL: University of Alabama Press.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Wilson, J. (2019). Intelligence report appeared to endorse view leftwing protesters were ‘terrorists.’ The Guardian. April 1. Retrieved April 4, 2019, from

  79. Winter, J., & Weinberger, S. (2017). The FBI’s new U.S. terrorist threat: ‘Black identify extremists.’ Foreign Policy. October 6. Retrieved November 11, 2018,

  80. Woodruff, B. (2019). Homeland security disbands domestic terror intelligence unit. The Daily Beast. April 2. Retrieved April 6, 2019, from

  81. Zorne, E. (2019). Column: Language matters: The shift from ‘slave’ to ‘enslaved person’ may be difficult, but it’s important. Chicago Tribune. September 06. Retrieved January 19, 2020, from

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Taimi Castle.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Castle, T. “Cops and the Klan”: Police Disavowal of Risk and Minimization of Threat from the Far-Right. Crit Crim 29, 215–235 (2021).

Download citation