“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.

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  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 (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html)). 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” (http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/wvir/documents/task-force-final-report-civil-unrest.pdf) and the report from investigator Timothy J. Heaphy, a former United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia (http://www.charlottesville.org/home/showdocument?id=59691), 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.


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Castle, T. “Cops and the Klan”: Police Disavowal of Risk and Minimization of Threat from the Far-Right. Crit Crim (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-020-09493-6

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