A sergeant with Virginia Capitol Police has been placed on leave after an anti-fascist group said his social media posts referenced symbols used by white-
Sgt. Robert A. Stamm, 36, was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday, according to Joe Macenka, a Capitol Police spokesman. Macenka said an internal investigation was started this week after officials were made aware of social media postings, but he declined to provide details, saying it was a personnel matter.
The suspension of Stamm adds another note of chaos to the uproar engulfing Richmond, where people have gathered around the State Capitol to protest Gov. Ralph Northam (D) after the revelation of a racist photo on his medical-school yearbook page. Stamm was assigned to police those gatherings and was apparently spotted by the anti-fascist group using a bandage to cover a large neck tattoo.
The site Antifascists of the Seven Hills, which describes itself as working to “fight fascists,” published a blog post about Stamm that included photographs it said depicted the officer. The post said several of the images were pulled from Stamm’s social media accounts. Police said the man in the photos is Stamm.
Stamm is in his police uniform in one, and others show him lifting weights. In some photos Stamm is shown with several tattoos, flags and other symbols that the group said are connected with white supremacists and Nazis.
One of Stamm’s tattoos, the site asserts, is a “Wolfsangel” symbol, an image that has been associated with Nazi Germany.
Macenka confirmed that Stamm had been assigned to monitor the protesters outside the governor’s mansion Saturday and Monday. He said the Capitol Police have a policy requiring officers to cover visible tattoos with clothing such as long-sleeved shirts or turtleneck shirts.
Macenka said Stamm usually wore a large bandage to cover up a “rather prominent tattoo on the left side of his neck.”
Stamm is “not alone” in wearing something to cover up tattoos, Macenka said. “I honestly don’t know what the tattoo is of,” he said of Stamm’s tattoo. “I have only ever seen the patch.”
Jeremy A. Best, an assistant professor of history at Iowa State University who has looked at the rise of white nationalism in the United States, said Thursday that a tattoo shown on Stamm’s neck from the Seven Hills site looked “closely” like a Wolfsangel.
The Seven Hills site also posted a photo of Stamm that they said he had overlaid with a symbol associated with the Asatru Folk Assembly. Authorities have said some of the followers of Asatru, a neo-pagan group, are white supremacists.
“Sometimes this stuff can be adhered to in a sort of ignorant kind of way where you subscribe to a generically white identity,” Best said. He said some people may think of it as similar to being part of black-pride or Latino-pride movements.
But Best said “someone who has this much of it is someone who should be questioned about the constellation of ideas he has in these images.”
Attempts to reach Stamm or his family members were unsuccessful. Stamm’s social media accounts had been taken down by Thursday. Stamm changed his name from Robert A. Goward in 2017, Virginia court records show.
Stamm has been with the department since 2004 and was promoted last year to sergeant, according to officials. The Virginia Division of Capitol Police oversees security for elected officials, state employees and other state agencies at the State Capitol.
Carl Raschke, a religion professor at the University of Denver who has looked at white-supremacist groups, said that competing groups often claim that different symbols signify different beliefs. He said some analysis is “fast and loose” in giving labels to what they may mean.
He said some symbols that can be found in “regional identity movements all over Germany and Europe” are a “reaction to neo-liberalism” and can be “painted by the politics of certain groups.”
“It’s hard to draw conclusions just based on symbolism,” Raschke said.
In 2015, two men in the Richmond area were charged with gun conspiracy counts related to targeting synagogues and black churches. In that case, the FBI alleged the men were part of a “white supremacy extremist version of the Asatru faith.”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.