The State Department on Monday designated an ultranationalist movement based in Russia as a terrorist organization, the first time it has applied that label to a white-supremacist group.
“These designations are unprecedented,” said Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator. “We are taking actions no previous administration has taken to counter this threat.”
The department also named some of the group’s leaders — including Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov — as terrorists, which will prohibit Americans from doing business with the organization and make it difficult for members to travel to the United States.
U.S. officials say the group, which has two training facilities in St. Petersburg, provides paramilitary-style training to neo-Nazis, including hand-to-hand combat and tactical weapons instruction.
“It plays a prominent role in trying to rally like-minded Europeans and Americans into a common front against their perceived enemies,” Sales said.
U.S. officials accused the group of giving paramilitary-style training to a pair of Swedish men in 2016 who later carried out attacks in the city of Gothenburg, including detonating a bomb outside a cafe in the city, bombing a migrant center and planting a bomb, which failed to detonate, at a campsite used to house refugees.
“This group has innocent blood on its hands,” Sales said.
Concern about white-nationalist groups has risen steadily in recent years, hitting an inflection point with the 2019 mass killings at two mosques in New Zealand by an Australian assailant who broadcast his murder of 51 people on the Internet.
The targeting of the Russian group may be used by the Trump administration to push back against criticisms that it has not taken white nationalism seriously, a charge that gained prominence after President Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
“This administration isn’t just talking the talk. We’re walking the walk. We’re taking decisive actions to counter this threat,” Sales said.
Sales, in a phone call with reporters Monday, said he has seen public reports of outreach by the group to Americans but did not have evidence that it has trained any Americans or had the support of the Russian government.
A European intelligence official said the group has cultivated “connections to right-wing extremists all over the world.”
“It is very interesting that the State Department took this step against the Russian Imperial Movement,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “However, we hope that this will also lead to more U.S. government activities against domestic far-right extremists who are also propagating the same kind of ideology and violence and who are in touch with right-wing extremists in Europe.”
Souad Mekhennet contributed to this report.