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JAMIL RAGLAND

On Sept. 30, President Trump was asked to denounce the Proud Boys in a nationally televised debate. He declined, instead stating that the Proud Boys should, “stand back and stand by.” The group was elated by his response, and within hours had emblazoned their propaganda machine with the phrase.

Let’s be explicit: the Proud Boys organization is a violent, white supremacist group. The FBI has called it “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has also categorized the Proud Boys as a hate group. The United States has a long, dark history with white supremacist violence and hate groups, but what should be especially alarming to us is that a former member of the Proud Boys was found in local Connecticut police.

On Oct. 15, 2019, the Associated Press reported that Officer Kevin P. Wilcox of the East Hampton Police had been a dues-paying member of the Proud Boys. After an investigation, Chief of Police Dennis Woessner concluded that Wilcox’s previous membership in, again, an FBI-designated extremist group, did not violate department policies. Officer Wilcox was allowed to retire from the department a week later, two months before he was apparently scheduled to retire anyway.

This incident was included in a recent report from the Brennan Center. Titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement,” the report shows that Officer Wilcox’s involvement with the Proud Boys is part of a national trend of white supremacist infiltration of local police. According to the report, the FBI has been issuing warnings for years about white supremacists attempting to infiltrate local law enforcement agencies. The problem is so well known that it even crossed into mainstream culture in the well-known Rage Against the Machine song “Killing in the Name Of.” This is not a new phenomenon and represents a systematic approach being executed by violent, white supremacist elements.

That story should have sent shockwaves throughout the state. Not only was a police officer a dues-paying member of an extremist group, but the department he worked for had no issue with his membership. Chief Woessner and the East Hampton Police gave tacit permission for their officers to be in extremist groups. A Connecticut police department was now part of a disturbing national trend.

Unfortunately, Chief Woessner is not alone in failing to explicitly condemn extremism. Connecticut recently passed a police reform bill. One provision of the bill states that officers can be fired for “conduct undermining public confidence in law enforcement, including (1) discriminatory conduct, (2) falsifying reports, or (3) racial profiling in violation of state law.” Membership in a violent extremist group is missing from this list.

We need police and government leaders to act immediately on this matter, and explicitly forbid membership in extremist organizations. A clear first step that local police departments can take unilaterally is to ban and discourage membership in the Proud Boys and other extremist organizations. The state legislature and the governor can strengthen these local efforts by passing a statewide ban on membership in those groups for police officers and other public employees.

We also need to know whether there are more local police officers in Connecticut who are members of extremist organizations. Local and state government must commit the time and resources to aggressively investigate and identify any police officers who are members of extremist groups. Finally, once identified, these officers must be removed from service.

There is a clear and present danger from right-wing extremism, now more than ever that these groups have been activated by President Trump. Officer Wilcox is proof that there was at least one Proud Boy carrying a badge and a gun in Connecticut. We need to know if there are more.

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.

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