White nationalist, anti-government memes reveal officers' stance

White nationalist, anti-government memes reveal officers' stance

As the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and City Hall scramble to contain the fallout from racist and violent Facebook posts by current and former officers, first revealed from a national database by The Northsider/Southsider on Sunday, a deeper analysis of the 416 St. Louis posts compiled as part of a national study by the Plain View Project from Philadelphia reveals that a group of current and former St. Louis police officers have posted memes and statements associated with white nationalist and anti-government “militia” groups.

The posts are associated with current or former officers in the SLMPD, including one who continued his career in law enforcement after leaving the St. Louis police by working as a sheriff’s deputy in Gasconade County and as police chief of a rural Missouri town. The posts feature pictures, symbols and statements that researchers into right-wing extremist organizations have long associated with white supremacy and various militia movements.

These revelations come as St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards says that all members of the SLMPD will begin “sensitivity training” starting next week as a result of the Facebook posts that contain, racist, bigoted and violent images and statements. The police department also says it has launched an Internal Affairs investigation into the officers involved.

At the same time, the Ethical Society of Police, an African-American police organization, has filed a separate internal police complaint against 13 officers identified by the Plain View Project and revealed by The Northsider/Southsider in a pair of articles Sunday and Monday.

The Plain View Project, founded by Philadelphia attorney Emily Baker-White, analyzed several years’ worth of Facebook posts from 2,900 current and 600 former police officers from eight police departments, including St. Louis, using an algorithm to flag racist, bigoted and violent content.

The relatively low-key response in St. Louis is in marked contrast to the reaction to similar posts by Philadelphia police officers. In addition to an Internal Affairs investigation, Philadelphia’s police commissioner forcefully condemned the posts, and Philadelphia’s district attorney has said all cases involving the Philadelphia officers who posted violent or racist material on Facebook are under review and may be tossed out.

In St. Louis, a deeper analysis of the St. Louis posts highlighted by the Plain View Project reveals that some go beyond individual expressions of racism or bigotry. Posts by several current and former city officers often use symbols or phrases associated by researchers with the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center with organized hate groups trafficking in white supremacy and “militia” preparations for armed conflict.

St. Louis police Officer Michael Niethe, posting under the Facebook name “Mike James,” posted calls for armed uprisings against the government using the logo of the “Three Percenters,” a group described by anti-domestic terrorism researchers at both the ADL and SPLC as part of the violent, anti-government militia movement. 

In October 2016, Neithe posted: “The day is fast approaching when fence-sitting will no longer be possible. You will either stand with the resistance or take a knee and willingly accept the yoke of tyranny and oppression.” Next to it is the Roman numeral III, symbol of the Three Percenters. In November 2016, Neithe posted the “III” as his Facebook profile photo. In June 2015, ten days after white supremacist Dylan Roof murdered nine African-American worshipers at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., Neithe posted a picture of the Confederate flag on his Facebook page.

Current St. Louis officers Steven Landers and Brian Demettis have used the stylized skull logo from “The Punisher” comic book character. According to the ADL, the Punisher skull logo, while popular among police and the military, has been co-opted by several violent white supremacist groups. The logo was seen on the shirts of several white nationalist marchers during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, at which a white nationalist drove over and killed counter-protestor Heather Heyer. Artist Gerry Conway, creator of “The Punisher,” said in an interview criticizing the “alt-right” and its use of the logo in January, “Using the Punisher logo is the same as wearing a Confederate flag patch.”

Tommy Dodson, a former St. Louis police officer, posted memes of the Confederate flag. Dodson went on to become a Gasconade County sheriff’s deputy and, eventually police chief of Bland, Mo., population 529, 75 miles southwest of St. Louis.  Dodson claimed in his post with the Confederate flag: “The red stands for the blood of Christ, the white border for the protection of God…thus, the message of the Confederate battle flag is, Through the blood of Christ, with the protection of God…we are united in our Christian fight for Liberty.”

According to the SPLC, this interpretation of the Confederate flag is widely used by so-called “neo-Confederate” racist groups such as the League of the South and Identity Dixie. Four members of the League of the South were charged in the pipe-and-baseball-bat beating of a black man in a Charlottesville at the 2017 Unite the Right rally.