In Delaware County, it is not uncommon to see the Thin Blue Line posted on various businesses, cars, and donned as apparel to display support for law enforcement.
Originally depicted as a navy blue bar positioned horizontally at the center of a black background, symbolizing police as the barrier between civility and chaos, the Thin Blue Line has long been a silent display of solidarity among police officers across the nation.
In 2014, Michigan-based Thin Blue Line USA, a company that raises money for families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty from Thin Blue Line apparel proceeds, created the Thin Blue Line flag- a subdued version of Old Glory with a blue stripe streaming across the center.
However, seen from pictures taken in the wake of the Unite the Right rallies that took place three weeks ago in Charlottesville, VA, amidst the sea of flags representing various hate groups such as Identity Evropa, Sonnenrad, the National Socialist Movement, the Confederate flag and many others, the Thin Blue Line flag also made frequent appearances.
Has the venerable support for law enforcement been hijacked by self-proclaimed white supremacists and become a symbol of hate and racism?
The Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association did not respond to multiple calls seeking comment and the Delaware County Police Chiefs Association’s listed phone numbers appear to be out of service. The association’s president, Aston Township Police Chief Dan Ruggieri, also did not respond to multiple calls to the department.
In a telephone interview with The Spirit, Thin Blue Line USA President Andrew Jacob publicly denounced the flag’s racist re-appropriation.
“There’s no association of this flag with bigotry, racism and hatred. That’s not what it stands for,” Jacob said. “We’ve definitely been rejecting any association of this flag with those groups.”
Chester Police Commissioner Otis Blair, who is African-American and the highest ranking police officer in the county, said, “I hope when people see the Thin Blue Line symbol, they don’t associate it with white supremacy.”
Retired Chester Police Commissioner Joe Bail, who remains active in the law enforcement community and also displays the Thin Blue Line, called the alt-right’s use of it “a disgrace” and said, “The fact that they wear it, tarnishes the image.”
An image, that Blair said is for “law enforcement across the nation, it’s a symbol of a bond we have as officers even though we may not (always) agree with each other.”
With the potential continued abuse of the Thin Blue Line and the tarnishing of its representation by far-right white supremacists, will the law enforcement community and its supporters be forced to abandon the symbol?
One law enforcement official in the county, who wishes to remain unidentified, said the link between law enforcement and white supremacy already exists.
“History reveals that law enforcement and white supremacy have sometimes been quiet bedfellows,” the source said. “It’s a well-kept secret and very few officers will actually admit it.”
In April 2015, a classified Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) Counterterrorism Policy Guide that was leaked to an online news publication, The Intercept, noted, “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.”
This is the second known report since the release of an October 2006 report titled, White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement, a mostly redacted seven page assessment revealing that white supremacists overwhelmingly gained access into law enforcement agencies by becoming police officers.
The 2006 report states that white supremacist groups “…have historically engaged in strategic efforts to infiltrate and recruit from law enforcement communities…” Before some additional information was redacted, further in the report it reads, “White supremacist leaders and groups have historically shown an interest in infiltrating law enforcement communities or recruiting law enforcement personnel” and that “…white supremacist leadership has also engaged in recent rhetoric that encourages followers to infiltrate law enforcement communities.”
The strategies hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis utilized to gain access to law enforcement agencies, according to the FBI, was through “ghost skins” or members assuming seemingly harmless characteristics to blend in with society to covertly disseminate their propaganda.
The FBI reports that consequences of the successful infiltrations can “lead to investigative breaches and can jeopardize the safety of law enforcement sources and personnel.” It also affords white supremacists opportunities to gain access to “restricted areas vulnerable to sabotage and to elected officials and protected persons, whom they see as potential targets for violence…”
For law enforcement agencies across the nation and even the county, Blair said the possibility of white supremacists serving as police officers “can’t be stopped,” but added, “Once you identify those views, a course of action needs to be taken to remove them.”
The course of action, described by Blair, can be a tedious process, according to the anonymous law enforcement insider.
“It would be very hard to fire a person affiliated with one of those groups,” the source said. “If they are not bringing those ideologies on the job, then topically, it’s not a problem. If they are abusing citizens or displaying their association with those groups at work, then it’s grounds for termination.”
In addition to the infiltration of law enforcement agencies by racist hate groups, the FBI warns that law enforcement personnel also stand as potential targets. The reality of these dangers were reported by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which documented murders done by domestic extremists, which also include white supremacists.
In the past 10 years, the ADL reports that extremists have killed “no fewer than 28 police officers.”
In 2015, 52 domestic-extremist killings and murders committed by white supremacists accounted for 38 percent of all killings, just one percent more than domestic-Islamic extremists at 37 percent. However, from 2006 to 2015, white supremacists committed 70 percent of the total 295 killings, while Islamic extremists committed 13 percent.
As for police murders, specifically committed by white supremacists, the latest documented murder was in 2015, when rookie Wisconsin state trooper Trevor Casper, 21, was shot by fugitive bank robber and white supremacist Steven Snyder, according to the ADL.
Recently, there have been public demands for authorities to hold Unite the Right protesters accountable for the deaths of two Virginia state troopers who perished in a helicopter crash while monitoring the rally.
As for doing away with the Thin Blue Line, Jacob, Blair and Bail each said they will remain steadfast in protecting the symbol from hatred and urged supporters to do the same.
“In order to do that, we have to show the true meaning to the public,” Jacob said, adding that the Thin Blue Line embodies more than “just a flag.”
Blair said the symbol is not one that represents “us against the community,” but instead, the commissioner said, “It’s a symbol that (law enforcement has) to stay focused on protecting communities, even when they may not want us there.”
And for white supremacists that show their support for law enforcement, the sentiments are hardly reciprocated, warned Bail, who said, “These people are not supported by law enforcement.”