A man who was a leading figure in the racist skinhead scene in the late ‘80s—the drummer for a white-power band called Arresting Officers, and an associate of a notorious neo-Nazi terrorist group—is now a key official overseeing counterterrorism for the Department of Justice, charged with coordinating intelligence shared by law enforcement officers throughout the nation, according to a devastating exposé published this week.
Brian P. Haughton, who left the skinhead scene in the mid-1990s and became a Philadelphia police officer before eventually joining the DOJ, is identified in the report by Helen Christophi in The Progressive as currently holding a high-ranking position in the Justice Department’s Regional Information Sharing Systems program (RISS), which gathers and distributes intelligence provided by law enforcement agencies throughout the country, including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. He currently is the law enforcement coordinator for RISS’s Middle Atlantic–Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
Neither Haughton nor the DOJ responded to Christophi’s queries. She notes that there is nothing in Haughton’s record to indicate either that he has misused his position or continues to harbor white-supremacist beliefs.
Nonetheless, the threat to our democracy posed by the infiltration of American law enforcement by right-wing extremists has been staring the nation in the face since the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, when it turned out that dozens of the people who besieged Congress that day had backgrounds as police officers and even some federal agents. It’s become clear that one of the first steps in confronting the wave of far-right extremism that crested Jan. 6 will have to entail rooting them out of our law enforcement apparatus down to the local level.
The likelihood that such extremists have also infiltrated the upper ranks of federal law enforcement agencies responsible for overseeing this response, however, elevates the problem to another dimension altogether—particularly when the person in question is responsible for handling intelligence related to the spread of violent far-right extremism.
Haughton’s participation in the racist skinhead movement, Christophi reports, occurred in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. His Philadelphia-based band, Arresting Officers, favored lyrics about “lone wolves” committing racist murders, and at times urged the infiltration of law-enforcement agencies by white supremacists; its name references the belief among skinheads that police officers tasked with arresting subjects had the greatest opportunities to inflict harm on Black people.
After the band broke up in 1991, Haughton continued to play in other white-power bands, notably one called Break the Sword, with which he performed even after he had joined the Philadelphia Police in 1995.
Among the people that Haughton associated with then were members of the Aryan Republican Army, a neo-Nazi terrorist band responsible for robbing a series of 22 banks in the Midwest between 1994 and 1996. Some of its members were connected to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and witnesses placed them in close proximity to McVeigh in April 1995, just before McVeigh’s truck bomb destroyed the Murrah Federal Building and killed 168 people.
Now in his 50s, Haughton worked for the Philadelphia Police Department from 1995 to 2017, when he left for the DOJ. It’s unclear how a person with his background was able to pass the background check required for a sensitive counterterrorism position with DOJ, but he now has access to a broad range of sensitive intelligence related to white supremacist terrorism.
Reformed skinhead Frank Meeink, now an anti-hate activist, told The Progressive he met Haughton at a skinhead meeting in the late 1980s. “A person like him should never have been able to become a cop. That’s just a fact,” Meeink said.
In addition to the likelihood that extremists who have infiltrated a police agency can enable white supremacists’ criminal acts, the presence of ideologically sympathetic extremists within law enforcement also poses a security threat to any agency dealing with their criminal activities, particularly officers who keep any fascist affiliations secret and work to implement a far-right agenda from within the force.
“Police officers have access to sensitive information,” explains associate Georgetown Law professor Vida Johnson. “For example, they might know if they’re looking into the Proud Boys or the Three Percenters or the Oath Keepers, so they can tip them off. That’s one reason why careers in law enforcement are so appealing to people who hold far-right belief systems. They get this opportunity to not only police people of color, to control their goings and comings and how they live their lives, but also they get this inside information about whether [far-right groups] are in fact being investigated.”
Former FBI agent Michael German of the Brennan Justice Center has been warning about this problem for a long time. His 2020 report, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement,” explained that “only a tiny percentage of law enforcement officials are likely to be active members of white supremacist groups.” However, the evidence of “overt and explicit racism within law enforcement” is also well established:
Since 2000, law enforcement officials with alleged connections to white supremacist groups or far-right militant activities have been exposed in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and elsewhere. Research organizations have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in racist, nativist, and sexist social media activity, which demonstrates that overt bias is far too common. These officers’ racist activities are often known within their departments, but only result in disciplinary action or termination if they trigger public scandals.
German also authored a study that explored why and how the current handling of far-right domestic terrorism by these agencies lies at the root of their inadequate responses to date:
Justice Department policies de-prioritize far-right terrorism as a national security threat, ranking it behind cases it labels “international” terrorism and those directed at domestic protest groups. These policies label a significant portion of the violence committed by far-right militants as “hate crimes” rather than terrorism before any federal evaluation of the incident takes place, and defer the investigation, prosecution, and tracking of these crimes to state and local law enforcement. While state prosecutions may ultimately be determined to be appropriate in many cases, by abandoning the responsibility to examine and account for these crimes the Justice Department blinds itself to the true scope of the threat. This practice also deprives the federal government of an intelligence base necessary to develop an effective strategy to target far-right violence.
It’s impossible to assess what effect Haughton’s presence within the DOJ’s counterterrorism section had on policy, and whether he played any role in the pronounced skew toward identifying the “violent left” as the primary domestic terrorism threat—when in fact far-right terrorism proved itself to be the far more lethal security issue during those years, as well as in those preceding—during the Trump administration. But the Progressive report highlights how deep and broad the problem of extremist infiltration of law enforcement has become.
“It highlights the scope of the problem throughout our society, not just in law enforcement,” German told Christophi. “As we’ve seen, even trying to get an official investigation of the assault on the Capitol, that some members of Congress are resisting that, and don’t want to acknowledge the scope of the problem. They don’t even want to acknowledge it’s a problem. That’s certainly part of why it’s up to the general public to make sure we’re promoting this problem as a priority that needs to be fixed.”
“He might have changed,” Meeink told The Progressive of Haughton, but he is doubtful: “A person like him, I’m sure he still has these beliefs. You don’t join the cops being racist and then get un-racist being a cop.”
Published with permission from Daily Kos.