Capitol Police watchdog flags training contractor’s use of Nazi-adjacent symbols

'That combination is immediately suspect,' says former white supremacist

Capitol Police officers ride motorcycles outside the Capitol in Washington on May 12. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Capitol Police officers ride motorcycles outside the Capitol in Washington on May 12. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 11, 2021 at 6:16pm

Capitol Police spent $90,075 in taxpayer dollars in 2018 and 2019 to train its specialized Containment Emergency Response Team with Northern Red Inc., a company that publicly displays symbols often associated with the white supremacist movement.

Capitol Police Inspector General Michael A. Bolton discovered the symbols as part of his review into the Jan. 6 insurrection and has recommended the department “review the appropriateness of utilizing Northern Red, Inc. for further training,” according to an advisory report shared with acting Chief Yogananda Pittman and other department officials.

CQ Roll Call obtained a copy of that report, which has not been publicly released.

Northern Red’s website and Facebook page prominently display the Devil’s Guard Patch, which stems from a 1971 novel titled “Devil’s Guard,” which has been described as “overly sympathetic to the Nazis, especially the SS.”

Northern Red’s company logo includes a combination of two Nordic runes (symbols) — Othala and Tyr — both of which are listed on the Anti-Defamation League’s website as hate symbols. Another Northern Red logo, Thor’s Hammer, is also listed as a hate symbol.

The Othala rune was adopted in the 20th century by Nazis in Germany to try to reconstruct a mythic Aryan past, according to the ADL. Nazi Germany used the Tyr rune as a symbol for Nazi entities, including a Waffen SS infantry division, and since World War II, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists have used it in a racist context, the ADL website says. The origins of Thor’s Hammer are non-racist, but it has been appropriated by neo-Nazis and other white supremacists, the ADL says.

Chuck Leek, a former neo-Nazi and white supremacist who served in the Navy, said the fact that Northern Red is training law enforcement and using symbols such as the Othala rune throws up a red flag for him.

“If they’re using that kind of symbology and providing that kind of training — that combination is immediately suspect to me,” said Leek, who now works to bring people out of extremism.

A statement from an unnamed Capitol Police spokesperson said the department did not have the facilities for the sort of training with high-powered weapons that Northern Red provided. The last time the department used Northern Red was in 2019 and the department does not plan to train with them or at its facilities in the future, the spokesperson said.

“Acting Chief Pittman believes it is time for a culture change in the law enforcement profession. Diversity and inclusion has been a passion of hers throughout her entire career,” the spokesperson said. “Acting Chief Pittman and all of the USCP leadership team takes extremist ideology seriously and are working on a plan to ensure that kind of cancer does not find its way into this Department. It has no place here.”

The spokesperson did not answer a question about who at the department made the decision to train at Northern Red.

An email seeking comment from Northern Red was not returned.

The company bills itself as a veteran-owned business that offers premier combat training from former military personnel with special operations expertise.

“For those who have hunted armed men training is never the same,” Northern Red states on its site.

Aside from the Capitol Police, the FBI awarded several contracts to Northern Red from 2015 to 2018, according to a review of government contract records. The Army and the Air Force also awarded contracts to the firm in 2016.

The images do not necessarily denote racism or white supremacy and must be judged on the context in which the symbols appear, according to the ADL. Regarding the Othala rune, the ADL warns: “because it is part of the runic alphabet, the symbol can also be found in non-extremist contexts as well, especially runic writing and runestones used by non-racist pagans” and that “care should be taken to evaluate the symbol in the context in which it appears.”

The ADL notes the Tyr rune can be used in a non-racist context: “Because today the Tyr rune continues to be used by non-racists as well, including members of various neo-pagan religions, one should not assume that use of the symbol is racist but instead should judge the symbol carefully in its specific context.”

And the ADL notes that although Thor’s Hammer is widely used by white supremacists, “the fact that it is an important symbol for non-racist Norse pagans means that one should never assume that the Thor’s Hammer appearing by itself necessarily denotes racism or white supremacy.”

Still, the symbols were enough to cause concern for Bolton, the department’s watchdog.

“While some of these logos and slogans could have multiple meanings, their use at Department provided training could lead employees to feel unsafe or uncomfortable,” Bolton said. “Furthermore, USCP participation at training provided by Northern Red, could lead individuals to believe that USCP sanctions the use of these symbols.”

Michael Horowitz, the Department of Justice’s inspector general, is also looking into DOJ’s training history with Northern Red, a source familiar told CQ Roll Call. A spokesperson for the DOJ inspector general’s office said they could neither confirm nor deny an investigation.

The Capitol Police’s ties to Northern Red are not included in the bipartisan Senate report released on June 8 but underscore how much more information could be revealed by further investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Senate Republicans sank the hopes of an independent, bipartisan 9/11-style commission in May and a comprehensive independent accounting of everything surrounding the pro-Trump insurrection appears unlikely at this point.

Bolton issued the Northern Red memo on May 26. Earlier this week, Congress was notified that Chad Thomas, an assistant chief for uniformed operations who oversaw CERT and the Civil Disturbance Unit, was leaving the department. Sources familiar with Thomas’ exit said he was forced to resign.

The House Administration Committee plans to hold a fifth oversight hearing on June 15 to discuss Bolton’s flash report on CERT and the first responders unit, one that Chairperson Zoe Lofgren’s hearing announcement noted “raised such significant and troubling concerns that he separately provided an urgent advisory to Department leadership before the full report was complete.” Also on June 15, the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing to examine the insurrection, and Pittman is listed as an invited witness.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee will hold a Capitol Police oversight hearing on June 16.