Following incidents of far-right violence, it has become routine for politicians and pundits alike to call for designating white supremacist organizations as “terrorists” under the law. Currently, Change.org hosts 20 petitions calling for the Ku Klux Klan to be labeled a terrorist organization. Collectively these petitions have more than 3.5 million signatures. The impulse toward designation appears on the other side of the aisle as well: On May 31, President Trump announced on Twitter that he would designate antifa, a broad movement of anti-racist and anti-fascist activists, as a terrorist organization.
There is no legal mechanism in the United States for labeling purely domestic organizations as terrorist groups, but mechanisms for designating foreign actors are plentiful. The State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list made headlines last year when the Trump administration listed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the first use of the list against a foreign military entity. Meanwhile, the U.S. recently listed the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) under Executive Order 13224, a designation tool that applies financial sanctions—the first instance of the U.S. government officially labeling a white supremacist organization as “terrorist.”