Just one day after two gunman opened fire inside a Jersey City kosher market killing six people including a police officer, New York City announced the quiet creation of a unit that specializes in investigating racial and ethnically motivated extremism.
The New York Police Department formed the Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism or R.E.M.E unit within the department’s intelligence division to hone in on homegrown far right extremism, domestic terrorism and organized hate groups, officials said Wednesday.
“The unit is focused on identifying any trends and any signs of racial and ethnic extremism so it can be acted on before any terror or any bias crime occurs,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference Wednesday. "It will directly take on the hate groups that are trying to spread in this country and that pose a threat to so many communities."
The unit went into operation over the summer and has been diligently working since, said NYPD Deputy Intelligence and Counter-terrorism Commissioner John Miller.
While recruitment is still ongoing the team will round out with about 25 people, including detectives and analysts from several sectors who will use an array of tools, including online monitoring of extremist networks.
“The focus here is hate groups and hate networks,” as opposed to individual people, he said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center identified over 1,000 hate groups operating across the country in 2018.
Miller added that the need for this type of unit became grossly apparent after several back to back shootings took nearly 35 lives over one week this summer in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Between 2009 and 2018, the far right was responsible for 73 percent of domestic extremist-related fatalities, according to a 2019 study by the Anti-Defamation League.
Last year saw the highest percentage of right-wing extremist-related killings since 2012, the organization reported.
De Blasio said while the team has been up and running for several months, the time to announce its creation was appropriate following attacks in neighboring New Jersey.
“What we saw yesterday was a premeditated, violent, anti-Semitic hate crime,” de Blasio said. “In other words, you can say it was an act of terror because it was premeditated because it was violent, because it was directed at the Jewish community.”
One of the two suspects who targeted a kosher grocery store in Jersey City on Tuesday had a social media page containing anti-Jewish and anti-police writings, officials and sources said Wednesday.
Jersey City Police Detective Joseph Seals was fatally shot shortly before officials say the suspects attacked the store, killing several others.
Both suspects were killed during a shootout with police.
"The idea is to have the intelligence, use the analysis and execute prevention," Miller said. "Many of these groups have literally taken a page out of the ISIS handbook."