We’ve known for some time now that the presence of far-right extremists within the ranks of our police forces is a serious problem, one that was amplified by the January 6 insurrection, where a number of officers were participants. Despite that, there’s been little effort among either police authorities themselves or their civic and federal overseers to confront the issue and begin rooting white supremacists out of our policing system.
Of course, when these bigots and their activities are publicly exposed, as with the neo-Nazi Massachusetts officer exposed by HuffPost’s Christopher Mathias last month, there’s an immediate uproar and the affected local authorities scramble to repair the damage. The same dynamic is occurring now in Idaho, where a now-retired Boise police captain was recently exposed as a contributor and speaker for this year’s white nationalist American Renaissance (AR) conference. And it’s going to keep happening.
The Boise cop, Matthew Bryngleson, was exposed by researcher Molly Conger this weekend in a thread that detailed the officer’s real identity leading up to the annual AR gathering in Burns, Tennessee. Using the pseudonym Daniel Vinyard (taken from a racist skinhead character in the film American History X), Bryngelson was a scheduled speaker described as “a retired, race-realist police officer.” The title of his speech: “The Vilification of the Police and What It Means for America.”
AR is one of the longest-running white nationalist operations, founded in the 1990s by Jared Taylor, who specializes in giving an academic veneer to old-fashioned racial bigotry, particularly of the eugenicist variety. One of Taylor’s most durable propaganda campaigns involves blaming Black people for crime in America; among the people influenced by his spurious smears was mass killer Dylann Roof.
That was the topic when Bryngelson and Taylor engaged in an interview that was posted to the AR website in September. Bryngelson told Taylor stories from his career and his interactions with Black people, whom he described as criminals whose crimes “the sound human mind can’t even comprehend … let alone carry them out.” At one point, Bryngelson used a transphobic slur to describe someone.
Taylor asked Bryngelson to describe his experience as a police officer in dealing with nonwhites, and he replied:
Whatever the worst crime of the day is, it’s usually a Black person or a nonwhite. Of course white people do DUIs, they do domestic violence, they steal, but when it’s something where you pause and go, “Holy cow, I can’t believe that happened in this town,” almost always it’s someone who is not from there, and it’s a Black person, almost always without fail.
It’s a script. It’s what happens every single time no matter what the case is. You can catch them just finishing beating someone and during the subsequent resisting of arrest, the fight, we’re called racists. We can catch them in the act and the mere fact that we are catching them is racist. It’s 100% of the time we’re accused of being racist. Especially in this town, obviously, there are so few Black people there, but when we do encounter them, of course it’s going to be white officers because that’s mostly what we have, and when they get arrested they’re going to scream racism every single time.
Under his pseudonym, Bryngelson also authored a couple of pieces for the American Renaissance website. One of them described how he reached a point in his police career when he “became aware of the violent tendencies of Blacks.” Another recounted “microaggressions” from nonwhite and liberal members of the Boise City Council.
He described growing up in southern California before moving to a predominantly white northwest city 22 years before—in fact, following the blueprint of multiple other right-wing officers who have moved to Idaho in the same time period, and becoming a leading component in the state’s far-right radicalization.
“I picked the location because it was mostly white,” he wrote, adding that “the overwhelming majority” of officers who relocated “came to escape Black violence and rear their children in an area where they won’t be subjected to ‘diversity’ in the schools and violence in their neighborhoods.”
Bryngelson had been sworn in as a captain in April 2021 and has been an officer on the force for nearly 24 years. He was one of several officers who filed allegations against former Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee, an Asian American who was recently forced to resign amid allegations of abusive behavior.
Bryngelson also hosted a heavy-metal program weekly on the community FM station, Radio Boise 89.9, early Sunday mornings from 1 AM to 3 AM from 2013 to 2018. He frankly discussed working as a cop during banter on the show.
Mayor Lauren McLean immediately launched an investigation into Bryngelson’s history with the department and whether his views affected the cases he handled, and particularly any convictions he may have been responsible for, as well as how widespread his malign influence was within the department and whether its culture tolerated him knowingly.
“This is no time to consider circling the wagons and I will not tolerate anyone who tries to impede this investigation in any way,” McLean’s statement read, and added a warning to serving officers:
And for those in BPD: if you cannot or will not cooperate fully and honestly, I suggest that now is the time to leave this department. And honestly, the profession. The people of Boise rely on you to protect and serve them. The people of Boise deserve better. Everyone should trust that they will be treated fairly. We can’t expect that one would be able to trust that someone who perpetuates such blatant racism, while serving as an officer, would be able to treat those he reviles so deeply in a fair way. In the way that members of our community—any community—deserve and expect.
Other law enforcement officials also condemned Bryngelson, including former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, the Treasure Valley Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), and Boise’s Police Union.
“Bryngelson’s thoughts, beliefs, and actions are unbecoming of a law enforcement officer of any rank and they are devastating to our membership and our community relationships,” the FOP’s statement said.
In addition to reviewing Bryngelson’s cases, Ada County officials will also need to take a harder look at the circumstances of Lee’s ouster. As the Idaho Statesman editorial board says: “[N]ow because of what we know about Bryngelson’s deplorable views on people who are not white, we can’t help but wonder if the complaints against Lee were tinged by racial bias.”
The deeper problem, however, is that these revelations keep happening, and they will keep happening. That’s because this is a systemic problem related to police culture and training, and it’s a problem within every law enforcement body in the country. Responding to a scandal here and another one there won’t address how deeply this is embedded in law enforcement nationally, and how profound its ramifications are both for how policing is conducted in America and how it affects its relations with an increasingly angry public.
A powerful indicator of how deeply the infection runs within law enforcement culture is how police officials have responded to efforts in Minnesota—where a cop’s murder of a Black Minneapolis man in 2020 set off months of protests nationwide—to ban police officers from being involved in hate, extremist, or white supremacist groups. Police groups have come out in opposition to such bans, they say, because the wording is too vague and they might infringe on people’s First Amendment rights.
Fridley Police Chief Brian Weierke, president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said the rule banning applicants or officers from participating in or supporting white supremacist, hate or extremist groups needs to be more clearly defined so the rule isn’t “weaponized.”
Carver County Sheriff Jason Kamerud said the new rules would hurt recruitment efforts, even as law enforcement nationwide has struggled to recruit and retain officers the past couple of years due to “protests,” the pandemic, and “political rhetoric calling for defunding police.”
Until the nation’s civil authorities—from mayors to governors to senators and presidents—make it a top priority to weed out bigoted extremists from the ranks of our law enforcement bodies, Police Captain Matt Bryngelsons will keep happening. And so will George Floyds.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.