The Omaha Police Department (OPD) in Nebraska plans to trade tens of thousands of dollars' worth of expired helmets and bulletproof gear for roughly $3,000 worth of firearm equipment in a deal with a local tactical shop that has hosted international far-right politicians and an anti-Muslim speaker.
Hatewatch obtained emails surrounding the deal, which the city council tabled on July 18 amid public scrutiny, through a public information request. The emails shed light on OPD’s relationships with far-right business owners who have ties to law enforcement. Nebraska activists tell Hatewatch they fear the swap between OPD and 88 Tactical, a large gun range and store on the outskirts of Omaha where “civilians as well as law enforcement and military personnel” train, is evidence of police willingness to work with organizations that have ties to the far right.
Hatewatch attempted to contact 88 Tactical for comment on this article, but they did not respond. However, 88 Tactical founder and former law enforcement officer Shea Degan released a video after Hatewatch sent the request for comment, saying his business is not racist. Degan decried “bullies” who “hate the First Amendment … the Second Amendment” and “cops.”
OPD and 88 Tactical agreed that police would give 88 Tactical 28 expired ballistic helmets and 28 expired rifle plates – a value of roughly $45,000 if purchased new – in exchange for 120 Coyote AR magazines, 60 Glock 17 magazines and 30 orange Glock magazine base plates, all worth about $3,100.
Melody Vaccaro, executive director of grassroots nonprofit Nebraskans Against Gun Violence (NAGV), told Hatewatch she and other Nebraskans were “immediately concerned” about the trade, given 88 Tactical’s “history of bringing an anti-Muslim speaker” to Nebraska.
Hatewatch first covered 88 Tactical in 2017, when it and the anti-Muslim Global Faith Institute invited anti-Muslim ex-FBI agent and author John Guandolo, who bills himself as a national security consultant, to Nebraska. The Global Faith Institute is an organization that pushes unfounded conspiracy theories about the alleged threat Muslims pose to the U.S. Similarly, Guandolo has authored several books about the supposed threat to America posed by Sharia law and warning of a “Jihadi generation.”
88 Tactical has also hosted former President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr., and Carlos and Eduardo Bolsonaro, the sons of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Both are far-right politicians in Brazil who push anti-leftist conspiracies.
The emails between OPD and 88 Tactical detail the deal’s origin. OPD Lieutenant Jacob Ritonya emailed 88 Tactical founder Degan with details of the swap on May 18, 2022, at 12:40 p.m CDT.
Degan, May 18, 2022, 2:42 p.m. CDT:
I see no reason why wouldn’t do this deal with you guys as it benefits everyone.
As always, I appreciate you thinking of us, brother.
Ritonya, May 18, 2022, 4:14 p.m. CDT:
Thanks so much for the consideration, we appreciate everything 88Tactical has done for OPD SWAT. Have a great night,
OPD spokesperson Lieutenant Neil Bonacci told Hatewatch the emails characterize a “strictly professional” relationship between OPD and 88 Tactical, “similar to many of our relationships with other businesses in our city.”
Bonacci also said he was unaware of any relationship between 88 Tactical and “any far-right or anti-Muslim groups or individuals.” He added, “If we were aware of said relationships, we would not do business with them.” Hatewatch sent Bonacci reports on 88 Tactical working with the Global Faith Institute. Bonacci did not respond by publication time.
NAGV and local activists have also accused Tactical 88 of including Nazi messaging in its branding, something the company adamantly rejects. NAGV called 88 Tactical “a gun business with disturbing Nazi branding” in its press release about the swap. It noted that “88” is a code used by neo-Nazis for “Heil Hitler,” the Nazi salute. (“H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.)
Degan has regularly denied this accusation. Degan says the “88” references the Nebraska police code for “situation secure,” a code familiar to him as a former law enforcement officer and to others in the state.
Vaccaro said, “It’s not a mystery to him that people conclude” that “88” is a Nazi reference, “even if he thinks it’s unfair, and [isn’t a white supremacist reference]. That rings hollow” by how insistent he is on its continued use.
Regardless of Degan’s intentions in selecting the name, Neo-Nazis have noticed the name. In 2012, 88 Tactical offered training courses about “living out of a bunker, learning how to survive and neutralize opposing forces,” which it called the “Aftermath” series. The courses appealed to the conspiracy-laden doomsday prepper movement. Degan appeared on the Discovery Channel’s “Doomsday Bunkers” that year. The episode featured the training.
Neo-Nazis on Stormfront noted in a 2012 thread the “88” and “that everyone he was training was white.” The neo-Nazis later discuss the meaning of “88” in Nebraska police code.
Another screenshot of the inside of 88 Tactical’s shooting range shows an elevation map with the highest point at an elevation of 1488 feet. But according to Peak Bagger, a website that tracks elevations, Omaha’s highest point is around 1,270 feet.
Frequently linked to white supremacy, the numerical combination “1488” combines code for “Heil Hitler” and the 14 Words, a white nationalist saying that extremist David Lane coined. The 14 Words refers to securing a future for white children.
After locals pointed out the number’s use in white supremacist circles, 88 Tactical said on Twitter the map was a stock image and the choice of an outside designer. The gun range said they removed the map once the public brought to their attention the meaning of “1488.” 88 Tactical also denounced white supremacy in the tweet.
Despite the company’s rejection of white supremacy, a former 88 Tactical assistant instructor, whose tenure lasted one year, told Hatewatch he frequently observed racism and white nationalism from the senior instructors at the gun range.
Such views may be pervasive among other partners of 88 Tactical as well. Activists shared with Hatewatch anti-Muslim images that 88 Tactical senior instructor and OPD officer Devin Crinklaw has posted on social media. Crinklaw, who has worked for OPD for 19 years, runs In Extremis Tactical Group, a business that offers firearms and training to civilians and law enforcement in cooperation with 88 Tactical. (The aforementioned former instructor did not know Crinklaw and made no claims about his conduct.)
One of Crinklaw’s posts shows a painting depicting a North African attack on a U.S. ship during the Barbary Wars of 1801-05. The image shows text that reads, “MUSLIMS: Attacking America since 1801.”
Crinklaw also shared an image of a shooting target in the shape of a man in traditional Muslim garb raising a weapon. Crinklaw captioned that post: “Would somebody shoot this guy please.…”
Another post features a photo of an assault rifle leaned against a wall adorned with the Jerusalem Cross. Crinklaw captioned it: “Good Combination. Old Mission, Modern Tools.”
In Extremis’ logo is the Jerusalem Cross, a symbol of Christendom associated with the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which crusaders first established in the 11th century after defeating Muslim rulers in the Levant.
Far-right figures have adopted crusader imagery as part of their self-stylized modern-day war against Islam. Anders Breivik, the far-right Islamophobe who killed 78 people in Norway in 2011, viewed himself as a Christian knight fighting Islam. Breivik wore the Maltese cross, a symbol of the crusader Knights Templar whom the Kingdom of Jerusalem employed in their war with Islamic kingdoms.
Whether Crinklaw is aware of this history is unclear. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Conflict of interest
The emails show OPD Lieutenant Jacob Ritonya first tried to arrange the swap on April 29. Ritonya’s first choice for the trade was Omaha Tactical, an Omaha-based firearms dealer that OPD officer Kenner Hatfield runs.
Bernard in den Bosch, Omaha’s deputy city attorney, said in a May 5 email the trade would run afoul of the city charter, which states no city employee can have a financial interest in contracts. Deputy Chief Scott Gray informed Ritonya:
Gray, May 5, 2022, 11 :43 a.m. CDT:
We will not be able to do a trade with Hatfield because he is a current city employee. You'll have to see if another vendor can offer something. This particular proposal is denied.
Omaha Tactical does business with other companies linked to OPD, including In Extremis.
In Extremis posted on Nov. 27, 2021, that one of their employees participated in a shooting competition using “the In Extremis Tactical Group Combat Carbine proudly built by Kenner Hatfield of Omahatactical.com.”
A Nebraska State Patrol document listed Crinklaw as a concealed handgun permit instructor and gave 88 Tactical’s address in his contact information.
Hatewatch was unable to find statistics on the frequency of such trades between police departments and private businesses.
Though Crinklaw works with 88 Tactical, both in den Bosch and Frank Daley, the executive director of the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, told Hatewatch the agreement would not violate city or state conflict of interest laws.
In den Bosch said if a city employee does not “have an interest that is specifically benefited by the contract then there should not be an issue.”
“There is no question that we do have to rely on the entity with whom we contract to ensure that there is no violation of the City Charter or State Law since we have no way of knowing who has a financial interest. If we become aware that the City Charter or State Law is being violated, we will act to void the contract,” he continued.
Photo illustration by SPLC