Photo by Jacky Lam on Unsplash

Three officers were fired this week from the Wilmington, North Carolina police department after dash cam footage revealed horrifically racist conversations between them.

But before we delve into that, let's look at a brief timeline of select white supremacist incidents in police departments across the U.S.—and the FBI warning that came in the middle of them—to add some context to this story.

In 1991, a group of Los Angeles sheriff's deputies were discovered to be part of a "neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang" known as The Vikings—membership that department officials knew about and did nothing to address.

In 1999, an unknown number of officers in three different Cleveland, Ohio police districts were found to have scrawled racist or Nazi graffiti throughout police quarters, including restrooms and locker rooms.

In 2001, two officers in Williamson County, Texas were fired after they were discovered to be members of the Ku Klux Klan.

In 2006, the FBI detailed the specific threat of white supremacists purposefully infiltrating police departments. Though largely (and frustratingly) redacted, an intelligence bulletin describes how white nationalists and skinheads try to blend into police departments by hiding their true beliefs (a practice known as "ghost skinning") with the purpose of disrupting investigations into supremacist groups and recruiting other white supremacists.

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When I found out I was pregnant in October 2018, I had planned to keep the news a secret from family for a little while — but my phone seemed to have other ideas.

Within just a few hours of finding out the news, I was being bombarded with ads for baby gear, baby clothes and diapers on Facebook, Instagram and pretty much any other site I visited — be it my phone or on my computer.

Good thing my family wasn't looking over my shoulder while I was on my phone or my secret would have been ruined.

I'm certainly not alone in feeling like online ads can read your mind.

When I started asking around, it seemed like everyone had their own similar story: Brian Kelleher told me that when he and his wife met, they started getting ads for wedding rings and bridal shops within just a few weeks. Tech blogger Snezhina Piskov told me that she started getting ads for pocket projectors after discussing them in Messenger with her colleagues. Meanwhile Lauren Foley, a writer, told me she started getting ads for Happy Socks after seeing one of their shops when she got off the bus one day.

When online advertising seems to know us this well, it begs the question: are our phones listening to us?

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