[Shawn Stuart, Iraq War veteran, at a 2006 neo-Nazi rally in Olympia, WA.]
Two years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center ran a devastating report describing the infiltration of neo-Nazis into the ranks of the American military. The Pentagon's official response was steadfast denial of the problem.
The SPLC's David Holthouse just published a follow-up report, and found, predictably, that the problem is getting worse as the conflict in Iraq drags on:
A new FBI report confirms that white supremacists are infiltrating the military for several reasons. According to the unclassified FBI Intelligence Assessment, "White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel Since 9/11," which was released to law enforcement agencies nationwide: "Sensitive and reliable source reporting indicates supremacist leaders are encouraging followers who lack documented histories of neo-Nazi activity and overt racist insignia such as tattoos to infiltrate the military as 'ghost skins,' in order to recruit and receive training for the benefit of the extremist movement."
The FBI report details more than a dozen investigative findings and criminal cases involving Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as well as active-duty personnel engaging in extremist activity in recent years. For example, in September 2006, the leader of the Celtic Knights, a central Texas splinter faction of the Hammerskins, a national racist skinhead organization, planned to obtain firearms and explosives from an active duty Army soldier in Fort Hood, Texas. That soldier, who served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, was a member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group.
I observed at the time that one of the uglier aspects of the presence of neo-Nazis in Iraq would be the behavior of American soldiers among civilians there:
As Atrios notes, the SPLC report raises immediate questions about the kind of men we're sending over to Iraq. To what extent, really, does the spread of white-supremacist attitudes in the military bring about atrocities like the recent murder of a 14-year-old girl and her family, or the Haditha massacre? It isn't hard to see, after all, attitudes about the disposability of nonwhite races rearing their ugly head in those incidents.
Sure enough, as Holthouse reports:
Earlier this year, the founder of White Military Men identified himself in his New Saxon account as "Lance Corporal Burton" of the 2nd Battalion Fox Company Pit 2097, from Florida, according to a master's thesis by graduate student Matthew Kennard. Under his "About Me" section, Burton writes: "Love to shoot my M16A2 service rifle effectively at the Hachies (Iraqis)," and, "Love to watch things blow up (Hachies House)."
Kennard, who was working on his thesis for Columbia University's Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, also monitored claims of active-duty military service earlier this year on the neo-Nazi online forum Blood & Honour, where "88Soldier88" posted this message on Feb. 18: "I am in the ARMY right now. I work in the Detainee Holding Area [in Iraq]. … I am in this until 2013. I am in the infantry but want to go to SF [Special Forces]. Hopefully the training will prepare me for what I hope is to come."
One of the Blood & Honour members claiming to be an active-duty soldier taking part in combat operations in Iraq identified himself to Kennard as Jacob Berg. He did not disclose his rank or branch of service. "There are actually a lot more 'skinheads,' 'nazis,' white supremacists now [in the military] than there has been in a long time," Berg wrote in an E-mail exchange with Kennard. "Us racists are actually getting into the military a lot now because if we don't every one who already is [in the military] will take pity on killing sand niggers. Yes I have killed women, yes I have killed children and yes I have killed older people. But the biggest reason I'm so proud of my kills is because by killing a brown many white people will live to see a new dawn."
The July 2006 report by the SPLC found this infiltration occurring at an alarming rate. Neo-Nazis "stretch across all branches of service, they are linking up across the branches once they're inside, and they are hard-core," Department of Defense gang detective Scott Barfield told the SPLC. "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," he added. "That's a problem."
The source of the problem, as the report explained, was the extreme pressure military recruiters were under to fill their recruitment quotas. "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces," said Barfield, "and commanders don’t remove them . . . even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members." The military downplayed a neo-Nazi presence in the ranks, Barfield added, "because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they’ll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."
One of the noteworthy aspects of this phenomenon is the increasingly military style of the Far Right in recent years, particularly the militias in the 1990s, who openly recruited veterans and current military members. The two cultures have become increasingly enmeshed, as embodied by Steven Barry's recruitment plan for neo-Nazis considering a military career as a way to sharpen their "warrior" skills.
The FBI's assessment in the "White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel Since 9/11" report found that the numbers of identifiable neo-Nazis within the ranks was quite small (only a little over 200), but warned:
Although individuals with military backgrounds constitute a small percentage of white supremacist extremists, they frequently occupy leadership roles within extremist groups and their involvement has the potential to reinvigorate an extremist movement suffering from loss of leadership and in-fighting during the post-9/11 period.
Looking ahead, current and former military personnel belonging to white supremacist extremist organizations who experience frustration at the inability of these organizations to achieve their goals may choose to found new, more operationally minded and operationally capable groups. The military training veterans bring to the movement and their potential to pass this training on to others can increase the ability of lone offenders to carry out violence from the movement’s fringes.
Military experience—ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces—is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement. FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color.
... The prestige which the extremist movement bestows upon members with military experience grants them the potential for influence beyond their numbers. Most extremist groups have some members with military experience, and those with military experience often hold positions of authority within the groups to which they belong.
... Military experience—often regardless of its length or type—distinguishes one within the extremist movement. While those with military backgrounds constitute a small percentage of white supremacist extremists, FBI investigations indicate they frequently have higher profiles within the movement, including recruitment and leadership roles.
... New groups led or significantly populated by military veterans could very likely pursue more operationally minded agendas with greater tactical confidence. In addition, the military training veterans bring to the movement and their potential to pass this training on to others can increase the ability of lone offenders to carry out violence from the movement’s fringes.
This problem doesn’t involve only the Nazis, gang-bangers, and other violent personalities worming their way into the military. It also affects the many more formerly normal, non-racist recruits who have been dragged into multiple tours of duty in Iraq, regardless of the psychological dangers of such treatment. This includes many people whose evaluations have recommended they not be returned for duty but have been sent back regardless. Thus the Timothy McVeigh Finishing School continues to operate.
This has the deadly potential to become a significant component of the predictable surge in far-right activity likely to manifest itself in the United States in the coming months and years, especially as Democrats and liberals expand their hold on power. We run the risk of re-creating the conditions that arose in Germany and Italy after World War I: the presence of scores of angry, disaffected, and psychologically damaged war veterans, fed a steady diet of "Dolchstosslegende," poised to organize into a political force aimed at "rebirthing" the nation and its heritage.
In our current situation, these veterans not only will have served with neo-Nazis amid their ranks, they will likely be faced with unemployment and a wrecked economy, eager for someone to blame and fully trained and capable of violent action.
SPLC Chief Counsel Richard Cohen has written another letter to the Defense Secretary pleading that the DoD take concrete steps to deal with this problem. Here's hoping he produces something other than denial this time.