[Shawn Stuart, Iraq War veteran, at a 2006 neo-Nazi rally in Olympia, WA.]
Remember how the right-wingers screamed and yelled about that Homeland Security bulletin which indicated that white supremacists might be recruiting Iraq war veterans or pushing recruitment within military ranks?
Remember how the ensuing hissy fit ended with Janet Napolitano apologizing (for a report that originated in the Bush administration)? Notice how even now, after the report has been proven prescient in its warning about "lone wolf" domestic terrorists, guys like Joe Scarborough are still trying to claim that it "insulted our veterans"?
Well, Matt Kennard at Salon has an eye-opening report that should permanently shut up the right-wing whining, because it demonstrates clearly the broad nature of the problem -- namely, not only are veterans being actively recruited, but neo-Nazis and other radicals are actively joining up to fight -- and the military is turning a blind eye to it:
Since the launch of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military has struggled to recruit and reenlist troops. As the conflicts have dragged on, the military has loosened regulations, issuing "moral waivers" in many cases, allowing even those with criminal records to join up. Veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder have been ordered back to the Middle East for second and third tours of duty.
The lax regulations have also opened the military's doors to neo-Nazis, white supremacists and gang members — with drastic consequences. Some neo-Nazis have been charged with crimes inside the military, and others have been linked to recruitment efforts for the white right. A recent Department of Homeland Security report, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," stated: "The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today." Many white supremacists join the Army to secure training for, as they see it, a future domestic race war. Others claim to be shooting Iraqis not to pursue the military's strategic goals but because killing "hajjis" is their duty as white militants.
Soldiers' associations with extremist groups, and their racist actions, contravene a host of military statutes instituted in the past three decades. But during the "war on terror," U.S. armed forces have turned a blind eye on their own regulations. A 2005 Department of Defense report states, "Effectively, the military has a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy pertaining to extremism. If individuals can perform satisfactorily, without making their extremist opinions overt … they are likely to be able to complete their contracts."
Carter F. Smith is a former military investigator who worked with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command from 2004 to 2006, when he helped to root out gang violence in troops. "When you need more soldiers, you lower the standards, whether you say so or not," he says. "The increase in gangs and extremists is an indicator of this." Military investigators may be concerned about white supremacists, he says. "But they have a war to fight, and they don't have incentive to slow down."
Tom Metzger is the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and current leader of the White Aryan Resistance. He tells me the military has never been more tolerant of racial extremists. "Now they are letting everybody in," he says.
Now, much of this, in fact, we have already reported at C&L. Indeed, this is not a new problem, as Kennard makes clear:
Following an investigation of white supremacist groups, a 2008 FBI report declared: "Military experience — ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces — is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement." In white supremacist incidents from 2001 to 2008, the FBI identified 203 veterans. Most of them were associated with the National Alliance and the National Socialist Movement, which promote anti-Semitism and the overthrow of the U.S. government, and assorted skinhead groups.
Because the FBI focused only on reported cases, its numbers don't include the many extremist soldiers who have managed to stay off the radar. But its report does pinpoint why the white supremacist movements seek to recruit veterans — they "may exploit their accesses to restricted areas and intelligence or apply specialized training in weapons, tactics, and organizational skills to benefit the extremist movement."
In fact, since the movement's inception, its leaders have encouraged members to enlist in the U.S. military as a way to receive state-of-the-art combat training, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, in preparation for a domestic race war. The concept of a race war is central to extremist groups, whose adherents imagine an eruption of violence that pits races against each other and the government.
And yes, the danger of returning veterans being recruited into extremist belief systems is also part of this picture. Because that recruitment takes on an added edge when those doing the recruiting are also their Army buddies.