Hatewatch recently posted a report about private E-mails of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) showing up on the Internet. While that post focused on the infighting that has dogged America’s largest neo-Nazi group, some of the E-mails also shed light on a more serious matter: racial extremists in the military.
The E-mails show that several people who identified themselves as active military personnel contacted NSM over the past two years to express interest in the organization, including at least one soldier who subsequently joined. Their inquiries were among more than 600 NSM E-mails that were posted late last month to the website wikileaks.org, which publishes leaked documents. The E-mails had been sent to a hotmail account maintained by an NSM member whose responsibilities included corresponding with potential recruits.
The NSM E-mails from military personnel provide more evidence that racial extremists are infiltrating the military and that service members are being recruited by hate groups. Since 2006, the Southern Poverty Law Center has provided the military with information about white supremacist activity in its ranks. In July, the SPLC asked Congress to investigate the problem and to take steps to ensure that the armed forces are not inadvertently training future domestic terrorists.
Asked if the servicemen who contacted NSM would face consequences if they were still in the military, Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Les’ Melnyk said department policy prohibits active participation in “supremacist” groups. But enforcement of that policy falls to the individual service branches. “The Department works closely with its criminal investigative agencies and the FBI to ensure that gang or extremist activity in the military is aggressively investigated and appropriately prosecuted,” he wrote in an E-mail, “and that new accessions [recruits] are rigorously screened to deny entry to those who do not renounce participation in criminal gangs and activities.”
However, the policy sometimes has been interpreted to mean that military personnel are allowed to be “mere members” of hate groups or to engage in unaffiliated extremist activities, such as posting racist and anti-Semitic messages to social networking websites and E-mail lists or maintaining online profiles filled with racist materials. Melnyk said in his E-mail that the Defense Department believes it “is broad and inclusive in its definition of ‘active participation,’ and encourages commanders to pursue and weed out service members who actively participate in these type of groups.”
Among those who contacted NSM was an infantryman who identified himself as Kyle R. Wrobel. Writing from a hotmail contact, Wrobel told NSM that he was from Cleveland, Ohio. “i am a sergeant in the US Army infantry, currently serving my second combat tour to iraq,” he wrote on Jan. 17, 2008. “i vehemently support your cause, and want to become heavily involved. my wife and i both advocate and support the cause. i want a lifetime membership and want to become involved and do whatever i can as soon as possible.”
Two days later, Wrobel wrote again to say he had printed out the lifetime and general membership applications, but had several questions, including whether he could submit a photocopy of his military identification for the picture that the group requested of applicants. He wrote that he would not be returning home until the end of the year, but was eager to become involved right away. “I want to be active, and do all that I can including while I am deployed,” he wrote. “What can I actively do NOW?”
Writing again on March 4, 2008, Wrobel said he had joined NSM as a lifetime member after sending in his application three weeks earlier. Although his initial payment of $300 had been deducted from his bank account (the total is $600 for a lifetime membership), he wanted to receive formal notification of his acceptance into the group. He also hungered for an assignment. “I don’t have too much time on my hands while i am deployed, but the free time that I do have, I would prefer to devote to the movement,” he wrote. “Give me something to do!” Wrobel, believed to be 23, also indicated that he was with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment at Forward Operating Base Warrior in the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk.
The next day he wrote to say that he was upset that he would not be home for “the march” — apparently a reference to an anti-illegal immigration rally NSM planned for April 2008 in Washington D.C. “There HAS to be something that i can do, whether it be for the march or anything else that nsm needs done.” He signed off “sieg hiel, kyle r wrobel.”
Wrobel served for four years in the Army and was discharged in November 2008 as a specialist, according to an Army spokesman. The type of discharge is not public information, the spokesman said, though an acquaintance of Wrobel said it was honorable. (It’s unclear why Wrobel stated in his E-mail to the NSM that he was a sergeant, which is higher ranking than a specialist.) Wrobel received seven awards for his service, including the Combat Action Badge and the Iraq Campaign Medal for two year-long tours in Iraq, as well as the Army Good Conduct Medal.
Wrobel did not return two phone messages left for him. The acquaintance, who did not want to be named, said Wrobel acknowledged that he had talked to someone from NSM when he was in the military; however, Wrobel told the acquaintance that he was not involved in the group.
Wrobel wasn’t the only self-described serviceman who corresponded with NSM. A soldier who identified himself as Derek Runge wrote that he’d already been in touch with another NSM official, “Mann Wilson,” who’d told him that there was no NSM contact person for North Carolina. Runge said he was interested in joining the group and filling the North Carolina vacancy. “My only downfall is that I am in the military and will be deploying Mid-November but can take the reins prior to leaving and then hit it full force once I get back,” Runge wrote on Sept. 26, 2008. “I just need to know what all I will be required to do.” In the E-mail, Runge, believed to be 24, used the Nazi greeting “Seig [sic] Heil” and signed off “Heil Hitler.” (As it happens, Greensboro, N.C., is where the NSM held a regional meeting last weekend that drew dozens of counter-demonstrators.)
Runge entered the Army in June 2005, according to military records. Now a first lieutenant, he is listed as still on active duty and is stationed at Fort Bragg. He has received seven awards, including the Army Achievement Medal for meritorious service, the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Combat Action Badge. In what appears to be Runge’s Facebook profile — it lists the same yahoo E-mail address used to write to NSM — he states that he’s with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. According to the profile, since May 2008, he has been a fire support officer “responsible for directing artillery fire and close air support into enemy positions…but mainly working as the company’s intel officer.”
It’s unclear whether Runge actually joined NSM or had additional contact with the group. He did not respond to an E-mail sent to him directly and through Facebook. A cell phone number listed in his Facebook profile and in public records was no longer in service. NSM officials did not respond to a message left on their hotline.
In recent months, the SPLC has uncovered dozens of personal profiles listing “military” as the poster’s occupation on the social networking site NewSaxon.org, which is run by NSM. (The profiles generally use aliases, but they often contain identifying details.) In addition to the SPLC’s investigation, a 2008 FBI report asserted that the bureau had found more than 200 military personnel or veterans who were suspected of being active members in white supremacist organizations between October 2001 and May 2008. Although that figure represents a tiny portion of the U.S. veteran and active-duty populations, the report noted that “[t]he 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.”
For its part, NSM asks on its membership application whether potential members served in the military and whether they possess military training. In an E-mail forwarding an SPLC Intelligence Report article from late last year to supporters, NSM Commander Jeff Schoep called the story “a rehash of the FBI probe into our Comrades in the Military.” But he didn’t dispute its basic conclusion, adding, “There is [sic] many more in the U.S. Military than they know.”