With Republicans sensing a tide of public anger bearing down on them in the mid-term congressional elections, President Bush and his allies are once again raising the specter of foreign terrorists attacking Americans on our own soil if we pull our troops out of Iraq.
But the administration is closing its eyes to the gathering threat of homegrown terrorism and the inadvertent role our own military is playing in training right-wing extremists.
In an alarming report we released in July, our Intelligence Project discovered that the pressure of meeting wartime manpower goals has led military officials to relax standards designed to weed out radical racists.
Here is what one military investigator told us: "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members." He went on to say, "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad. That's a problem."
Think about that. Many of these miscreants not only thrive on hate, they plot violence against people of other races and ethnicities and advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government. And they are allowed to continue serving, even in the Special Forces.
In some cases, these extremists freely organize within the armed services. Hundreds of neo-Nazis identify themselves on the Internet as active-duty soldiers. Just in the past year, 320 extremists and gang members were identified at Fort Lewis in Washington -- but only two were discharged.
Contrast that with how the military views soldiers who are gay. Since 1993, when Congress passed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the military has discharged more than 11,000 soldiers for being gay. About 800 of those who were booted out, including 80 linguists, were occupying highly critical jobs. Training their replacements has cost taxpayers at least $364 million.
The only conclusion we can draw is that the Pentagon considers gay soldiers more threatening than neo-Nazis. That's a sad, and frightening, commentary on the current leadership.
In the past, there was a bipartisan commitment to protecting our military from infiltration by extremists. Two decades ago, we presented evidence to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger that U.S. marines were participating in Ku Klux Klan paramilitary activities. He issued a directive forbidding such participation, though later events proved this action inadequate. In 1996, the Oklahoma City bombing by Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh and the racially motivated murders of a black couple by neo-Nazis serving in the 82nd Airborne Division prompted congressional hearings and the formation of an Army task force. Afterward, Defense Secretary William Perry strengthened regulations to more clearly define prohibited extremist activities.
But now, military officials have once again let their guard down. We brought this to the attention of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld but have neither seen nor heard a response.
Our investigation, which received nationwide publicity, sparked calls for action by concerned veterans and politicians alike. VoteVets.org, a non-partisan political action committee headed by veterans who fought in Iraq, urged Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner to launch immediate hearings to examine the impact of low recruiting standards.
Forty members of the House of Representatives also wrote to Rumsfeld, as did Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican. Democratic Reps. Artur Davis and Eliot Engel have sponsored a congressional resolution urging the Pentagon to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for racist extremism.
Still, no action.
You can help by urging your U.S. representative to support House Resolution 969. We must make sure our military isn't training the next Timothy McVeigh.