07/10/2009

SPLC Urges Congress to Investigate Extremism in the Military

The Southern Poverty Law Center today urged Congress to investigate growing evidence that racial extremists are infiltrating the U.S. military and take steps to ensure that the armed forces are not inadvertently training future domestic terrorists.

New Saxon profileIn a letter to committee chairmen with oversight over homeland security and the armed services, the SPLC said it recently found dozens of personal profiles on a neo-Nazi website where individuals listed "military" as their occupation — the latest evidence of extremist infiltration gathered by the SPLC. It also cites FBI and Department of Homeland Security reports supporting the SPLC's concerns.

"Evidence continues to mount that current Pentagon policies are inadequate to prevent racial extremists from joining and serving in the armed forces," SPLC founder Morris Dees wrote. He added, "Because the presence of extremists in the armed forces is a serious threat to the safety of the American public, we believe Congressional action is warranted."

The letter was sent to the chairmen of the House and Senate committees on Homeland Security and Armed Services. The SPLC has raised its concerns with Pentagon officials since publishing a report in 2006, but no apparent action has been taken.

New Saxon profileIn recent months, SPLC investigators found approximately 40 personal profiles that listed "military" as an occupation on the Internet forum New Saxon, which is operated by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. One individual, who claims to be serving in Afghanistan, lists as his favorite book The Turner Diaries, which was written by neo-Nazi leader William Pierce. The book served as a blueprint for the Oklahoma City bombing by Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh. Another individual said he was about to be deployed overseas and was looking forward to "killing all the bloody sand niggers." Still another spoke of his hatred for undocumented immigrants.

New Saxon profileThe SPLC has been involved with this issue for more than two decades. In 1986, the SPLC presented evidence to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger that Marines were participating in Ku Klux Klan paramilitary activities and urged him to prohibit all military personnel from being members of, or participating in, the activities of white supremacist groups. Although Weinberger issued a directive addressing extremist activity, it ultimately proved inadequate.

The SPLC again brought the problem to the attention of Pentagon officials in 1996, after three neo-Nazi soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg murdered a black couple in North Carolina in a ritualistic, racially motivated slaying. Pentagon regulations were strengthened following an investigation by an Army task force and hearings by the House Armed Services Committee.

New Saxon profileBut a decade later, military recruiters, under intense pressure to meet quotas for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, appear to have lowered recruiting standards, according to the SPLC's 2006 report. The report revealed that large numbers of neo-Nazi skinheads and other white supremacists were joining the armed forces to acquire combat training and access to weapons and explosives.

In 2008, the FBI released an unclassified report that supported the SPLC's findings. This past April, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report stating that right-wing extremists currently pose the most significant threat of domestic terrorism and expressing the concern that they may attempt to exploit the combat training and experience of returning veterans.

New Saxon profileThe SPLC letter notes that since 1994 the military has discharged more than 12,500 servicemembers simply because of their homosexuality. "It seems quite anomalous that the Pentagon would consider gays and lesbians more of a threat to the good order of the military than neo-Nazis and other white supremacists who reject our Constitution's most cherished principles," said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, which monitors extremist activity.

The letter also says that "the overwhelming majority of U.S. servicemembers reject extremism and are dedicated to serving and protecting the highest ideals of our country" and notes that there will never be a fail-safe system to weed out all extremists. "But we owe it to our courageous men and women in uniform, and the American public, to remain vigilant to ensure that the ranks are as free of extremists as possible," Dees wrote.