The U.S. military has struggled with the problem of right-wing extremists in the armed services for decades. A key worry is that racists may wreck morale and safety by sowing racial enmity within their units.
White supremacist leaders are making a concerted effort to recruit active-duty soldiers and recent combat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new FBI report. The unclassified FBI Intelligence Assessment, titled "White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel Since 9/11," bolsters the findings of a 2006 Intelligence Report exposé that revealed that alarming numbers of racist extremists were taking advantage of lowered wartime recruiting standards to enlist in the armed services.
"Military experience is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement as a result of recruitment campaigns by extremist groups and self-recruitment by veterans sympathetic to white supremacist causes," the FBI report states. "Extremist leaders seek to recruit members with military experience in order to exploit their discipline, knowledge of firearms, explosives and tactical skills as well as [in the case of active duty soldiers] their access to weapons and intelligence."
Based on analysis of FBI case files from October 2001 to May 2008, the report identified 203 military personnel or veterans who were active members in white supremacist organizations during that period.
Although that number represents a miniscule percentage 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."
The report detailed more than a dozen investigative findings and criminal cases involving veterans and active duty personnel engaging in extremist activity. For example:
- In May 2003, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division advised the FBI of six active-duty soldiers at Fort Riley, Texas, who were affiliated with the Aryan Nations. One of the six was the neo-Nazi group's point of contact in Kansas and sought to recruit members from within the military
- In September 2006, the leader of the Celtic Knights, a now-defunct splinter faction of the Hammerskins in central Texas, planned to obtain firearms and explosives from an active-duty Army soldier in Fort Hood, Texas. The soldier, who served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, was a member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group. He is now going through proceedings for military discharge.
- In October 2006, the National Socialist Movement, a major neo-Nazi group, received a number of queries from active-duty Army and Marine personnel stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan that expressed interest in joining the organization and inquired about chapters located near domestic U.S. military bases.
- In mid-2007, two Army privates in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., received six-year prison sentences for attempting to sell body armor and morphine to an undercover FBI agent they believed was involved in the white supremacist movement.
"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 report concludes. "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."