Someone named Greg Scott, writing at the famously misnamed Intellectual Conservative site, is up in arms about a New York Times report about the increasing number of neo-nazis and skinhead racists in the US military. That article was based on a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which cited Defense Department officials on the record about their ongoing investigations. Scott’s critique of the Times’ article is riddled with factual errors, distortions and exaggerations. Predictably, he’s making the “they’re insulting the whole military” argument, which is the standard reply from the right whenever anyone criticizes anyone or anything even connected to the military:
The sole source for John Kifner’s piece, “Hate Groups Are Infiltrating the Military, Group Says,” is a sloppy document released by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The obnoxious report, the title of which is a gratuitous slap at my beloved Corps, concludes that our fighting forces have devolved, with Pentagon complicity, into a breeding ground for the white supremacist “movement.”
But neither report says that “our fighting forces” have “devolved” into a haven for white supremacists. Neither report tars the vast majority of American soldiers. In fact, both reports are careful to say that, at the most, white supremacists and gang members number in the thousands in a military of around 1.4 million. Those numbers are in both articles. The title of the SPLC report, to which Scott objects, is “A Few Bad Men”. This is just a sloppy, ideologically driven kneejerk response to any criticism of anything going on in the military.
The writer should stop and think for a moment: Does he really think that the Pentagon investigator quoted in the report – a soldier himself – is trying to tar the entire military? Or is he working to prevent the military from being tarred with more incidents of soldiers diverting weapons to neo-Nazi groups and recruiting for the KKK among our nation’s military? We have a long history of neo-Nazis in the military that Scott seems entirely unaware of, and it’s something that the Pentagon, under Ronald Reagan, made a massive effort to root out, for obvious reasons. If Scott Barfield, the soldier/investigator who is the primary source for the SPLC report, is correct – and Scott gives no reason at all to think otherwise – then it can only help the military to get those bad apples out, not hurt it.
An office was established by the Army in 2002 (you know, before the “unpopular” war in Iraq could have caused recruiting ills) to investigate the presence of gang members in the armed forces. Since 2002, the one man cited in the Times story, also the single source for the study, reported that he’d found 320 active duty troops with gang ties. Most of these gang members, according to the investigator, were from “black and Latino” gangs. You wouldn’t know this from the Times article, but a simple web search produces a May 1 Chicago Sun-Times article which provides a bigger picture.
Now let’s compare that to what the actual SPLC report says. First of all, the effort to root out members of racist and neo-Nazi group goes back to 1986, not 2002. That followed a scandal where active duty military personnel stole huge amounts of weaponry (get this: 13 anti-tank rockets, 10 Claymore mines and almost 200 pounds of C-4 explosives; a subsequent investigation found nearly 2 tons of explosives missing, along with 32,000 rounds of ammunition and more). Second, Scott’s numbers are all wrong. Here’s what Barfield actually said:
Barfield, who is based at Fort Lewis, said he has identified and submitted evidence on 320 extremists there in the past year. “Only two have been discharged,” he said. Barfield and other Department of Defense investigators said they recently uncovered an online network of 57 neo-Nazis who are active duty Army and Marines personnel spread across five military installations in five states — Fort Lewis; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Stewart, Ga.; and Camp Pendleton, Calif. “They’re communicating with each other about weapons, about recruiting, about keeping their identities secret, about organizing within the military,” Barfield said. “Several of these individuals have since been deployed to combat missions in Iraq.”
So how many false statements can you find in Scott’s paragraph above? Barfield was not the “single source” for the report, which explicitly cites other DOD investigators in addition to Barfield. The 320 figure was not since 2002, it was “in the last year”, and more importantly, he pointed out that only 2 of them had been discharged. He also cites a whole network of neo-Nazis in the military. Whether those soldiers are white neo-Nazis or black and latino gang members is irrelevant – either one is a major problem. We don’t want members of any of those groups in our military because A) they can divert weaponry to others and B) they get trained in combat tactics that they can later put to use when they get out. Getting them out of the military can only be a good thing for the military, yet Scott seems to think that acknowledging that the problem exists shows a lack of patriotism – this is an absolutely loony argument to make.
A scandalous July 7 New York Times article uncritically repeated some outrageous claims by a Southern Poverty Law Center “study,” managing to paint the entire US Armed Forces as a training ground for the “White Supremacy” “movement.”
Again, absolutely false. Nowhere in either the Times report or the SPLC report does it even imply that the “entire US Armed Forces” are involved in this. But they do point out, with plenty of evidence, that white supremacist groups actively encourage their members to join the armed forces to get military training and access to advanced weapons. Here are a few examples from the SPLC report:
Last July, the white supremacist website Stormfront hosted a discussion on “Joining the Military.”
“There are others among you in the forces,” wrote one neo-Nazi in the Army. “You are never alone.”…
When Jon Fain, the Army engineer, was interviewed in 2004 for a Resistance article titled, “On the Front Lines for the Jews,” he advised neo-Nazis considering a military career to “[n]ever allow yourself to be brainwashed into the ‘everybody’s green’ lie.” In the Stormfront discussion on joining the military, neo-Nazi “Ulfur Engil” wrote that he was stationed with the Army in Europe and offered this guidance: “Nothing will change what you are. If you join, you are still the same enlightened white man (or woman) you always have been.”
Hundreds of neo-Nazis online identify themselves as active duty soldiers. “When you are in, after you finish basic training, your discretion is very important,” Ulfur Engil wrote in a recent Internet posting. “If you are someone who wears boots and braces keep a second pair that’s neutral looking (black). Remove any obvious pins from your jacket (runes by themselves are okay, though. They don’t take issue with them, providing there is no obvious [racist] arrangement. The USO in Keflavik, Iceland, actually sold runes!) Do NOT use any Internet connection offered by the base or do ANYTHING on a military server. NOTHING. Get an Internet connection that is private and off-base, invest in EvidenceEliminator, and set up an email account with Hushmail and/or Ziplip.”…
“If you have any kind of tattoo prior to going in, they will require you to write out a statement as to what it is, and what it means to you,” advised a neo-Nazi in the Stormfront military forum. “If it’s something obvious like a swazi [swastika], then they will probably say, ‘No go.’ But, something more obscure, like a Schwarze Sonne [a “black sun,” another Nazi symbol] or a Celtic cross would probably be okay, so long as no phraseology accompanies it.”
None of this is particularly surprising. Why does Scott react as though the acknowledgement of this problem is tantamount to treason? It’s a kneejerk reaction to any criticism of the military. He doesn’t bother to actually dispute anything in the report. Is he even aware of the long history of extremist involvement in the military, a history they have said they’re committed to ending? Read the timeline attached to the report and you’ll be stunned. These aren’t just a few isolated incidents. The report also contains specific identifications of self-proclaimed neo-Nazis in the military whose commanders refuse to discharge them.