Dispatches from the Creation Wars

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.

Comments

  1. #1 quitter
    July 27, 2006

    I don’t have time to actually read the SPLC report right now, but I’ll warn you, they’ve been a little bit manipulative in the past, and had divisions in the organization over manipulative fundraising and exaggeration of problems, ostensibly to increase their trust. There was an article about it in Harpers or the New Yorker a few years ago I remember, about a rift between Morris Dees and another founder of the group, who wasn’t very complimentary about Mr. Dees (which having met him, I was startled by) or their manipulative fundraising behavior.

    However, there is one glaring flaw in this critics view that the military is beyond reproach or immune to racist infiltration. Timothy freaking McVeigh. The people he trained with in the military remembered him as being a racist and said he even slept with a copy of the Turner Diaries (a neo-nazi favorite which famously includes the bombing of a federal building by radicals) under his pillow. Under his pillow while he was in the military!

    McVeigh is an example not only of why it is important to eliminate racist radicals from the military, but also a major failure to do so. Anyone with the Turner Diaries under their pillow should not be welcome, and most people I know in the military agree, it is not to their advantage to have sociopaths, racists, gang-members or other psychos among the troops for a host of reasons.

  2. #2 Matthew
    July 27, 2006

    I don’t think I agree with you, Ed, that you should discharge someone based on their ideology. Stealing weapons is a different matter, of course.

  3. #3 kehrsam
    July 27, 2006

    They are not being expelled at all at present, so that is a non-starter. Before the current manpower shortage, white supremacists, gang members, etc were not expelled for their ideology, but for lying on their enlistment application, which specifically questions membership in such groups.

    If it is legal (if not wise) to hound gays out of the military, surely we do not have to tolerate this sort of BS. I certainly do not envy the young black Lieutenant who discovers his platoon is full of Aryan Nations hotheads, especially if he learns of this in a combat situation.

  4. #4 Shygetz
    July 27, 2006

    Of course you should discharge someone based on their ideology. If a member of the military believed in the destruction of the USA, should you train him in advanced weapons and tactics, and then trust him to defend the country he wants to destroy? Almost all neo-Nazis are not interested in defending the Constitution as it stands post-Civil War.

  5. #5 Matthew
    July 27, 2006

    I’d guess that military law allows them to expel people for ideology, but I don’t think you shold because it’s a slippery slope. It’s based on one’s own speculation as to a person’s allegiance. Why not next expel all Muslims; as you never know if one is a fundamentalist plant.

  6. #6 John
    July 27, 2006

    I heard that George Washington purged (or tried to) from the army all officers who were Democratic-Republican sympathizers.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    July 27, 2006

    The military can and does expel people for ideological reasons. If your ideology is opposed to protecting the Constitution, then your oath is a lie and you ought to be expelled. We wouldn’t allow someone with clinical insanity or violent tendencies to get military training and weaponry, why on earth would we allow white supremacists to do so?

  8. #8 Jeff Hebert
    July 27, 2006

    TWe wouldn’t allow someone with clinical insanity or violent tendencies to get military training and weaponry, why on earth would we allow white supremacists to do so?

    [sarcasm]
    Oh come now, insane violent anti-Constitutional white supremecists are fine, it’s really the gays we have to keep out of the military. Now there’s a condition that’s REALLY destructive for the fighting effectiveness of our armed forces. Give me a pack of uneducated rabid skinheads over a sane, patriotic homo any day of the week. God Bless (straight, white) America and DIE you non-Christian bastards!!
    [/sarcasm]

  9. #9 Ginger Yellow
    July 27, 2006

    “Why does Scott react as though the acknowledgement of this problem is tantamount to treason?”

    Because it’s the ignorance-loving conservative’s way. Certainly not all conservatives are like this, but there’s a huge strain of it , especially in small town America.
    “If my children learn that homosexuality exists, it will turn them gay!”
    “If my children hear about evolution, they’ll turn into atheists!”
    “If my children read a fictional book about witchcraft, they’ll lose their soul to the devil!”

  10. #10 ebohlman
    July 27, 2006

    I think Shygetz had the best response to Matthew’s concern: to allow a racist ideologue to remain in the military is to provide a racist ideologue with taxpayer-funded training in advanced ways of breaking things and killing people. I think one can easily make a case that there’s a compelling state interest in preventing this from happening. Members of the military are, as are members of the police, entrusted with certain powers that are, for good reason, denied to civilians. Denying those powers to individuals who espouse ideologies that call for those powers to be used in harmful ways is not invidious discrimination; nobody has a right to those powers in the first place.

    Of course, ideology alone should not be grounds for punishment of military personnel; unless someone lied about pre-existing affiliations or engaged in actual misconduct, he should be discharged honorably.

  11. #11 Ted
    July 27, 2006

    If your ideology is opposed to protecting the Constitution, then your oath is a lie and you ought to be expelled.

    Ed, with all due respect, ought and will are two different things. This isn’t like ferreting out gays in the military.

    Military officers swear an oath to defend The Constitution. Many do not. They mainly exercise self preservation by following the more dependent enlisted oath. Who’s to complain, and it’s the easier all around.

    Officers:

    I, John Doe, do solemnly swear, (or affirm), that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God (optional).

    Enlisted:

    “I, John Doe, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God (not quite so optional).”

    Note that enlisteds need to follow orders of superior officers and The President more-or-less on par with the Constitution. It’s not for them to interpret the constitution being violated when their superiors are splitting hairs — they are cannon fodder — the officers are the thinkers so therefore enlisteds take the lead in defending The Constitution from the officers. The responsibility of defending the country is primary to the officers — if the officers and The President tell the enlisteds to defend it by herding liberals into cattle cars, most would do it.

    In short, if officers are not clear in their directives or act like skinheads, the enlisteds are pretty much following the expected lead. An officer’s actions need to be VERY egregious before an enlisted or junior officer can have a leg to stand on by disobeying or taking a principled stand.

    Secondly, you may note the addition of “regulations” in the enlisted oath and lack of it in the officer oath. You may find it surprising to know that many officers consider military regulations as rather informal guidelines that do not necessarily apply to them as result driven leaders. Seriously.

  12. #12 kehrsam
    July 27, 2006

    I’m curious, what exactly was Scott’s purpose in writing this piece? He doesn’t seem to be saying there are NO racists in the military, after all, although he appears to think there might be more gang members of color than white bigots.

    I think this presumption is wrong, for several reasons. First, I suspect very few black or hispanic recruits join gangs after they join the military, so that population is static.

    Second, the group receptive to white power claims is far larger, and our troops are being deployed to places and cultures conducive to recruitment. Let’s face it, occupiers always come to look down on the occupied, especially if they are of a different color or religion, or speak a funny language.

    Finally, my subjective experience is that racism and white power doctrines are a problem. I have worked a few dozen domestic law cases involving military personnel, and an outright majority have involved charges by one side or the other of rascist activities. Now, I understand lots of accusations get thrown around in the child custody wars, but 50% or more is hard to get around.

    (My end of NC is less than 5% minority and highly racist as well, and I realize that skews my non-random sample).

  13. #13 Ted
    July 28, 2006

    From The Washingtom Post

    Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield is needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire, the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales’s remarks.
    [...]

    Since September 2001, however, Bush administration officials have considered the law a potential threat to U.S. personnel involved in interrogations. While serving as White House legal counsel in 2002, Gonzales helped prepare a Jan. 25 draft memo to Bush — written in large part by David Addington, then Vice President Cheney’s legal counsel and now Cheney’s chief of staff — in which he cited the threat of prosecution under the act as a reason to declare that detainees captured in Afghanistan were not eligible for Geneva Conventions protections.

    “It is difficult,” Gonzales said in the memo, “to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to bring unwarranted charges.” He also argued for the flexibility to pursue various interrogation methods and said that only a presidential order exempting detainees from Geneva protections “would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution.” That month, Bush approved an order exempting those captured in Afghanistan from these protections.

    They knew full well that they were violating a signed treaty, and proceeded to do so. This type of Constitution protection by the officer corps is part and parcel of the typical mindset and key to understanding that subordinates do not worry themselves about the finer points of The Constitution that they’re supposed to protect from enemies foreign and domestic when they’re given a free hand from above.

    On a lighter note, I’ve always thought that the best comedy is absurdist. That Intellectual Conservative site illustrates the nuttiness of libertarians (Is that Ayn Rand above Jesus Christ?).

    But the reading list from the sidebar is boffo:

    William F. Buckley
    Ann Coulter
    Christopher Hitchens
    Charles Krauthammer
    Peggy Noonan
    William Safire
    Thomas Sowell
    George Will

    Oh yeah, makes me especially happy to see Hitchens sandwiched in there between Coulter and Krauthammer, getting the recognition he deserves.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    July 28, 2006

    Ted-

    The difference there is that while Hitchens obviously supported the war in Iraq, he has been highly critical of the administration’s policies in terms of torture, the Geneva conventions and the treatment of detainees.

  15. #15 stogoe
    July 28, 2006

    Apparently William F Buckley is a librul now, for disagreeing with the George Bush Personality Cult.

  16. #16 Roman Werpachowski
    July 28, 2006

    There will always be people in every military who are fascinated by the nazis. That is connected with the (overblown) image of IIIrd Reich’s Wehrmacht as the super fighters, especially the Waffen-SS.

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