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GI Skinhead

GI Skinhead

An FBI report details white supremacists’ recruitment of military personnel.

BY Jacob Wheeler

Domestic Skinhead groups are recruiting U.S. military members. They’re looking for “ghost skins”–personnel without records of white supremacist activity or overtly racist tattoos.

According to a recently declassified July report from the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit, “extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews and people of color.”

Between October 2001 and May 2008, 203 individuals active in the white supremacist movement had claimed or confirmed ties to military service. While that number is a small percentage of the nearly 1.5 million active-duty military personnel, the report notes, “the prestige which the extremist movement bestows upon members with military experience grants them the potential for influence beyond their numbers.”

A 2006 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that, in order to meet wartime recruiting goals, the Department of Defense had “relaxed standards designed to weed out radical white supremacists.”

Forty members of Congress subsequently urged then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to crack down on extremists in the military or prevent them from joining in the first place. But neither Rumsfeld nor current Defense Secretary Robert Gates have made a sustained effort to do so.

“Military extremists present an elevated threat to both their fellow service members and the public,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) wrote in an open letter to Rumsfeld. “We witnessed with Timothy McVeigh that today’s racist extremist may become tomorrow’s domestic terrorist.”

McVeigh was a decorated veteran of the 1991 Gulf War before he and a co-conspirator blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995–the largest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.

The FBI released the report–titled “White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel since 9/11”–to law-enforcement agencies nationwide, detailing more than a dozen criminal cases involving Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans and active-duty personnel who are involved in extremist activity.

In 2006, the leader of a Texas-based skinhead organization called the Celtic Knights attempted to obtain guns and explosives from a soldier at Fort Hood, Texas, who had served in Iraq and was a member of neo-Nazi group the National Alliance.

Matthew Kennard, a freelance journalist whose 2008 graduate school thesis at Columbia University looked at how the U.S. military is allowing the far right to join its ranks, has monitored popular skinhead online chat rooms.

In the neo-Nazi online forum, Blood & Honour, “88Soldier88” wrote on Feb. 18, 2008, “I am in the ARMY right now. I work in the Detainee Holding Area [in Iraq]. … I am in the infantry but want to go to SF [Special Forces]. Hopefully the training will prepare me for what I hope is to come.”

“There are actually a lot more ‘skinheads,’ ‘Nazis,’ white supremacists now [in the military] than there has been in a long time,” wrote one Blood & Honour member who identified himself as Jacob Berg in an e-mail to Kennard. “The biggest reason I’m so proud of my kills [reportedly of women, children and elderly people] is because by killing a brown, many white people will live to see a new dawn.”

“The rhetoric on the chat threads is appalling, these alleged soldiers talk about killing ‘sand niggas,’ ‘hajjis’ and glorify the killing of innocents,” Kennard tells In These Times. “How far you can trust this is obviously up for debate, but I have talked to white supremacist soldiers who I know have been in Iraq and Afghanistan and their attitude to Arabs is unsurprisingly one of disdain.”

Through documents obtained from the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigative Division, Kennard discovered that Army commanders have terminated investigations of suspected extremist activity in the military, in one case because it would interfere with a suspect’s imminent deployment to Iraq.

“This is not an ideological preference for white supremacists,” Kennard says. “The military just can’t meet their troop needs, so their standards have had to drop. That won’t change until the war scales down.”

Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at In These Times.

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