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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Racism in the Military

A pamphlet [PDF] issued by the Department of Defense to military recruiters gives only a general idea what to look for. "Extremist groups frequently use tattoos to show group associations. Skinheads frequently use tattoos and symbols of lightning bolts, skulls, Nazi swastikas, eagles, and Nordic warriors. Skinhead graphics also feature barbed wire, hobnailed boots, and hammers in their symbolism..." the pamphlet, entitled simply Extremist Activities reads. "No immediate assumptions should be made when strange or suspicious tattoos are observed... However, they may be considered a warning signal that warrants further inquiry. When in doubt, consult the Equal Opportunity Advisor and Staff Judge Advocate for clarification and guidance."

So, while these would be obvious signs of white supremacist sympathies:

SS symbolSwastika in Iron Cross

These would not:

Norse runeMan crucified on arrow symbol

The military has a ban on recruits from within racist movements, for reasons that are obvious. They don't actually serve this nation, but some fantasy nation that will never actually exist, and coming into the service hating other soldiers by default isn't really the best mindset for "unit cohesion." Add to this that many of these groups see crime as a badge of honor and hiring these guys to carry guns around doesn't really seem like the wisest thing in the world.

Yet it isn't the vague description of white supremacist symbols that is bringing neo-Nazis into our military, it's a version of "don't ask, don't tell," with a very heavy emphasis on "don't ask." In fact, recruiters don't even want to know.

In a great piece in Salon yesterday, Matt Kennard profiled Forrest Fogarty, an unrepentant skinhead back from serving in Iraq. Covered with racist symbols, recruiters did the bare minimum. "They just told me to write an explanation of each tattoo, and I made up some stuff, and that was that," Fogarty says.

But the bare minimum quickly became too much and, when evidence of his extremism was brought to the Army's attention, they chose to believe the lamest excuse.

Fogarty's ex-girlfriend, intent on destroying his new military career, sent a dossier of photographs to Fort Stewart. The photos showed Fogarty attending white supremacist rallies and performing with his [skinhead] band, Attack. "They hauled me before some sort of committee and showed me the pictures," Fogarty says. "I just denied them and said my girlfriend was a spiteful bitch." He adds: "They knew what I was about. But they let it go because I'm a great soldier."

In 2003, Fogarty was sent to Iraq. For two years he served in the military police, escorting officers, including generals, around the hostile country. He says he was granted top-secret clearance and access to battle plans. Fogarty speaks with regret that he "never had any kill counts." But he says his time in Iraq increased his racist resolve.

"I hate Arabs more than anybody, for the simple fact I've served over there and seen how they live," Fogarty told Kennard. "They're just a backward people. Them and the Jews are just disgusting people as far as I'm concerned. Their customs, everything to do with the Middle East, is just repugnant to me."

A 2008 FBI report on racist extremists in the military concluded that they "may exploit their accesses to restricted areas and intelligence or apply specialized training in weapons, tactics, and organizational skills to benefit the extremist movement."

"In fact, since the movement's inception, its leaders have encouraged members to enlist in the U.S. military as a way to receive state-of-the-art combat training, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, in preparation for a domestic race war," Kennard writes. "The concept of a race war is central to extremist groups, whose adherents imagine an eruption of violence that pits races against each other and the government."

Now that the Department of Homeland Security's draft report, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," has been pretty much vindicated by crimes committed by right wing extremists, some of the critics of the report are pretending that they were only concerned that veterans were unfairly targeted by it.

"The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today," the report read. This was supposed to be a terrible thing to believe about veterans -- even though it described Oklahoma City bomber and veteran of the first Gulf War Timothy McVeigh perfectly. The Holocaust Museum shooter, James von Brunn -- a Holocaust-denier -- was a veteran of WWII who believed he'd fought on the wrong side and that Hitler's only real crime was that he didn't gas Jews.

Turns out that fighting in a war doesn't make you automatically angelic and a hero for the children.

Yet, talking about NYT columnist Paul Krugman's piece about extremist crimes, the DHS report, and the media, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough was quick to hide behind veterans after being critical of the report; "Of course, the point that Krugman misses is the fact that what upset most of us -- that we're talking about that report around this table -- was the fact not that they were targeting right-wingers, it's that they were targeting veterans, saying, watch out, these people are going to come home and -- but it is -- I mean, it is sort of sad and pathetic that this is being exploited."

In reality, Scarborough's criticism was much more broad than he pretends. His initial reaction was that "they're going after conservatives first." Like all the other right wing talking heads, he decided that it'd be a good idea to pretend that a report warning of neo-Nazis, abortion-clinic assassins, anti-immigration racists, and anti-government nuts was about him. As I've already pointed out, it was a stupid move and one they're all trying to spin away.

Now even this dodge has been taken away from them. Not only are there white surpremacist veterans, there are white supremacist service members. Maybe the time has come to stop playing politics with everything and start acting like goddam adults.

Then again, I suppose that's too much to ask.


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