Shawn Stuart is an Iraq War veteran from Montana who spent a fair amount of time last week before the podium at the pathetic National Socialist Movement rally in Olympia. He liked to especially rant about immigration issues and talk about how when he came back to America, he found that we had let the enemy in through the back door. How we had let the Jews open it. That sort of thing.
I have no idea what Stuart's story is. He may well have been attracted to the neo-Nazi cause, and joined the NSM, well after his return home. But what we do know is that today, the American military -- including our forces in Iraq -- are increasingly seeing people like Stuart filling their ranks. Right now.
According to a devastating Southern Poverty Law Center report (echoed in the New York Times), it's happening at an alarming rate. And it's happening because of the way the military is being handled at the very top:
- Ten years after Pentagon leaders toughened policies on extremist activities by active duty personnel -- a move that came in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing by decorated Gulf War combat veteran Timothy McVeigh and the murder of a black couple by members of a skinhead gang in the elite 82nd Airborne Division -- large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists continue to infiltrate the ranks of the world's best-trained, best-equipped fighting force. Military recruiters and base commanders, under intense pressure from the war in Iraq to fill the ranks, often look the other way.
Neo-Nazis "stretch across all branches of service, they are linking up across the branches once they're inside, and they are hard-core," Department of Defense gang detective Scott Barfield told the Intelligence Report. "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," he added. "That's a problem."
The armed forces are supposed to be a model of racial equality. American soldiers are supposed to be defenders of democracy. Neo-Nazis represent the opposite of these ideals. They dream of race war and revolution, and their motivations for enlisting are often quite different than serving their country.
"Join only for the training, and to better defend yourself, our people, and our culture," Fain said. "We must have people to open doors from the inside when the time comes."
The problem, as the report explains, is the extreme pressure military recruiters are now under to fill their recruitment quotas:
- Now, with the country at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military under increasingly intense pressure to maintain enlistment numbers, weeding out extremists is less of a priority. "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members," said Department of Defense investigator Barfield.
"Last year, for the first time, they didn't make their recruiting goals. They don't want to start making a big deal again about neo-Nazis in the military, because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they'll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."
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."
One of the noteworthy aspects of this phenomenon is the way this meshes with the increasingly military style of the far right in recent years, particularly the militias in the 1990s, who openly recruited veterans and current military members. The cultures have become increasingly enmeshed, as embodied by Steven Barry's recruitment plan for neo-Nazis considering a military career as a way to sharpen their "warrior" skills.
One of the real issues in attacking this problem is in recognizing, first of all, that it does not identify our people serving in the armed forces with white supremacists. Moreover, as Jo Fish observes, recruiters probably aren;t seeking out this element; rather, it is coming to them, and circumstances are forcing them to turn a blind eye to it.
And as Atrios notes, the SPLC raises immediate questions about the kind of men we're sending over to Iraq. To what extent, really, does the spread of white-supremacist attitudes in the military bring about atrocities like the recent murder of a 14-year-old girl and her family, or the Haditha massacre? It isn't hard to see, after all, attitudes about the disposability of nonwhite races rearing their ugly head in those incidents.
The larger political question, however, is a matter of accountability -- the avoidance of which has proven to be the Bush administration's most remarkable skill. Yet at some point, both the public and the military are going to have to ask: What is this administration doing to our armed forces?
On core matters of respect for the law and basic norms of human decency, it has at every turn taken an ends-justify-the-means approach: whether we're talking about torture of military prisoners -- brought to flaming light by the Abu Ghraib abuses -- as well as the warping and twisting soldiers in the field by failing to provide them with adequate mental-health care and screening.
All of these things -- respecting the laws on torture and the Geneva conventions, providing soldiers with care, weeding out hard-core racists -- are aspects of military policy that have been instituted, after all, to protect and benefit the people serving in the armed forces. Degrading them harms people in uniform in material ways.
There was talk, after Haditha, that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- on whose watch this has all occurred -- should finally be forced to resign; talk that has quieted down in the weeks since. The SPLC report, however, should revive it, since it lays bare just how harmful this administration's conduct of not just the war but the deployment and recruitment of our armed forces has been.
Finally, there is an aspect of all this that has largely gone unremarked, but is the real problem we all will eventually have to confront about this: Shawn Stuart is just the first of these faces to be returning home from the Iraq War. If the SPLC report is any indication, there will be many more.
Some will have joined the neo-Nazi cause in the military. Some will have developed attitudes sympathetic to theirs and join later. But we can certainly expect to see more Shawn Stuarts, and they won't all be up on podiums.
If we look five years down the road, a disturbing picture begins to take shape: After the war ends in general failure, as seems almost inevitable now, there will be a raft of angry returned veterans back in country. They will have been told, as they are being told now, that the cause of the failure is all those liberals and terrorist sympathizers roaming the landscape. That they were "stabbed in the back" by the "enemy at home."
Already, right-wingers are developing "Targets of Opportunity." Already, they're justifying Radio Rwanda tactics for anyone who dares dissent. Just how much better is it going to get in five years' time?
This, folks, is the very real threat of fascism I've been warning about for some time, rearing its truly monstrous head. You know it when you see it -- and seeing it, perhaps, some of my readers (who keep wondering when I'm going to declare the American right truly fascist) will understand why I'm insisting we're not there yet -- that what we are currently coping with is a kind of pseudo-fascism whose chief threat is that it will give birth to the real thing.
What pseudo-fascism is all about, really, is the end justifying the means. And when the end justifies the means, there are always a thousand untold consequences. We are beginning to glimpse them now.