Saturday, July 07, 2007

Hate and the military

Last year, the Southern Poverty law Center issued a report on the growing infiltration of white supremacists within the military, in no small part because of the Pentagon's need for fresh cannon fodder in Iraq.

Now, according to a followup report by Joe Jackson at Port Folio Weekly, it's becoming painfully self-evident the military has little intention of changing things.

Jackson describes the extremist activism of a Navy PIO named John Sharpe, who also operates a couple of far-right Catholic organizations out of his home that specialize in classic anti-Semitic hatemongering:
The questions concern his involvement with the Legion of St. Louis and the IHS Press, which he runs from his home in Carrolton, Isle of Wight County. In March 2007, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)—a national watchdog organization that tracks hate groups and racism—identified them as among "the most nakedly anti-Semitic organizations in the entire radical traditionalist Catholic pantheon." This pantheon is bound by the certainty that Jews, Masons and others have conspired to topple the Catholic Church for 300 years. The SPLC’s report, entitled "The Dirty Dozen," claimed that "Sharpe blames the 9/11 attacks not on Al Qaeda but on ‘Judeo-Masonry.’" Sharpe’s writings were quoted, including his assertion that the "temporal power that the Jews have achieved since . . . 1798 is both pervasive and relatively unchallenged."

Jackson goes on to note that Sharpe's activities only heightened concerns raised by the SPLC about the infiltration of extremists and gang members in the ranks of soldiers being recruited for service in Iraq:
The timing could not have been worse for John Sharpe. In Summer 2006—one decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups—the SPLC reported that recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military to get training for a race war. The SPLC, citing interviews with Department of Defense investigators and its own monitoring of racist magazines and Web sites, estimated the numbers could run into the thousands. "We’ve got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," DOD gang investigator Scott Barfield told the SPLC’s Intelligence Report. "That’s a problem." The New York Times publicized the report, followed by the national and international media.

One consequence of the coverage was the perception that the military was sweeping the problem under the rug. "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces," Barfield said, "and commanders don’t remove them . . . even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members." The military downplayed a neo-Nazi presence in the ranks, Barfield added, "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."

What stands out is the official response -- denial, denial, denial:
The SPLC called on then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to appoint a task force and design a new response, but on Sept. 26, 2006, Under Secretary of Defense David Chu wrote to the SPLC that their findings were "inaccurate and misleadingly alarmist. Extremist activity is antithetical to the values of our armed forces. We already have the ‘zero tolerance’ policy that you recommend." The fact that Scott Barfield resigned from the military on Aug. 15, 2006, after being reprimanded for violating regulations on interactions with the media, added to the perception that the Defense Department did not like an airing of its dirty laundry.

"There’s an old saying: ‘The military will never admit to having a problem until they have a solution to the problem,’" said Hunter Glass, a former sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division and now a nationally recognized expert on gangs in the military. Barfield, who reportedly felt "burned" by the military and media alike, could not be reached for this report, but Glass—who knows him and is reportedly his mentor—verified his claims.

"I wouldn’t doubt that there are thousands of gang members in the military right now," Glass said from his home in Fayetteville, N.C. "This is all gangs – black, white, Latin." For FY2006, there were 1.36 million active duty personnel in the U.S. armed services— 512,400 in the Army, 352,700 in the Navy, 179,000 in the Marines and 317,400 in the Air Force. "If, as the Pentagon says, only one percent of these might be gangbangers," that comes to at least 13,600 gang members, though Glass personally feels the number could be as high as 15,000.

"Think about it," he said. "Fifteen thousand gang members released on the streets of America after Iraq is over, trained in arms and combat by the best military in the world." What hits the press is only the tip of the iceberg, he fears. "Among the extremists, you’re on a mission . . . these guys are secret agents in their own minds." The problem is one for the future, he said, "and it’s huge."

This isn't a problem affecting just the Nazis, gang-bangers, and other violent personalities worming their way into the military. It also affects the many more formerly normal, non-racist recruits who have been dragged into multiple tours of duty in Iraq, regardless of the profound psychological effects of such treatment. This includes many people whose evaluations have recommended they not be returned for duty. There's a reason to call Iraq the Timothy McVeigh Finishing School.

This will, I fear, become a significant component of the predictable surge in far-right activity that is almost certain to manifest itself in the USA over the next couple of years, especially as Democrats and liberals expand and entrench their hold on power. We're essentially re-creating the conditions that arose in Germany and Italy after World War I: scores of angry, disaffected and psychologically damaged war veterans, poised to organize into a political force aimed at "rebirthing" the nation and its heritage.

What's even more disturbing, though, is that the top brass at the military seem all too willing to create those conditions.

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