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- US military officials testified before a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing Tuesday, where they told legislators that personnel will not be discharged from the military for membership in a white-supremacist group.
- "Mere membership in the organization is not prohibited," said Robert Grabosky, deputy director of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. "Active participation," on the other hand, could result in administrative action.
- A 2019 Military Times poll found that more than one-third of soldiers have seen examples of white supremacy in the military.
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United States military officials testified before Congress on Tuesday, telling legislators that personnel will not be discharged from the US military for claiming membership in a neo-Nazi group.
The House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel hearing — which featured scholars, experts, and Pentagon officials — comes on the heels of a broad uptick in white-supremacist violence that government officials are looking to curb.
"Military personnel must reject active participation in criminal gangs or other organizations that … advocate supremacist, extremist, gang-doctrine ideology or causes," said Robert Grabosky, deputy director of law enforcement at the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Any military member who actively participates, he said, is subject to investigation and potentially a discharge.
But just being in a white-supremacist group will not lead to an investigation or discharge, Grabosky told Congress members. "It is important to note that the Air Force policy dictates [that] mere membership in the organization is not prohibited."
"So if I say, 'I'm a racist,' I'm not going to be investigated? I'm not going to be evaluated as to whether or not I should be kicked out?" Representative Jackie Speier, chair of the House Armed Services subcommittee, interjected.
In that case, Grabosky said, the issue would be kicked back to the commander of the individual in question, who would then "take care of them in the appropriate manner."
Grabosky presented to legislators a distinction between being a member of a neo-Nazi group and participating in one.
"Mere participation is not something that OSI [the Air Force Office of Special Investigations] actually investigates," Grabosky said to Speier. "We actually investigate the active participation of a member."
"I am flummoxed by what I've heard today," Speier said at one point during the hearing.
Other officials noted that the military has seen an uptick in active-duty personnel who are involved in extremism including white supremacy.
"Over the course of the fiscal year 2018," said Christopher McMahon, executive director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service's National Security Directorate, "the Naval Criminal Investigative Service experienced an increase in the number of domestic extremism-related reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigations involving Department of Defense-affiliated personnel."
The US Army's representative at the hearing, Joe Ethridge, made a similar observation: In 2019, the branch's criminal intelligence division saw "a small increase" in investigations of soldiers involved in "extremist activities" including white supremacy. There were 2.4 investigations per year from fiscal years 2014 through 2018, and seven investigations in 2019.
A spokesperson for the US Army told Insider that military personnel are held to very high standards.
"We prohibit military personnel from actively advocating supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes," the spokesperson said. "Soldiers who choose to engage in such acts will be held accountable for their actions."
Days prior to the Congressional hearing, a US Army Specialist pleaded guilty to sharing information about building bombs, the Jerusalem Post reported. Jarrett William Smith, who had ties to the neo-Nazi group Feuekrieg Division, was arrested in Kansas City, Kansas, last fall while on active duty at Fort Riley. He shared bomb-making instructions on Facebook and planned to use self-made explosives to target CNN and politician Beto O'Rourke.
According to a 2019 poll from Military Times, more than one-third of soldiers have seen examples of white supremacy in the military. That figure rose to 53% among soldiers of color, and stood at 30% among white ones.
In 2012, the US Marine Corps was embroiled in a scandal after a photo emerged of Marine scout snipers posing with two flags: an American flag and what appeared to be a Nazi SS flag. An internal investigation stated that the letters "SS" referred to "scout snipers," not the elite guard of the Nazi regime.
More recently, a joint investigation by ProPublica and Frontline PBS reported on six former or then-active military personnel with ties to neo-Nazi groups. One such group, Atomwaffen, is "a series of terror cells that work[s] toward civilizational collapse," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
One of the six was Vasillios Pistolis, then a Marine and Atomwaffen member. He attended the infamous Charlottesville white-supremacy rally in 2017, where he attacked at least one person with a wooden club.
Pistolis later faced a summary court-martial, roughly equivalent to a misdemeanor trial.
- Read more:
- Marine Corps Acknowledges Photo With Marines Posing In Front of Nazi 'SS' Flag
- More than half of all Americans think Donald Trump fuels white supremacy
- The number of US troops who say they've seen racism in the ranks jumped to more than one-third in 2019
- West Point and the Naval Academy are investigating students giving hand gesture tied to white supremacy during Army-Navy broadcast
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