Ten years after a scandal over neo-Nazis in the armed forces, extremists are once again worming their way into a recruit-starved military.
A Few Bad Men by David Holthouse
July 7, 2006 -- Before the U.S. military made Matt Buschbacher a Navy SEAL, he made himself a soldier of the Fourth Reich.
Before Forrest Fogarty attended Military Police counter-insurgency training school, he attended Nazi skinhead festivals as lead singer for the hate rock band Attack.
And before Army engineer Jon Fain joined the invasion of Iraq to fight the War on Terror, the neo-Nazi National Alliance member fantasized about fighting a war on Jews.
"Ever since my youth -- when I watched WWII footage and saw how well-disciplined and sharply dressed the German forces were -- I have wanted to be a soldier," Fain said in a Winter 2004 interview with the National Alliance magazine Resistance. "Joining the American military was as close as I could get."
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."
In 1996, following a decade-long rash of cases where extremists in the military were caught diverting huge arsenals of stolen firearms and explosives to neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations, conducting guerilla training for paramilitary racist militias, and murdering non-white civilians (see timeline), the Pentagon finally launched a massive investigation and crackdown. One general ordered all 19,000 soldiers at Fort Lewis, Wash., strip-searched for extremist tattoos.
But that was peacetime. 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."
Every year, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division conducts a threat assessment of extremist and gang activity among army personnel. "Every year, they come back with 'minimal activity,' which is inaccurate," said Barfield. "It's not epidemic, but there's plenty of evidence we're talking numbers well into the thousands, just in the Army."
Last July, the white supremacist website Stormfront hosted a discussion on "Joining the Military."
"There are others among you in the forces," wrote one neo-Nazi in the Army. "You are never alone."
Not all military commanders fail to give known extremists the boot. "The response differs from command group to command group," Barfield said. "Most put up a front and say, 'Oh, this guy's in big trouble,' but actually do nothing unless he commits a felony. But some kick their ass out right away."
Barfield noted that commanders are far more likely to take immediate action if the soldier is stateside in a non-combat role, rather than fighting overseas. In one recent instance, Robert Salyer, a lieutenant in the Navy and military lawyer with the Judge Advocate General Corps, was dishonorably discharged and barred from military law practice when it came to light that he was a member of the white supremacist neo-Confederate group League of the South. And in late June, Airman First Class Andrew Dornan, who was assigned to the firing party in the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, was sentenced to nine months confinement and dishonorably discharged after he posted messages glorifying Adolf Hitler on his personal webpage and threatened to detonate a bomb on a military base.
But the military took no such action against former Navy SEAL Matt Buschbacher, who continued to fight in Iraq after the Southern Poverty Law Center had alerted officials to his active support of neo-Nazi groups.
Buschbacher told the Intelligence Report he joined the neo-Nazi movement "for the same reason everyone joins: I was angry and looking for some answers. I wanted to belong to something that made me feel good about myself."
In 1998, when Buschbacher was still a teenager living in Terrace Park, Ohio, a wealthy, almost exclusively white suburb of Cincinnati, he was ordained as a reverend in the World Church of the Creator, a violent neo-Nazi organization. He rose fast. In 1999, he was the head of the hate group's Cincinnati chapter when Chicago member Benjamin Smith went on a three-day, two-state shooting spree that targeted Jews, Asians and blacks. Smith killed two people and wounded nine before committing suicide as police closed in.
Afterward, Buschbacher praised Smith as "a dedicated activist for our racial cause" in The Cincinnati Inquirer. "We have pride in our race, heritage, and culture, and we will do anything to prevent it from being destroyed," he said. "White man is the creator, the creator of civilizations."
In May 2000, Buschbacher attended Nordic Fest, an annual skinhead festival sponsored by the Imperial Klans of America in Kentucky, where he posed in front of a flaming swastika, seig heiling. He joined the Navy shortly afterward. Again, Buschbacher advanced quickly. In October 2001, he completed 26 weeks of SEAL training at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, Calif.
In August 2002, while an active duty SEAL but not yet stationed in Baghdad, Buschbacher attended the National Alliance's invitation-only "leadership conference" at the neo-Nazi group's West Virginia compound. The conference was held just weeks after the death of National Alliance founder William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, the fantasy novel about revolution and race war that inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Pierce also wrote the seminal pamphlet, "What is the National Alliance?" It was in that tract that Pierce explained that a National Alliance member in the military "[u]ses his daily interactions with career personnel to select exceptional individuals who are receptive, and he then gives them the opportunity to serve their race while carrying out their military functions."
'Heroes Among Us'
Today, Matt Buschbacher denies recruiting Navy personnel into the Alliance. What's clear is that for years after becoming a SEAL, he violated military regulations without repercussions by staying active in the neo-Nazi movement.
Using the online pseudonym "Mattiasb88" [88 is neo-Nazi code for "Heil Hitler"] to hide his identity, Buschbacher designed and distributed National Alliance fliers, white power screen savers, and a photo montage of Pierce on the Internet via his website, racialpride.com, which displayed a logo of a burning swastika and this mission statement: "The purpose of this website is to provide white patriots with a large database of information for recruiting and self-improvement." Buschbacher also posted messages to the white supremacist website Stormfront and the website of Resistance Records, a hate rock music company owned by the National Alliance. In the fall of 2003, the National Alliance magazine Resistance even published a collage of "Scene Shots" that included a small photo of Buschbacher wearing a Turner Diaries T-shirt and giving a Nazi salute.
Buschbacher hasn't been the only neo-Nazi to fight in Iraq. Forrest Mackley Fogarty, a member of the Tampa, Fla., unit of the National Alliance, was deployed for 18 months during Operation Iraqi Freedom with his Army National Guard unit. "There are some dirty Arabs enjoying their 70 virgins because of my actions and that of my fire team," Fogarty boasted in the Winter 2005 issue of Resistance. (Fogarty was identified in the article only as "Forrest of Attack.")
Jon Fain, a neo-Nazi who currently lives on the National Alliance compound, was part of the original Iraq invasion force in 2003, as a U.S. Army engineer. Shawn Stuart, the Montana state leader of the National Socialist Movement, another neo-Nazi group, served two combat tours in Iraq as a U.S. Marine before he was discharged in 2005. Stuart told the Missoula News that he joined the NSM in 2004, while he was still a Marine, because he "came to believe the United States is fighting the war on Israel's behalf."
None of these men, it appears, were ever disciplined for neo-Nazi activities. All were honorably discharged.
James Douglas Ross Jr. was not so fortunate. Ross, a military intelligence officer stationed at Fort Bragg, was caught shipping disassembled AK-47s to the United States from Iraq in 2004, officials said. When investigators searched his off base housing, they found a weapons arsenal, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and hate group materials. Ross was forced to return from Iraq and given a bad conduct discharge. "But they let him keep the weapons [he kept in his house]," said Department of Defense investigator Barfield, adding that Ross has since relocated to Washington, where he's a leader of the Eastern Washington Skins, a neo-Nazi gang. "He kept his military connections, and he's still trying to recruit soldiers, so we're still dealing with him."
For his part, despite his sometimes brazen activities, Matt Buschbacher tried hard to avoid exposure as a neo-Nazi in the military. But his identity became clear after he posted a photo of himself in a "Mattiasb88" Yahoo profile in 2004, and then advertised his neo-Nazi E-mail address in a July 2004 posting to a currency trading forum. "I am in the military and currently in Iraq," he wrote there. "If anyone would like to purchase some Iraqi dinars I have access to as much as you would like." That September, Buschbacher was profiled in his hometown Terrace Park community newspaper, Village Views. The article, "Heroes Among Us," reported he was fighting terrorism with a SEAL unit based in downtown Baghdad.
Two years later, Matt Buschbacher is back from Iraq -- also with an honorable discharge, despite the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center informed the military of his background while he was still on active duty. He lives in Denver, Colo., and teaches classes on how to pick up women. "I have no connection with any neo-Nazi anything any more," Buschbacher told the Intelligence Report. Photographed holding a red rose, he was recently splashed across the cover of a weekly newsmagazine in Denver promoting his new book, Date the Women of Your Dreams. The cover story made no mention of his neo-Nazi past.
Training for Race War
According to a 1998 study commissioned by the Department of Defense, "Young civilian extremists are encouraged by adult leaders to enlist in the military to gain access to weapons, training, and other military personnel."
The reasons are obvious: Soldiers are trained to be proficient with weapons, combat tactics, and explosives, to train others in their use, and to operate in a highly disciplined culture that is focused on the organized violence of war. This is why military extremists present an elevated threat to public safety, and why extremists groups both recruit active duty personnel -- especially those with access to classified information or sophisticated weaponry -- and influence their members to join the armed forces.
"The threats posed by extremism to the military are simultaneously blatant and subtle," the Defense Department study said. "On the one hand, high-profile terrorist acts and hate crimes committed by active and former military personnel can have seriously detrimental effects on the civil-military relationship as well as on the morale and security of military personnel. On the other hand, even the non-violent activities of military personnel with extremist tendencies (e.g., possessing literature and/or artifacts from the extremist 'movement'; dabbling in extremism through computerized telecommunications activities; proselytizing extremist ideologies, etc.) can have deleterious consequences for the good order, discipline, readiness, and cohesion of military units."
Special Forces soldiers who double as extremist operatives present a special danger, since they have commando skills gained at huge taxpayer expense -- often including urban warfare, long-range reconnaissance, and combat demolitions.
"Hate groups send their guys into the U.S. military because the U.S. military has the best weapons and training," said T.J. Leyden, a former racist skinhead and Marine who recruited inside the Marine Corps for the Hammerskins, a nationwide skinhead gang. He later renounced the neo-Nazi movement and now conducts anti-extremism training seminars on military bases.
"Right now, any white supremacist in Iraq is getting live fire, guerilla warfare experience," Leyden said. "But any white supremacist in Iraq who's a Green Beret or a Navy SEAL or Marine Recon, he's doing covert stuff that's far above and beyond convoy protection and roadblocks. And if he comes back and decides at some point down the road that it's race war time, all that training and combat experience he's received could easily turn around and bite this country in the ass."
Department of Defense investigator Barfield confirmed that threat assessment. "Today's white supremacists in the military become tomorrow's domestic terrorists once they're out," he said. "There needs to be a tighter focus on intercepting the next Timothy McVeigh before he becomes the next Timothy McVeigh."
'White Soldier's Burden'
In April 1995, the same month Timothy McVeigh detonated a 7,000-pound truck bomb outside a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, the National Alliance erected a billboard on the main road leading into Fort Bragg, an Army base in Fayetteville, N.C. The billboard's message read, "Enough! Let's Start Taking Back America," and listed the neo-Nazi group's toll-free number.
The billboard was the work of Robert Hunt, a National Alliance recruiter and active duty member of the Army's elite 82nd Airborne Division, which is based at Fort Bragg. By late 1995, a large neo-Nazi skinhead gang had formed within the 82nd Airborne. Members saluted a Nazi flag in their barracks, distributed National Alliance literature on base, and held drunken barracks parties where they blasted "Third Reich," a rockabilly white power anthem by the band Rahowa (short for "Racial Holy War") with lyrics about killing blacks and Jews.
In December 1995, two members of the 82nd Airborne skinhead gang gunned down a black couple in a random, racially motivated double murder that shocked the nation and sparked a major investigation of extremism in the military as well as congressional hearings. The killers were eventually sentenced to life in prison, and 19 other members of the 82nd Airborne were dishonorably discharged for neo-Nazi gang activities.
"The fallout from the skinhead killings was immediate," racist skinhead Steve Smith recalled in his 2005 essay, "The White Soldier's Burden." Smith was in the Army from 1991 to 1996 and was stationed at Fort Bragg at the time of the murders. "White soldiers at Fort Bragg were inspected to see if they had any 'racist' tattoos. The Army also held mandatory classes on 'extremist' organizations."
Before the Fort Bragg slayings, military regulations on extremist activity by active duty soldiers were ambiguous. There were no specific regulations on extremism at all until 1986, when it came to light that active duty soldiers were providing guerilla training and stolen military weapons to a paramilitary Ku Klux Klan faction led by a former Green Beret. The Southern Poverty Law Center then urged Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger to "prohibit active-duty members of the armed services from holding membership in groups like the Klan or from taking part in their activities." Weinberger responded by issuing this directive: "Military personnel must reject participation in white supremacy, neo-Nazi and other such groups which espouse or attempt to create overt discrimination. Active participation, including public demonstrations, recruiting and training members, and organizing or leading such organizations is utterly incompatible with military service."
Though sternly worded, many commanders interpreted that order to mean that while active participation in extremist groups was prohibited, so-called "passive support," such as distributing propaganda, listening to hate rock, displaying flags or symbols, and "mere membership," were still allowed. After the Fort Bragg slayings, however, the Department of Defense toughened military policy somewhat to read, "Engaging in activities in relation to [extremist] organizations, or in furtherance of the objectives of such organizations that are viewed by command to be detrimental to the good order of the unit is incompatible with Military Service, and is, therefore, prohibited."
Then-Defense Secretary William Perry used even stronger language to describe the intent of the updated regulation. "Department of Defense policy leaves no room for racist and extremist activities in the military," Perry stated. "We must -- and we shall -- make every effort to erase bigotry, racism, and extremism from the military. Extremist activity compromises fairness, good order, and discipline. The armed forces, which defend the nation and its values, must exemplify those values beyond question."
Neo-Nazis have no respect for the values of a free democracy or the shining example of equal opportunity its military is meant to be. When Jon Fain, the Army engineer, was interviewed in 2004 for a Resistance article titled, "On the Front Lines for the Jews," he advised neo-Nazis considering a military career to "[n]ever allow yourself to be brainwashed into the 'everybody's green' lie." In the Stormfront discussion on joining the military, neo-Nazi "Ulfur Engil" wrote that he was stationed with the Army in Europe and offered this guidance: "Nothing will change what you are. If you join, you are still the same enlightened white man (or woman) you always have been."
Hundreds of neo-Nazis online identify themselves as active duty soldiers. "When you are in, after you finish basic training, your discretion is very important," Ulfur Engil wrote in a recent Internet posting. "If you are someone who wears boots and braces keep a second pair that's neutral looking (black). Remove any obvious pins from your jacket (runes by themselves are okay, though. They don't take issue with them, providing there is no obvious [racist] arrangement. The USO in Keflavik, Iceland, actually sold runes!) Do NOT use any Internet connection offered by the base or do ANYTHING on a military server. NOTHING. Get an Internet connection that is private and off-base, invest in EvidenceEliminator, and set up an email account with Hushmail and/or Ziplip."
Extremists in the military are tricky to unmask. "They're a lot smarter about it than street gang members," said Barfield. "They don't brag and boast like gang bangers." The best way to reduce the number of extremists in the armed forces is to prevent them from entering the military in the first place. "But now we're lowering our recruiting standards. We're accepting lesser quality soldiers," Barfield said. In a move to boost enlistment, the military is allowing more and more recruits with criminal records to sign up. A recent Chicago Sun-Times article revealed the percentage of recruits granted "moral waivers" for past misdemeanors had more than doubled since 2001. The military also revised its rules on inductee tattoos earlier this year to allow all tattoos except those on the front of the face. Both changes in the rules made it easier for extremists to join. And while military regulations prohibit (PDF) all gang-related or white supremacist tattoos, many recruiters are ignoring such tattoos, or even literally covering them up. "I had one case where a recruiter and his wife took a guy to their house and covered up his tattoos with make-up so he could pass his [physical examination]," Barfield said.
Military regulations also call for any superior officer who spots a soldier with a neo-Nazi or white supremacist tattoo to refer the soldier to a commander, who then is supposed to demand the soldier have the tattoo removed. If the soldier refuses, he's supposed to be kicked out.
"But there's a loophole," Barfield said. "If they never refer them, they can't refuse, so they just never refer them, and they stay in."
"If you have any kind of tattoo prior to going in, they will require you to write out a statement as to what it is, and what it means to you," advised a neo-Nazi in the Stormfront military forum. "If it's something obvious like a swazi [swastika], then they will probably say, 'No go.' But, something more obscure, like a Schwarze Sonne [a "black sun," another Nazi symbol] or a Celtic cross would probably be okay, so long as no phraseology accompanies it."
"The average Joe recruiter can spot the most obvious tattoos," said Leyden, who trains the military in identifying hate group members. "But the vast majority of them don't know what 'White Power' in German looks like, they don't know what 88 in Roman numerals means, and now, they may not even care, because they're under this extreme pressure to fill the void, and who are they filling the void with? Therein lies the danger."
'Switchblades and Smeared Blood'
The large tattoo on the right arm of Air Force airman Robert Lee West depicts a menacing wizard with a scythe. His recruiter probably saw no problem there, but the photo of himself West has up on his EveryonesSpace web page should wave a red flag. In it, West, with his head shaved, is standing in front of a swastika and Iron Eagle banner, holding an assault rifle and a shotgun. West, 23, who's stationed at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, lists his general interests as "switchblades and smeared blood."
In his "About Me" section, he writes: "I train most days for marksmanship, combat, demolition, politics, economics, religion, military tactics, oratory, and propaganda. I will give my life for a cause greater than my own. My mind and spirit shall ensure life for my people, and death for yours. I shall fight until I have achieved victory. Just remember when you speak to me that I don't play by ZOG [Zionist Occupation Government] rules and I will not hesitate to sever your subclavian artery."
Special Agent Will Manuel of Air Force's Office of Special Investigations at Warner Robins said he's "well aware" of West's neo-Nazi identity. "We've seen all his pictures, we've read his website, and we know what's he doing." Yet despite the toughened policy declared by the Pentagon a decade ago, Manuel says, "We're not going to go after him just based on what he says he believes, or on him making a lot of claims. There has to be an overt act first. He has to actually organize or recruit or commit a crime. But even his pictures and writings raise concerns, obviously, because we know that where you have one [neo-Nazi], there's usually another, and what he claims to represent totally goes against the core values of the military."
Ten years after the military crackdown on extremism, it's clear that there are still a great many Robert Lee Wests in the U.S. armed forces. And that should worry all Americans. In 1996, the Ft. Bragg murders sparked Congressional hearings on extremism in the military. Then-Air Force Secretary Sheila E. Windall said in her testimony, "We have an absolute obligation, and the American people have an absolute right to expect, that military members will use their expertise and the lethal tools of their trade to protect them and never to harm them."
But some in the military appear to have lost sight of that obligation in the fog of war. "The regulations could use some fine tuning, but they're already on the books," Barfield said. "They're just not being enforced. My fear is that it's going to take another Fort Bragg before that changes."
Anthony Griggs, Joseph Roy Sr., and Laurie Wood contributed to this report.