Pentagon Tightens Ban on Supremacist Activity After Years of Denying Problem

Booth Gunter, SPLC, April 13, 2010

Since the SPLC warned the U.S. military about extremist activity among active-duty personnel in 2006, the Pentagon brass has steadfastly denied that a problem existed and insisted that its “zero-tolerance” policy was sufficient to keep organized racists out of its ranks.

That changed this past November, when the Pentagon quietly tightened its policy on extremist activity, which formerly only banned “active participation” in extremist groups but did not define what that meant.

Under the new regulations, military personnel “must not actively advocate supremacist doctrine, ideology or causes” or “otherwise advance efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.” The new rules specify that “active participation” includes activities such as recruiting, fundraising, demonstrating or rallying, training, organizing and distributing supremacist material, including online posts.

The revision should give commanders ample new tools to root out racial extremists in their midst. The previous policy, in effect since the mid-1990s, could be interpreted to mean that military personnel were allowed to be “mere members” of hate groups or that they could engage in unaffiliated extremist activities–such as posting racist and anti-Semitic messages to social networking websites and e-mail lists or maintaining online profiles filled with racist materials. As the SPLC has repeatedly pointed out, the policy allowed numerous active-duty members to engage in a range of supremacist activities.

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The SPLC has been urging the Pentagon to revise the regulations since 2006, when it published “A Few Bad Men,” a report revealing that large numbers of neo-Nazi skinheads and other white supremacists were joining the armed forces to acquire combat and weapons training–skills that could be used to commit terrorist acts against targets in the U.S.

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{snip} [An] unclassified FBI Intelligence Assessment in Fall 2008 detailed more than a dozen investigative findings and criminal cases involving Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as well as other active-duty personnel engaging in extremist activity in recent years. “The military training veterans bring to the [white supremacist] movement and their potential to pass this training on to others can increase the ability of lone offenders to carry out violence from the movement’s fringes,” the FBI report warned.

In February 2009, the threat became even harder to ignore. Lance Corporal Kody Brittingham, a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, was arrested and later charged with threatening the president after investigators found white supremacist materials and a journal containing a plot to assassinate President Obama among his belongings.

Then, in April 2009, a Department of Homeland Security report on the threat of domestic terrorism from right-wing extremists stated that the department “assesses that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.”

With no apparent action being taken by the Pentagon, in July 2009 the SPLC appealed to Congress to investigate the problem. In a letter to committee chairmen with oversight over homeland security and the armed services, the SPLC presented dozens of additional profiles of active-duty military personnel on the New Saxon website. {snip}

Two months later, in September, SPLC officials were invited to brief staff members of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

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[The Department of Defense’s Instruction on “Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces” can be downloaded as a PDF file here.]

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