An October 2020 Pentagon report to Congress regarding the military’s efforts to keep extremists out of the armed forces obtained by Roll Call provides more insight about white supremacists in the U.S. military and details the Pentagon’s steps to remove them.
A Florida National Guardsman told a white supremacist in an online extremist forum in 2016 that he was “100 percent open” with his military training buddies about being Neo-Nazi in the Army.
“Are you worried at all about being found by your mates or someone, now being in the U.S. military?” someone on the Iron March forum asked the guardsman. “You’ll be straight f—ed surely.”
To that, the soldier, Brandon Russell of Tampa, replied: “I was 100% open about everything with the friends I made at training. They know about it all. They love me too cause I’m a funny guy.”
Screenshots of the exchange were included in the 2020 report.
Russel was sentenced in 2018 to five years in jail for possessing bomb materials. Officials later reported that Russell had a tattoo of the insignia of the Atomwaffen Division, a violent hate group, on his right shoulder.
The Pentagon’s efforts to weed extremists from the military include accessing FBI databases of extremist tattoos, and modifying security questions.
Army Guard officials said that at the time of Russell’s arrest, they lacked a database of extremist tattoos they could refer to.
The report also suggested including specific questions of security clearance for military applicants and their neighbors, and surveilling applicants’ social media for signs of extremism.
The Jan. 6 Capitol riot helped expose the issue of extremist ideologies among military veterans, who were overrepresented in the attack. Nearly one in five defendants in the riot served in the military.
The incidence of extremism in the military is thought to be rare, but it’s unclear exactly how uncommon the ideology is, as experts say there has been a surge of right-wing extremism in recent years.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin took a step toward weeding out white supremacy in the military earlier this month when he gave the armed services 60 days to conduct stand-downs to allow for a “deeper conversation” on the issue.
“I will fight hard to stamp out sexual assault, to rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity,” Austin, the nation’s first Black defense chief, said previously at his conformation hearing. “The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
According to the recent Pentagon report, members of the military, as well as veterans, are “highly prized” recruits for white supremacists groups, and some members of extremists groups attempt to join the military and urge others in the group to enlist.
Extremists in the military seek to obtain weapons and skills, the report says.
“Despite a low number of cases in absolute terms, individuals with extremist affiliations and military experience are a concern to U.S. national security because of their proven ability to execute high-impact events,” the report stated. “Access to service members with combat training and technical weapons expertise can also increase both the probability of success and the potency of planned violent attacks.”
Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, who is on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told Roll Call this week the report plainly lays out the dangers posed by white supremacists’ infiltration of the armed services.
“What the report made clear is that white supremacists are using our military to further their hateful and violent agenda,” said Aguilar, who introduced the Shielding Our Military from Extremists bill to combat the problem on Feb. 18.