Right-wing extremism and the military’s ‘total war’ on Islam

A Carl Junction, Mo., firefighter works to extinguish the smoldering remains of the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque Monday in Joplin, Mo. – T. Rob Brown / AP

War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. The machinery of government sets and enforces the drastic penalties; the minorities are either intimidated into silence, or brought slowly around by a subtle process of persuasion which may seem to them really to be converting them. —  War Is the Health of the State by Randolph Bourne

Last week’s Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin and a recent wave of attacks on mosques around the country have inspired a flurry of introspection by the U.S. media, with quite a bit of focus being placed on the right-wing extremist movement to which Sikh temple gunman Wade Michael Page belonged. Much has been made, in particular, of the fact that Page had previously served in the U.S. Army, where he apparently adopted his white supremacist views.

University of Nebraska Professor Pete Simi, who had extensively interviewed Page over a period of three years while researching his book American Swastika, explained to Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman that the Army veteran told him that his military experience “caused him to realize how whites are at a disadvantage and how much the deck is stacked against whites.”

“If you don’t go into the military is as a racist, you definitely leave as one,” Page reportedly told Simi.

There has also been some discussion of how the U.S. military command sometimes takes a blind eye to racist extremism within the military ranks.

Ty Laden, a former skinhead who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, described to CNN’s Anderson Cooper the way his commanding officers would tolerate his unabashedly racist views.

“While I was in the Marine Corps, I used to hang a swastika flag on my wall locker, and everybody in my unit, all the way up to my commander knew it,” he said. “The only time they asked me to take it down was when the commanding general would come through, just so they wouldn’t get in trouble.”

While there is now renewed interest in the subject, it should be pointed out that it has for years been well known that the U.S. military largely takes a see-no-evil approach to right-wing extremism within its ranks. In 2005, with the U.S. war in Iraq grinding on, the military loosened its regulations, issuing “moral waivers” in many cases, allowing those with criminal records and white supremacist backgrounds to join up.

Although Army regulations officially prohibit soldiers from actively participating in racist groups, recruiting shortfalls during the Iraq War led the military to adopt lax standards in enforcing the regulations, resulting in “thousands” of neo-Nazi infiltrators in the Army alone, according to a Defense Department investigator.

In a 2009 profile of neo-Nazi Forrest Fogarty, who served in the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, Salon.com described exactly how regulations are sidestepped. Military recruiters for example are instructed to keep an eye out for suspicious tattoos and enlistees are required to explain any tattoos, but the recruiters routinely accept any explanation without question.

Although Fogarty had several well-known racist tattoos such as a Viking carrying a staff and a Celtic cross, he sailed right through the signup process. “They just told me to write an explanation of each tattoo, and I made up some stuff, and that was that,” he says.

Fogarty’s ex-girlfriend even sent the military a dossier of photographs showing Fogarty attending white supremacist rallies and performing with his band, Attack. “They hauled me before some sort of committee and showed me the pictures,” Fogarty says. “I just denied them and said my girlfriend was a spiteful bitch.” He adds: “They knew what I was about. But they let it go because I’m a great soldier.”

By 2006, the lax enforcement of anti-racist regulations had led to “large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists” in “the ranks of the world’s best-trained, best-equipped fighting force,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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 SPLC. “We’ve got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad,” he added. “That’s a problem.”

Despite this situation identified at least six years ago, little has been done to address the problem. In 2009, for example, the SPLC said it has found “dozens of personal profiles of individuals listing ‘military’ as their occupation on a neo-Nazi, Facebook-type website.” The group complained that the Pentagon has failed to take “forceful action” against extremists in the military despite acknowledging in a 2008 report that the problem has gotten worse.

“While the military has discharged more than 12,500 service members because of their alleged homosexuality since 1994, it has refused to adopt a true ‘zero tolerance’ policy when it comes to extremists in the military,” the group wrote in a letter to supporters.

A 2009 Department of Homeland Security report, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” identified extremism in the military as a potential threat, but the report came under such intense criticism from the mainstream U.S. conservative movement that the DHS repudiated it and subsequently punished its author, Daryl Johnson.

Since then, there has been what can be described as an ad hoc approach to enforcement of anti-extremist regulations, but nothing of any sort of comprehensive nature.

Earlier this year, the Marine Corps was forced to explain a photo of U.S. Marines posing with a Nazi SS flag in Afghanistan that had been circulating on the Internet.

In a statement, Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos said that

the Marine Corps unequivocally does not condone the use of any such symbols to represent our units or Marines.

The local command to which the Marines in the photo were assigned investigated this issue last November. They determined that the Marines in the photo were ignorant of the connection of this symbol to the Holocaust and monumental atrocities associated with Nazi Germany. To ensure the Marines involved fully understood the historical use of the SS symbology, a formal instructional class was prepared and delivered by unit leadership.

To some though, it was laughable that a military commander would feign ignorance over the use of Nazi symbols in the U.S. military, or that soldiers would claim that they were unaware of the historical significance of Nazi SS thunderbolts.

In an article posted on March Forward’s website, Kevin Baker, a former Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry who served 28 months in Iraq, noted that “Nazi paraphernalia is not uncommon” in the military.

“In my time as an infantryman,” he says,

I saw Nazi paraphernalia regularly. Soldiers complained to me that in the barracks of Ranger Regiment on Fort Lewis, Nazi flags being hung in soldiers’ rooms without repercussion. My first tour in Iraq was the first time I remember seeing the “Deaths Head” pin, a symbol of the Nazi SS, placed on the front of soldiers’ vests. It was not the last.

Especially in Special Operations units—such as the Marine snipers in the photo—Nazi symbolism is revered. Why? Quite simply because the Nazis are famous for mercilessly killing and terrorizing millions of people. It fits right in to the mentality expected of Spec Ops.

Besides the official toleration of right-wing extremism in the military, there is also the question of how much the military actively teaches racist views.

In May of this year journalists Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman revealed in Wired magazine that for years, the U.S. military had been teaching its future leaders that a “total war” against the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims would be necessary to protect America from Islamic terrorism.

The options taught in the class included using the lessons of “Hiroshima” to wipe out entire cities at once, targeting the “civilian population wherever necessary.”

“For the better part of the last decade,” Wired reported, “a small cabal of self-anointed counterterrorism experts has been working its way through the U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement communities, trying to convince whoever it could that America’s real terrorist enemy wasn’t al-Qaida — but the Islamic faith itself.”

“We have now come to understand that there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam,’” Army Lt. Col. Matthew A. Dooley noted in a July 2011 presentation. “It is therefore time for the United States to make our true intentions clear. This barbaric ideology will no longer be tolerated. Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction.”

The class, which has since been discontinued by the Pentagon, included course material that explicitly stated that international law no longer applies to the United States in its conduct of the “war on terror.”

“This model presumes Geneva Conventions IV 1949 standards of armed conflict and the pursuant UN endorsements of it are now, due to the current common practices of Islamic terrorists, no longer relevant or respected globally,” the document reads.

With a military tolerating for years the influx of neo-Nazis into its ranks and teaching its soldiers that international law poses no constraints in a total war against Islam, it should come as no surprise when acts of terror such as attacks on places of religious worship occur.

Just as the United States eschews international norms on the global level in its war on terror, individuals will likely demonstrate the same level of disregard for basic standards of  decency on the domestic level as well. This is, after all, what “total war” means.


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One response to “Right-wing extremism and the military’s ‘total war’ on Islam”

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