American troops think that white nationalism presents more of a threat to national security then international hot spots like Syria and Afghanistan, according to a new poll from the Military Times.
Disturbingly, one in four also reported having seen examples of white nationalism among their fellow servicemen. That number was much higher for minorities within the military, 42 percent of which said they’d personally experienced some form of white nationalism in the ranks. The number of white service members who said they’d experienced the same was less than half that (18 per cent).
The survey asked whether white nationalists are a threat to national security, and 30 percent of the 1,131 respondents said it was — more than Syria (27 percent), Afghanistan (22 percent) and Iraq (17 percent). However, five percent of those who participated also complained that groups like Black Lives Matter weren’t included in the options. One Navy commander, who declined to give his name, said that “white nationalism is not a terrorist organization.”
The U.S. military has had a troubled relationship with white nationalism within its ranks for years. A 2009 report by the Department for Homeland Security warned 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.” It added that “the willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated.”
Since that report there have been several examples of veterans or active service members engaging in hate crimes or advocating for white nationalism. In 2012, Army veteran Wade Michael Page killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin before being shot by police. That same year, four soldiers stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, were arrested for killing a 19-year-old and his 17-year-old girlfriend, as well as being part of a militia group called FEAR (Forever Enduring, Always Ready), who wanted to poison the apple crop in Washington state, kill local judicial and political leaders, and ultimately assassinate Barack Obama.
More recently the self-described leader of Vanguard America, which alleged Charlottesville murderer James Alex Fields belonged to, was revealed to be a Marine Corps veteran. He was reportedly on active duty until January 2017 — five years after he self-identified as a white supremacist. Richard Spencer’s bodyguard was also recently revealed to be a member of the Alabama National Guard, who hosted a Neo-Nazi podcast and helped organize the Unite the Right rally. The Alabama National Guard said that they were investigating the incident, and noted that, per the Army’s Command Policy, “military personnel must reject participation extremist organizations or activities.”