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How Neo-Nazis and Gangs Infiltrated the U.S. Military: Matt Kennard's 'Irregular Army'

How Neo-Nazis and Gangs Infiltrated the U.S. Military: Matt Kennard's 'Irregular Army'

Did the Bush administration's desperate need to build up the military for the Iraq War lead recruiters to turn a blind eye toward supremacists and gangs? Matt Kennard's Irregular Army deals with how the wars reshaped the character of the armed forces

Daily Beast/December 13, 2012

Fears of white supremacists infiltrating the U.S. military date back at least decades. In the 1970s, a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan was discovered operating at California's Camp Pendleton. It was not until 1986 that then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger issued a directive requiring everyone in the military to "reject participation in white supremacy, neo-Nazi, and other such groups which espouse or attempt to create overt discrimination." Recruiters were asked to screen potential recruits for incriminating tattoos and associations with potentially troubling groups. Yet as recruiting levels during the first years of the Iraq War continually failed to meet targets, incentives to look the other way were huge. irregular-army-matt-kennard-thomsen

Matt Kennard's Irregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror is an angry account of how the Bush administration's handling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have necessarily reshaped the essential character of the armed forces—very often for the worse—by imposing operationally untenable political ideals on them.

Irregular Army begins by focusing on the prevalence of white supremacists and former gang members, groups that have had an increasingly easy time slipping through the military application process. "I get into fights myself twice a month because I'm a Nazi ... I'm completely open about it," one subject admitted to Kennard. Forrest Fogarty served in Iraq as a military police officer in 2004 and 2005, and had previously been associated with the National Alliance, the largest neo-Nazi organization in the country founded by The Turner Diaries author William Pierce. Fogarty is also the lead singer in the neo-Nazi hardcore band Attack, whose album Survival featured a photo of Fogarty in uniform and on duty in Iraq.

Many white-supremacist groups informally encourage people to enlist, not necessarily because of love for the government, but in order to gain weapons and combat training for the inevitable racial holy war, or RaHoWa. After the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, a heavily armed group of National Socialist Movement members patrolled the streets anticipating retaliatory attacks on white people. The group has also sent volunteers with camouflage uniforms and assault rifles to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. In a 2009 report to the Department of Homeland Security, analyst Daryl Johnson focused on these groups, writing that the "greatest fear is that domestic extremists ... [carry] out a mass-casualty attack."

Kennard cites a number of U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command cases where neo-Nazi accusations were barely taken seriously. One soldier at Fort Hood was found to be posting on a prominent neo-Nazi message board, but no further action was taken because the investigator couldn't find him for an interview. Another investigation in San Antonio found that a soldier had provided an Improvised Munitions Handbook to a leader in the supremacist group the Celtic Knights, which planned to attack five different methamphetamine labs around the city. The suspect was interviewed only once, and after the group failed to get explosives, the investigation was dropped in 2006. When Fogarty enlisted, his girlfriend at the time sent pictures of him at neo-Nazi rallies to his superiors. Fogarty was called before a committee and offered only one defense: his girlfriend was a "spiteful bitch." The committee let him serve.

Discharge for misconduct numbers have fallen dramatically, from 2,560 in 1998 to 1,435 in 2006. Denials of reenlistment almost completely disappeared, dropping from 4,000 in 1994 to only 81 in 2006. These lax standards also made the military a more welcoming place for people in street gangs, like the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, and others. One of Kennard's sources, Army Reserve Sgt. Jeffrey Stoleson, estimated street-gang members to make up as much as 10 percent of all soldiers. Stoleson served two tours in Kuwait and Iraq and reported gang members at every level, many of whom bragged about what they would do with their newfound military know-how. Stoleson reported what he saw to superiors, complete with large photo dossiers of gang graffiti tagged around military bases in Iraq, but was immediately labeled a snitch.

Military-trained gang members were especially in demand along the Mexican border. One 2007 report found 40 Folk Nation gang members stationed at Ft. Bliss who had been involved in drug distribution, robberies, assaults, weapons offenses, and even a homicide. The connection between organized crime and military experience have led to several domestic blowouts, and in many cases city governments have had to seek out either the military or National Guard assistance to fight against gang violence. All the while the military continued to hand out waivers to new recruits in record numbers. By 2007, one in every five military recruit received a waiver for something that would have otherwise flagged them for further review or rejection.

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