Two years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking him to investigate the extent to which white supremacists had infiltrated the U.S. military and urging him to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on racist extremists.
We had just published "A Few Bad Men," a report containing significant evidence that thousands of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads and other white supremacists were learning the art of warfare as members of the armed services. Pressure to meet manpower goals for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had led recruiters and commanders to relax the military standards designed to weed out these extremists.
Forty members of Congress joined our call for an investigation. U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, also urged Rumsfeld to adopt a zero-tolerance policy. "Military extremists present an elevated threat to both their fellow servicemembers and the public," Shelby wrote. "We witnessed with Timothy McVeigh that today's racist extremist may become tomorrow's domestic terrorist."
Three months later, the Pentagon -- apparently without any investigation whatsoever -- responded by rejecting our findings as "inaccurate and misleadingly alarmist."
This week, NBC News producer Jim Popkin uncovered a new, unpublished FBI report that reinforces our findings. In fact, it documents a sort of revolving door between the military and white supremacist organizations. According to Popkin, the FBI found that extremists are recruiting military veterans to their organizations and also encouraging their followers "to infiltrate the military as 'ghost skins,' in order to recruit and receive training for the benefit of the extremist movement."
Popkin quotes the FBI report as saying that in 2006, the National Socialist Movement received a number of inquiries from active-duty Army and Marine personnel stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq about joining the neo-Nazi organization. "Whether as a result of group recruitment efforts or self-recruitment by active military personnel sympathetic to white supremacist extremist causes, FBI information derived from reliable, multiple sources documents white supremacist extremist activity occurring at some military bases," the report states.
Now will the Defense Department act on this threat?