Active-Duty Marine Moonlights as Leader of Violent White Supremacist Group: Report

Illustration for article titled Active-Duty Marine Moonlights as Leader of Violent White Supremacist Group: Report
Illustration: Michael Harriot (The Root/FMG; photos via iStock)

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.


Every person who enlists in the U.S. military swears this oath of loyalty and honor to their country. But apparently, there are some people in the ranks of the U.S. Marine Corps who have really taken that pledge to heart. As they train to become a Marine, they are preparing their fellow Marines for a different war ...

A race war.

In the past few years, reporters and news outlets have uncovered a troubling number of people employed by the U.S. military who are actively involved with white supremacist hate groups. But ProPublica and Frontline may have uncovered one of the most disturbing stories of all.

The tale of Vasilios Pistolis is the story of a Marine who doubled as a soldier in one of the most violent white supremacist organizations in the nation. The plot includes a violent attack in Charlottesville, Va.; a Nazi extremist group that has been linked to at least five murders; an 18-year-old who led preparations for a race war; and a U.S. military that knew all about it but did nothing to stop him.

The Root has covered the violent extremism of Atomwaffen before. When reporting on the murder of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein by Atomwaffen member Samuel Woodward, we revealed how the group was inspired by James Mason, who took mass murderer Charles Manson’s advice and left the American Nazi Party in the 1970s because it was “too moderate.”

We discussed how the group didn’t like “keyboard warriors” after Nicholas Giampa allegedly murdered his girlfriend’s parents when they objected to Giampa mowing a swastika in their lawn. Another double murder—this time by 18-year-old Devon Arthurs—exposed how Atomwaffen recruited young, angry white males.


Atomwaffen is dangerous, militant and hell-bent on starting a race war. Its members train on weekends in remote locations; are obsessed with firearms and military tactics; and hate blacks, nonheterosexuals and Jews.

It’s always the Jews.

Vasillios Pistolis’ involvement with hate groups began with the National Socialist Movement “and other skinheads” when he was 16. After enlisting in the Marines, he assumed leadership of Atomwaffen’s North Carolina cell, according to members who spoke with ProPublica.


But it was at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where Pistolis really earned his stripes. He commissioned at least two self-designed flags with Nazi and Confederate imagery. He told his fellow members in person and on the internet that Atomwaffen intended to cause havoc. He blasted Charlottesville’s Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy as a “monkey in a fancy suit.”

True to Atomwaffen’s position, Pistolis was not just a keyboard warrior. Once in Charlottesville, the neo-Nazi attacked a transgender data scientist, Emily Gorcenski. After running to deliver a flying blow to Gorcenski, Pistolis bragged on white supremacist websites that he “drop-kicked” that “tranny” and posted pictures of his blood-soaked custom flag with the humblebrag: “Not my blood.”


But even after diligent online sleuths identified Pistolis in photos and video from Charlottesville, the Marine denied his involvement. Even after Getty photographer captured him beating a counterprotester with a pole. Even after he told others that he “cracked a skull” and left “3 motherfuckers bleeding.” Even after he bragged to his fellow Atomwaffeners: “If you see a guy in a tracksuit that’s me.”

“His own statements match up perfectly to what’s happened,” said Gorcenski. “The military is supposed to protect American civilians, and here we see that our soldiers are attacking American civilians—and celebrating it.”


The military has a long history of white supremacist members. Richard Butler, founder of Aryan Nations, served in the Army Air Corps. Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, was a naval aviator. Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.


Even recently, the military’s ranks have been filled with white nationalists. The previously mentioned Devon Arthurs was in the Army Reserves and roomed with a group of white supremacists. Michael Chesny, who gave advice to neo-Nazis on weapons and demolition techniques, was also an explosives expert in the Marines. Joseph Manning was kicked out of the Marine Corps for climbing a building to display a banner with a white supremacist slogan.


Carla Gleason, a Department of Defense spokesperson and Air Force major, told ProPublica that the military encourages free speech but relies on its chain of command to discipline soldiers who exhibit discriminatory behavior.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service confirms that it looked into Pistolis in the past, but the investigation was apparently dropped. NCIS spokesperson Adam M. Stump told ProPublica that they are currently investigating Pistolis for the second time, but declined to comment on an open investigation.


“At the unit level, I believe there’s a willful ignorance,” said one former Marine. A 2017 poll of 1,000 servicemen found that 25 percent of active-duty personnel say they have encountered white supremacists within their ranks.

Vasilios Pistolis is still a Marine.

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The FBI has been reporting about this for over a decade. Even the military has released multiple reports about their threat assessment and white nationalist outrank terrorist every single time. At this point, it seems like a feature, not a glitch. It’s true for both law enforcement and the military and it’s not new information.