The recent revelations of a Pentagon report sent to Congress ahead of the 2020 election probing white supremacy in the ranks of the U.S. military back up Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recent “stand down” order tasking the armed forces with addressing the urgent problem.
The report, which was commissioned by Congress and first reported by CQ Roll Call, flags the specific threat that white supremacist extremists in the military pose to U.S. national security.
“Despite a low number of cases in absolute terms, individuals with extremist affiliations and military experience are a concern to U.S. national security because of their proven ability to execute high-impact events,” read the report. “Access to service members with combat training and technical weapons expertise can also increase both the probability of success and the potency of planned violent attacks.”
The danger inherent in having any number of violent racists in the armed forces was exemplified by the report’s quoting of Brandon Russell, a former soldier in Florida’s National Guard, who founded the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen and bragged about sharing his white supremacist views while in the military.
“I was 100% open about everything with the friends I made at training. They know about it all,” Russell posted on an online forum for extremists when asked if he was afraid of being facing repercussions from the military for being a neo-Nazi.
“I’d say the craziest shit and get away with it,” he added.
Russell is now serving time in federal prison for building bombs in his apartment—which investigators also found festooned with white supremacist material and military ammunition and other gear.
The Pentagon report adds that while serving in the Army, Russell had a tattoo of the insignia of Atomwaffen, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center says is made up of “terror cells that work toward civilizational collapse.” None of his colleagues or superiors raised questions about the tattoo.
According to CNN, outside of the Navy, there is no official military rule that requires service members identified as domestic extremists or white supremacists to leave the military.
The report recommends that such a rule be put in place, that the recruitment of military members should include reviewing social media for extremism, and that the Department of Defense be given access to the FBI’s database of extremist tattoos and the bureau’s anti-extremism training.
House Rep. Peter Aguilar (D-Calif.) recently introduced a bill—the Shielding Our Military from Extremists Act—that would make the report’s recommendations law.
“Just because this secretary of defense wants to address it and stay committed to it doesn’t mean that the next one will or that the next administration will,” Aguilar told CNN. “That’s why it’s important to codify this and make it clear law.”