Blog post

Matt Kennard on the Wisconsin shooting

Matt Kennard 7 August 2012

The US military has spent the ten years and counting of the War on Terror training and arming some of the most violent neo-Nazis and white supremacists in America, as outlined extensively in my new book Irregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members and Criminal to Fight the War on Terror (out in September). The tragic shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday is likely to be the opening salvo of other upcoming domestic mass murders as these extremist veterans, some afflicted with untreated PTSD and other ailments, stream back into the US. Wade Michael Page, the Wisconsin shooter, served for six years in the US military from 1992 to 1998 as part psychological ops, one of the more respected departments in the armed forces. It was a period where there was relative diligence paid to rooting out neo-Nazi elements, or at least that is the narrative amongst people who watch extremists in the US Army. The case of neo-Nazi James Burmeister, an active duty paratrooper at Fort Bragg who murdered two African-Americans near the base in 1995, is commonly assumed to have alerted the US military to the dangers of allowing far-right radicals access to the highest grade weaponry (and attendant training) in the world. Personally, I am doubtful the military did much to change things even during this period, as witnessed by Page being able to serve for six years in the 1990s with no apparent problems. What is certainly true is that during the War on Terror the already-loose regulations on recruitment and retention of extremists were jettisoned as the US military struggled to keep up troop numbers. In 2005, the US Army missed its recruitment targets by the largest margin since 1979, when the US was still afflicted with so-called “Vietnam Syndrome” and recruiting twice as many soldiers. By 2008, 1.6 million Americans had served in the War on Terror. Testimony from far-right leaders and veterans as well as internal reports by the Criminal Investigative Command (CID), the military's investigative branch, show that during the War on Terror nothing was being done to either stop the recruitment, or the retention of, neo-Nazis. The concerns of investigators and troops themselves was ignored all the way up to Congress. (See my articles “Neo-Nazis are in the Army Now” for all this evidence.)

Page himself was given an other than honourable discharge which made reenlistment impossible—but during the War on Terror this avenue for rooting out extremists fell by the wayside. It was not an official change in policy, but rather the troop needs meant that the US military could no longer to kick out extremist veterans, or any other misbehaving soldiers. They had two occupations to populate and couldn’t slow down. 

As I write in Irregular Army:

“The [statistics] show that the avenues the army guidelines stipulate for dealing with extremists already serving in the military have been drastically reduced since 1998, and increasingly so since the War on Terror was initially announced. One such avenue is the denial of reenlistment, which fell from a high of 4,000 soldiers rejected in 1994 to a low of 81 in 2006. Another is a soldier receiving misconduct charges resulting in discharge from the army. In the five-year period from 1998 to 2003 the number of discharges for misconduct teetered from a high of 2,560 to a low of 2,307. But by 2006 this number had fallen off to 1,435.”
Wade’s music band, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, was linked to the Hammerskins skinhead organization—“called the most violent skinhead group in the US” by the Anti-Defamation League—the same organization that the main character of Irregular Army(and the Nation Fund article), Forrest Fogarty, belongs to. Fogarty, who served in the military police in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, also has his own neo-Nazi band called Attack. Fogarty gave me one of his albums when I interviewed him in Tampa, Florida. One song: “Eye For An Eye” opens with the lines: “A slow painful death I strive / Why are you still alive?” 

Wade, however, is not the first neo-Nazi veteran to have committed murder back in the US, nor surely will he be the last. There have been countless less well known cases where extremist veterans—some after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan—have brought the war home with them. In 2007, neo-Nazi Kenneth Eastridge was part of a team of three which killed a fellow soldier in Colorado Springs. In 2005, neo-Nazi James Douglas Ross was caught trying to mail a submachine gun back from Iraq to his father in Spokane, Washington, while in March 2011 when the FBI arrested Kevin William Harpham, a thirty-six-year-old member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, also in Spokane, Washington, on suspicion of planting a bomb at a Martin Luther King Day celebration which if detonated would have killed hundreds of people. Harpham had served in the US army for two years in the mid-1990s. The US military ostensibly has a ban on its soldiers having racist tattoos or taking active roles within white supremacist groups, but the regulations are vague and rarely enforced. Neo-Nazis often join the military to gain weapons training in order to come back to the US and start the domestic “race war” they believe is coming. Some struggling to readjust to life in the US after traumatic tours of Iraq and Afghanistan also found solace in extremist organizations, a problem fingered by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009.

There are undoubtedly many other Wade’s out there in America, battle-hardened and, thanks to the US military, trained in using the most advanced weaponry known to man. Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood shooter who killed 13 fellow soldiers, showed that the US military has even shown insouciance towards Islamic fundamentalism—it was found subsequently that the command structure had been aware he was conversing via email with extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (assassinated by Obama administration in 2011). Jared Loughner, who shot dead six people in Arizona, also tried to enter the military not long before his shooting spree. He was only disallowed after telling them that he had used marijuana—something he could have easily lied about, as many others surely have. For that reason, I believe it’s only a matter of time before the next tragedy, not to speak of the tragedies that this open-door policy has already caused in Iraq and Afghanistan.