Fri, Aug 24, 2012 - Page 9 News List

US Army battling racists within its own ranks

Some analysts claim that the US military was so desperate for troops while fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that it allowed felons, extremists and gang members into the armed forces

By Daniel Trotta  /  Reuters, FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina

“The standard hateful message has not been replaced, just packaged differently with issues like freedom of speech, anti-gun control themes, tax reform and oppression,” the presentation said, noting that recruitment may be difficult to detect, occurring quietly “in bars and break areas” on bases.

The presentation instructs army leaders to look out for tattooed symbols of lightning bolts, skulls, swastikas, eagles and Nordic warriors. Skinheads may have tattoos showing barbed wire, hobnailed boots and hammers.

In a detailed flowchart called a “Tattoo Decision Support Matrix,” army leaders are shown how to respond to various tattoos. At the time of publication, the army was unable to identify the locations where the course was being taught.

“We’re very strict on the tattoo policy here within this recruiting station,” said Sergeant Aaron Iskenderian, head of the US Army recruiting office in Fayetteville, the town next to Fort Bragg.

With the US withdrawn from Iraq, winding down in Afghanistan and unemployment stuck above 8 percent, recruiters can be choosy again.

Iskenderian cited the example of a young man who came in recently with a tattoo of the Confederate flag.

“We’re in the South here. It’s considered Southern heritage. It’s on the General Lee,” Iskenderian said, referring to the car from the television show The Dukes of Hazzard. “Is it racist? I asked him: ‘What does it mean to you?’ and he said: ‘Southern pride.’”

The potential recruit also told Iskenderian he had a black girlfriend. Iskenderian sent the issue up the chain of command and the young man was rejected.

Academics who study white supremacists say proponents of the “infiltration strategy” of joining the US military have adapted, telling skinheads to deceive military recruiters by letting their hair grow, avoiding or covering tattoos, and suppressing their racist views.

“You have to differentiate between some of the grandiose fantasies of some of the leaders of the movement and what actually is going on,” Pitcavage said.

For neo-Nazis who get past the screeners, as with the gang members, the military needs a comprehensive strategy, said Carter Smith, a former military investigator who is now a professor of criminal justice at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee.

“They are some of the most disciplined soldiers we have. They really want to learn to shoot those weapons,” Smith said. “The problem wasn’t just that we were opening the floodgates to let them in. We let them out after prosecution or when their time was up and we didn’t let the police know.”

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