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When I saw the Reuters report, I didn’t believe it. So I started digging.What I found was that these threats of military veterans joining “Right-Wing” extremist groups are overblown.
But Reuters published a story Aug. 23 titled “US Army Battling racists within its own ranks.” Inside this report, the only real, hard statistic I could find, and the one fact which the whole story stood upon, was this:
“No one knows how many white supremacists have served since then. A 2008 report commissioned by the Justice Department found half of all right-wing extremists in the United States had military experience.”
For the rest of the story, we’re treated with evidence that’s at best anecdotal, and at worst seems to point at what’s called a “lone wolf” problem; meaning extremists, without any official militant group affiliation or enrollment, take things into their own hands — much as we saw with Wade Michael Page.
Furthermore, from my own experiences in the military, as a Marine journalist who’s covered no less than 100 different units (across all services), I have not once encountered overt racism. Actually, just the opposite: the military is so diverse ethnically, and the experience of combat so difficult, that any racists, in my opinion, are likely to be quickly rehabilitated.
But that’s anecdotal as well, so I did some research, looking for this evidence, and what I found was only evidence to the contrary.
Here’s the breakdown:
A Department of Homeland Security report came out in 2009 with an entire section titled “Disgruntled Military Veterans.”
Here’s a bit of that report some might consider pertinent:
DHS assesses that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat. These skills and knowledge have the potential to boost the capabilities of extremists—including lone wolves or small terrorist cells—to carry out violence. The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today.
The report goes on to say:
The FBI noted in a 2008 report on the white supremacist movement that some returning military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined extremist groups.
But by “some” the FBI actually means “minuscule” amounts.
From the FBI report:
Some veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined the extremist movement. However, they have not done so in numbers sufficient to stem declines among major national extremist organisations caused by the deaths or incarcerations of significant leaders and disruptive infighting. Nor has their participation resulted in a demonstrably more violent extremist movement.
The FBI goes on to report that from 2001 to 2008, they could only find 203 members of these groups with “unverified” military backgrounds staffing a nationwide attendance that numbers only “in the low thousands.”
Then it gets even better:
Although the count of 203 includes persons with unverified military backgrounds—some of whom may have inflated their resumes with fictional military experience to impress others within the movement—this number is helpful in identifying those groups which most attract and value military experience.
So, essentially, we’re dealing with a bunch of fakers. Valor stealing creeps, joining creepy organisations – in order to acquire an accelerated rank, according to the report.
The same FBI report notes that militia groups have increased, but does not link that increase to military members.
Once I found this out, I contacted the Reuters media desk via email, including the quote and a link to the story, asking if they knew where I could find this “Justice Department report.” The response I got back was that this was not “data or reporting which was referenced in the article.”
So I emailed again, with the same information, this time noting the paragraph and sentence of the quote, requesting again that they reference the “report.” This time I got a response saying, in effect, Reuters reporters don’t give up sources, and to call the Justice Department.
I’d already exhaustively searched the Department website, and found nothing. So I called them, and requested the information.
At this time, I’m still waiting for them to respond with this “report.”
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