“Documenting Hate”: How does the US military screen for Nationalism extremism?

Canary. Photo by 4028mdk09.

Is Coast Guard’s Lt. Christopher Paul Hannon representative of bigger problem in the Armed Forces? This is a question the House Democrats are now pressing the U.S. military over, asking “how it is screening for white nationalism and other extremism in the ranks,” according to a Washington Post report.

A series of incidents in which U.S. troops have been arrested in cases involving white nationalism is of “significant concern, particularly given their combat and weapons training,” several House Democrats said in a letter Monday pressing the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security for information about how they screen recruits.

Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Anthony G. Brown and Jamie B. Raskin of Maryland and Rep. Jackie Speier of California wrote that they applaud the actions taken by federal agencies in the arrest this month of Coast Guard Lt. Christopher P. Hasson, a self-proclaimed white nationalist who authorities say had a list of journalists and politicians whom he planned to kill.

But citing that case and others in 2017, the lawmakers asked acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, whose agency oversees the Coast Guard, how Hasson and others who demonstrated extremist views were able to circumvent the military’s checks.

Washington Post

Last year, Frontline partnered up with ProPublica to document, what Baltimore Sun reporter David Zurawik called, a ‘chilling portrait of rising neo-Nazi movement in U.S.”

In August, the PBS series offered “Documenting Hate: Charlottesville,” a powerful reminder of the deadly alt-right rallies in Virginia in 2017. The report, which featured Frontline and ProPublica correspondent A.C. Thompson tracking white supremacists who engaged in violent behavior in Charlottesville and got away with it, was a model of dogged and righteous journalism doing what government law enforcement agencies should have but hadn’t. There were multiple arrests and prosecutions as a result of the report.

How does this all connect?

Frontline writes: “The 18-year-old, excited by his handiwork at the bloody rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, quickly went online to boast. He used the handle VasillistheGreek.”

One of [Vasillios] Pistolis’ victims that weekend was Emily Gorcenski, a data scientist and transwoman from Charlottesville who had shown up to confront the rally’s hundreds of white supremacists. In an online post, Pistolis delighted in how he had “drop kicked” that “tranny” during a violent nighttime march on the campus of the University of Virginia. He also wrote about a blood-soaked flag he’d kept as a memento.

“Not my blood,” he took care to note.

After Pistolis’ weekend of ‘cracking’ “3 skulls open with virtually no damage to myself,” he went back to his day job: a United States Marine Corps lance corporal.

Atomwaffen, “one of the most notorious extremist groups,” ProPublica reports, “means “nuclear weapons” in German – embraces Third Reich ideology and preaches hatred of minorities, gays and Jews.” Members have produced YouTube videos “showing members firing weapons and has filmed members burning the U.S. Constitution and setting fire to the American flag.”

With the help of sources, including a former Atomwaffen member, after reviewing 250,000 – 7 months’ worth – of messages from on-line social media postings ProPublica and Frontline were able to identify “three Atomwaffen members or associates who are currently employed by the Army or Navy,” as well as three others who had “served in the armed forces in the past.”

ProPublica reported on June 20, 2018 that USMC Vasillios Pistolis was court martialed “on charges of disobeying orders and making false statements.”

Pistolis, 19, will be imprisoned for a month, docked pay and reduced in rank to private first class, and then likely forced from the Corps, according to a USMC spokesman.

Pistolis, a water support technician, was treated as low-level offender by military authorities, who tried him at what is known as a summary court martial, which is akin to a misdemeanor trial. 

Ed Beck, a veteran who filed a report with Marine Corps investigators last October about Pistolis’ participation in a white supremacist rally in Tennessee, told ProPublica and Frontline that Pistolis’ charges were “the lowest level of court martial the Marine Corps could’ve decided to bring against him.”

Beck told ProPublica and Frontline earlier this year that he suspected the military had not acted aggressively in response to his information about Pistolis. The eventual disposition of the case, he said this week, left him convinced the Marine Corps isn’t taking the new wave of racial extremists seriously. 

“In the same way that they ignored my report to them in October, I’m not surprised that this is all they charged him with,” Beck said.

One month after the deadly White Nationalist rally ‘Unite the Right’ in Virginia the ArmyTimes reported that after a new Military Times poll that “nearly one in four troops polled say they have seen examples of white nationalism among their fellow service members, and troops rate it as a larger national security threat than Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“Concerns about white nationalist groups were more pronounced among minorities in the ranks. Nearly 42 percent of non-white troops who responded to the survey said they have personally experienced examples of white nationalism in the military, versus about 18 percent of white service members.”

Some respondents “bristled” at the idea that “white power ideology is a real problem,” with about five percent leaving comments “complaining that groups like Black Lives Matter … weren’t included among the options for threats to national security,” but the poll did include “unspecified “U.S. protest movements” and “civil disobedience” among threats polled, but noted “concerns about those issues fell well short of the perceived white nationalist threat.”

““White nationalism is not a terrorist organization,” wrote one Navy commander, who declined to give his name.”

It was reported as an August 1, 2018 update that “Major Brian Block of the United States Marine Corps said today that Lance Corporal Vasillios Pistolis has “officially been separated from the Marine Corps.”

Part 2 of the ProPublica/Frontline series Documenting Hate: New American Nazis + Extras includes an “interview with A.C. Thompson – producer and senior reporter on the series; as well as a CNN interview with Christian Picciolini, ex-Neo Nazi Bonehead and the founder of Life After Hate.”

“Our hope is that these incidents are isolated events and are not indicative of a larger, systemic issue within the United States Armed Services,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote. “Beyond the extremes of domestic terrorism, we are additionally concerned with low level racism and other identity-based harassment that disrupts unit cohesion, impacts readiness, and degrades the ability of our servicemembers to protect our nation. Servicemembers who experience or witness racist or hateful behavior must be able to report such behavior without fear of repercussions.”

Washington Post

For further reading: The Military Is Cracking Down on Immigrant Recruits. But Advocates Say It’s Ignoring a White Nationalism Problem; TIME

“[The vetting] is not happening to native-born Americans at all,” said retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, who has fought for the rights of immigrant enlistees in court. “That’s one of the reasons why they’re having such a huge problem right now with white supremacists in the military. That’s actually the big security threat right now.”

The U.S. Army discharged more than 500 immigrant enlistees last year, the Associated Press reported in October, after those immigrants were recruited for their skills and promised a path to citizenship…

“What changed was simply a new person came into power at the Pentagon who didn’t like immigrants,” she said.

About the opinions in this article…

Any opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website or of the other authors/contributors who write for it.