By William Fisher
“My name is Duffy. Sergeant Duffy to you. I’m going to be your drill sergeant. My job here is to make you college types and Jewboys into real soldiers.”
Such was my introduction to the army and to the man who would supervise my basic training after I was drafted into military service the Korean War in 1950.
The differences between Sergeant Duffy and me are too numerous to enumerate here. But one of them was that the Sergeant was drunk most of the time. Another was that, like all draftees during this period, I was a member of something called the Army of the U.S. – the A.U.S. The A.U.S. consisted of temporary soldiers – draftees like me -- while Duffy belonged to the U.S. Army, otherwise known as the Regular Army.
As we were to learn, Duffy was not some aberration. In the years between the two Great Wars, the regular army was filled with racists and bigots. They were mostly non-commissioned officers, but their views were known to many and shared by some officers all the way to the top of the chain of command.
The couple of hundred men drafted with me somehow included a disproportionate number of people with college degrees and about a dozen Jews. But we came from lots of different places, backgrounds, and religions – and we were virtually unanimous in our view that Sergeant Duffy was in the regular Army because he’d be unable to make it in the world outside the military.
Over the next two years, my fellow draftees and I served as members of a military police company at Governors Island, New York, the headquarters of the First Army. One of the saddest things we learned there was just how ubiquitous the Sergeant Duffys were.
President Truman had only recently desegregated the U.S. Armed Forces, and we felt the intense resentment of that action in our MP station. There still weren’t many African-American soldiers stationed on Governors Island, but there were some. And our Desk Sergeant could always be counted on to single them out for arrest and extended detention for even the smallest infraction.
But that was then and now is now. After the Korean War, my fellow draftees and I were discharged, and most of us wanted to forget our military service as quickly as possible. And I think most of us came to believe that, while in the period between the two Great Wars, the military may have been filled with racists, anti-Semites and other miscreants, today’s military would simply not allow the uniform to be dishonored by allowing the Sergeant Duffys of the world to wear it.
Now, thanks to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), we learn how wrong we were.
SPLC’s David Holthouse reminds us that ten years ago the Pentagon toughened policies on extremist activities by active duty personnel, a move that came in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing by decorated Gulf War combat veteran Timothy McVeigh and the murder of a black couple by members of a skinhead gang in the elite 82nd Airborne Division.
Today, he reports, “large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists continue to infiltrate the ranks of the world's best-trained, best-equipped fighting force. Military recruiters and base commanders, under intense pressure from the war in Iraq to fill the ranks, often look the other way.”
According to Department of Defense investigator Scott Barfield, neo-Nazis "stretch across all branches of service, they are linking up across the branches once they're inside, and they are hard-core. We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," he added. "That's a problem."
Under pressure to meet wartime manpower goals, the U.S. military has relaxed standards designed to weed out racist extremists. Large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the armed forces, Holthouse reports.
He reminds us that back in 1996, following a decade-long rash of cases where extremists in the military were caught diverting huge arsenals of stolen firearms and explosives to neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations, conducting guerilla training for paramilitary racist militias, and murdering non-white civilians, the Pentagon finally launched a massive investigation and crackdown. One general ordered all 19,000 soldiers at Fort Lewis, Wash., strip-searched for extremist tattoos.
Now, with the country at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military under increasingly intense pressure to maintain enlistment numbers, weeding out extremists is less of a priority.
"Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members," said Barfield.
"Last year, for the first time, they didn't make their recruiting goals. They don't want to start making a big deal again about neo-Nazis in the military, because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they'll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."
Barfield, who is based at Fort Lewis, said he has identified and submitted evidence on 320 extremists there in the past year. "Only two have been discharged," he said.
Barfield and other Department of Defense investigators said they recently uncovered an online network of 57 neo-Nazis who are active duty Army and Marines personnel spread across five military installations in five states -- Fort Lewis; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Stewart, Ga.; and Camp Pendleton, Calif. "They're communicating with each other about weapons, about recruiting, about keeping their identities secret, about organizing within the military," Barfield said. "Several of these individuals have since been deployed to combat missions in Iraq."
Every year, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division conducts a threat assessment of extremist and gang activity among army personnel. "Every year, they come back with 'minimal activity,' which is inaccurate," said Barfield. "It's not epidemic, but there's plenty of evidence we're talking numbers well into the thousands, just in the Army."
Last July, the white supremacist website “Stormfront” hosted a discussion on "Joining the Military."
In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, SPLC President Richard Cohen urged DOD to adopt a zero-tolerance policy regarding racist extremism among members of the U.S. military.
"Because hate group membership and extremist activity are antithetical to the values and mission of our armed forces, we urge you to adopt a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to white supremacy in the military and to take all necessary steps to ensure that the policy is rigorously enforced," Cohen wrote.
"Neo-Nazi groups and other extremists are joining the military in large numbers so they can get the best training in the world on weapons, combat tactics and explosives," said Mark Potok, director of SPLC's Intelligence Project.
"We should consider this a major security threat, because these people are motivated by an ideology that calls for race war and revolution,” he said, adding. “Any one of them could turn out to be the next Timothy McVeigh."
Or Sergeant Duffy.