Hate groups have uneasy history with military base
A billboard along the main road into Fort Bragg, N.C., in the mid-1990s read: "Enough! Let's start taking back America." Below the slogan was the telephone number for the National Alliance, a white-supremacist group.
Wade Michael Page, who killed six on Sunday at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, must have driven by that billboard dozens of times while stationed at the base back then. It was paid for by an active-duty soldier at Fort Bragg who served as a recruiter for the hate group.
Page was at Fort Bragg in 1995 when two neo-Nazi soldiers from the 82nd Airborne killed a black couple in nearby Fayetteville, according to a former soldier who served with him.
At the time, Page was assigned to a unit that specialized in Latin American affairs. Many members were fluent in Spanish, but Page wanted only to learn German, said Fred Allen Lucas, 43, who served with him in A Company, 9th Psychological Operations Battalion.
Once, while on temporary duty in Germany, Page got drunk and started goose-stepping down the street Nazi-style.
"He started singing Nazi marching songs," said Lucas, of Bloomington, Ind.
At the time, military policy prohibited active membership in hate groups, but not so-called passive support of their ideas.
The racially motivated murders in Fayetteville exposed a thriving subculture at Fort Bragg, according to a March 1999 article in the Military Law Review.
Nazi flags adorned the barracks of National Alliance sympathizers, who handed out pamphlets on the base. At parties, they played "Third Reich," a song about killing blacks and Jews. They tied their Doc Martens boots with white laces and wore red suspenders and leather jackets when not in uniform.
"White supremacists have a natural attraction to the military," the article says. "They often see themselves as warriors, superbly fit and well-trained in survivalist techniques and weapons and poised for the ultimate conflict with various races."
In the wake of the Fayetteville murders and the Oklahoma City bombing, Congress convened hearings and the Department of Defense commissioned a study on extremism in the military.
The murders weren't the only evidence of neo-Nazi soldiers at Fort Bragg, according to congressional testimony by Joseph T. Roy Sr., director of Klanwatch, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In 1991, one soldier from Fort Bragg and one from Fort Campbell, Ky., were indicted on a charge of amassing large amounts of weapons in preparation for attacks on media organizations and other companies owned by Jews and blacks.
In 1992, Fort Bragg was home to a white-supremacist group called Special Forces Underground.
"They combined a racist, antidemocratic agenda with sophisticated technical skills and weaponry," Roy said. "The combination is extremely dangerous."
In 1994 and 1995, skinheads were suspected of eight assaults on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Police suspected soldiers were involved in all of them.
Also in 1995, a man was shot in the chest during a fight between two skinhead gangs near the base. Both groups included members of the military.
The Defense Department investigation, which identified 19 white supremacists at Fort Bragg in addition to the two who killed the couple, likely underestimated the number, John J. Johnson, director of the armed services and veterans affairs department of the NAACP, told Congress.
"It is clear that Fort Bragg has a serious problem," he said.
As a result of the investigation and hearings, the Defense Department gave commanders more authority to crack down on extremists.
"Department of Defense policy leaves no room for racist and extremist activities in the military. We must - and we will - make every effort to erase bigotry, racism and extremism from the military," Secretary of the Army Togo D. West Jr. said in 1996. "Extremist activity compromises fairness, good order and discipline, and, potentially, combat effectiveness."
But the problems at Fort Bragg continued, Defense Department investigator Scott Barfield told the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2006.
In 2004, a Fort Bragg military intelligence officer stationed in Iraq was dishonorably discharged for sending weapons from Iraq to the U.S. Investigators found neo-Nazi literature in his home, according to Barfield.
And in 2006, Barfield discovered a group of more than 50 military skinheads online, some of them from Fort Bragg.
"Today's white supremacists in the military become tomorrow's domestic terrorists once they're out," Barfield said.
Jesse Garza of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.