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ANALYSIS

Soldiers' cases highlight reach of white extremism into US military

This photo provided by the Department of Justice seized from an iCloud account belonging to U.S. Army Pvt. Ethan Melzer displays personal effects, including paraphernalia associated with the extremist group Order of the Nine Angles.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

By DAN LAMOTHE AND SOUAD MEKHENNET | The Washington Post | Published: June 25, 2020

As Ohio National Guard soldiers were dispatched to help quell unrest in Washington, D.C., one was keeping a secret from his commanders: He had frequently espoused neo-Nazi views among like-minded friends.

Pfc. Shandon Simpson had participated in a white supremacist channel on the Telegram messaging app called RapeWaffen Division, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The channel's members have touted the rape of female police officers, posted images with Confederate battle flags and swastikas and called white women who have children with men of other races "traitors."

On Twitter, Simpson tried to recruit fascists to join him in a new group, used an image of Nazi Party leader Richard Walther Darré as his profile picture and marked the 75th anniversary of Adolf Hitler's death on April 30.

"I pay respects to him as a martyr who died in Berlin completely unwilling to capitulate," Simpson tweeted, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors extremism online. "In loving memory of a great leader of the German people. Rest in peace, führer."

Simpson is one of several service members whose actions have come under scrutiny in recent months as the U.S. military grapples with white extremism in its ranks. The military has wrestled with the problem for decades, but the issue is receiving new attention amid a broader conversation about race and discrimination prompted in part by the death of George Floyd, a black civilian who was killed in police custody last month.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced June 5 that a guard member had been suspended for expressing white supremacist views but did not identify him. Simpson is now being processed for a separation from the military, said Stephanie Beougher, an Ohio National Guard spokeswoman. It is not clear how his actions first came to the attention of authorities, or if he will face any charges.

"Racism and prejudice has no place in our organization," Beougher said in a statement. "Every member of the Ohio National Guard is held to a high standard of professionalism. Ohio knows and trusts its National Guard. Any threat to that public trust will not be tolerated."

Simpson's case has come into focus as another soldier faces serious charges. On Monday, the Justice Department charged Pvt. Ethan Melzer in a plot in which authorities said he worked with the extremist group Order of the Nine Angles in an attempt to kill fellow American soldiers abroad.

Members of the "racially motivated violent extremist group" have espoused neo-Nazi and satanic beliefs and admiration for both Hitler and Osama bin Laden, the indictment said.

Melzer, 22, of Louisville, consumed extremist propaganda online and sent messages to members of the Order of Nine Angles, or O9A, and participants of the RapeWaffen Division, the indictment said. His lawyer, Jennifer Willis, did not respond to a request for comment.

U.S. law enforcement intervened last month, charging him in an indictment that was unsealed on Monday. He told officials he intended the attack "to result in the deaths of as many of his fellow service members as possible," according to court documents.

It is not a surprise that Melzer ascribed to O9A's ideology and was a member of RapeWaffen, said Rita Katz, SITE's executive director. Rapewaffen upholds O9A "as its central philosophy" and has described itself as having links in the United States, Canada, Russia, Australia and other countries, she said.

Simpson, who did not respond to requests for comment, posted content from RapeWaffen on his Facebook page. He also promoted a complementary group, RapeKrieg, that adheres to an even more extreme version of O9A ideology, Katz said.

Simpson, who was first identified by the nonprofit website Unicorn Riot, also raised the prospect of committing violence, stating under the pseudonym "Zoltanous HN" on June 2 that "they have activated my unit and we're getting real ammunition to shoot and kill," according to a copy of that message recovered by SITE. He added "Rahowa," a term that is short for "racial holy war" in white supremacist channels, Katz said.

It is unclear if other members of RapeWaffen are U.S. service members, but more than one of them have claimed to be, Katz said. A general recommendation for O9A adherents is to join the armed forces to gain combat experience in anticipation of war, she added.

O9A was established in the 1970s as a Nazi-Satanist group in Britain with plans and has promoted extreme violence for decades, influencing neo-Nazi groups on both sides of the Atlantic, a European security official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Membership estimates for O9A range from a few dozen to about 2,000, the official said. The group targets young people and sends supporters into other organizations to influence and recruit, the official said.

Another soldier, Pfc. Corwyn Storm Carver, was scrutinized last year by the Army after investigative reports raised concerns about his alleged membership in the Atomwaffen Division, an American neo-Nazi group, the official said. Social media posts discovered in the investigation showed that Carver used hashtags for O9A and posted a picture of "the Sinister Tradition," a book detailing O9A views.

An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz, said the service's investigation did not result "in charges related to terrorism or acts of violence." But Carver was administratively separated last August after serving just 28 months, an unusually short enlistment. The Army declined to explain the circumstances of his departure, citing personnel policies.

RapeWaffen's founder has posted information under the username "Sinisterius" and "Sinistrovs" and repeatedly claimed that the group is a splinter of the Atomwaffen Division, an American neo-Nazi organization, said a second European security official who tracks extremist groups. The official also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

RapeWaffen highlights how O9A's ideas and imagery have become appealing in the extreme, far-right online communities that proliferate on Telegram and other parts of the Internet, the official said. The channel's founder openly discuss the pleasure he finds in immorality and transgression.

While rape is not a central tactic of O9A, and some in the group have argued that rapists should be "culled," it comes up frequently in postings among adherents. Rape is sometimes described as a "figure of speech" in the group, something ambiguous enough that the group can remain appealing to people who may not support such violence, the official said.

The Washington Post's Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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