White supremacist leader says half of his group has served in the military

By KEVIN BARON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 11, 2009

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WASHINGTON — The leader of the white supremacist National Socialist Movement estimated Friday that half of his group’s membership has at one time served in the military.

A day earlier, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, identified 40 profiles of individuals claiming to be active members of the military on newsaxon.org, a social networking Web site run by the NSM. A review of the site by Stars and Stripes found at least 130 profiles of members who claim to be in the military, though none of their identities and military affiliations has been confirmed.

“I think it’s an extreme left-wing scare tactic, and I think white soldiers have the same right to be in the military as everyone else does,” said Jeff Schoep, leader of the National Socialist Movement. “I think the SPLC is trying to pressure the military to throw these people out, and there is no basis for it. I think its un-American. I think it’s seditious.”

Morris Dees, co-founder of SPLC, said in a briefing at the National Press Club on Friday that groups like Schoep’s prize the military experience and the skills it provides servicemembers.

“These people are prime targets for recruitment by the radical right,” Dees said.

“We see hate Web sites suggest that their members join the military to learn how to use C4 explosives,” Dees said.

Julie Ziegenhorn, spokeswoman for U.S. Strategic Command, said the Department of Defense only institutes Pentagon-wide blocks on Web sites for security reasons, not content. It’s up to the individual services to determine if a particular Web site has unacceptable content, and DOD policy affords commanders broad discretion in doing so.

Ray A. Letteer, head of Marine Corps cybersecurity, said the service blocks sites, such as newsaxon.org, that adversely affect good order and discipline.

“It’s one of the standards we take a look at” when blocking for content, he said.

Over the past year more of those types of sites have been blocked by Marine Corps, Letter said.

The Marine Corps manages its network centrally and can flag new sites that have inappropriate content. Anyone caught using them can be turned into their command for discipline, he said.

The SPLC also says it has found confusion among the military services about how to handle extremism cases. However, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, “I know of no confusion.”

A Defense Department directive issued in 1996 reads, “Military personnel must reject participation in organizations that espouse supremacist causes.”

It laid out guidelines for dealing with such “dissident” activities by servicemembers, from publishing underground newspapers to organizing demonstrations. The social networking phenomenon adds a new dimension.

Several Army and Defense Department spokesmen said last week there is no specific policy addressing servicemembers on white supremacist Web sites.

The actions or punishments in each case involving allegations of extremism activity vary widely, they said, depending on the offense, whether it be having a swastika tattoo, attending a rally or committing violent crime.

The Army would not say that just knowing about a soldiers’ affiliation with a hate group — such as maintaining an online profile on newsaxon.org — necessarily would qualify that soldier for any unit disciplinary action, criminal offense or separation from Army.

Stars and Stripes reporter Megan McCloskey contributed to this report.