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RAF MILDENHALL, England — The Pentagon has long been aware of the threat posed by white supremacists in uniform.

In June 1996, the services’ secretaries addressed the House of Representatives National Security Committee on the military’s moves to eliminate hate groups in the armed forces.

“They (servicemembers) come from all corners of our society, including a few dark corners where young people are exposed to racist, xenophobic and misogynist notions,” a published version of their address states. “From day one, the services must teach these recruits the military’s core beliefs. One such core belief is that equal opportunity is a military necessity.”

Five years ago, former Marine Tom Leyden, a self-described former neo-Nazi white supremacist, spoke to students at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., about the dangers of extremism in the military.

Today, Leyden is still campaigning against white supremacists in the military as a college speaker. He says the number of white supremacists in the military is in the hundreds.

“The only way to defeat the greatest military in the world is to know that military,” he said. “That’s why I still try to get commanders to know that these guys are trying to infiltrate the military.”

Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Report for the Birmingham, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, says the Pentagon is not addressing the problem with enough vigor.

“We’re very worried that the problem will get worse, not better, both because the Pentagon does not take it seriously and due to the increase in recruitment we are about to see,” Potok said.

Last summer, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a six-page report titled “A Few Bad Men” that highlighted the role of several white supremacists in the military after Potok said researchers noticed a high volume of racist chatter from alleged military members on social networking sites such as www.MySpace.com

The article drew on examples of servicemembers from across the four branches who were or are still involved in hate groups, including a former Special Forces soldier who boasted of forming an underground racist group at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The military, Potok said, dismissed the report.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, has vehemently opposed the center’s assertions in a statement to Stars and Stripes.

“The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Web posting names a very small fraction of individuals who are alleged to have engaged in extremist behavior,” the statement read. “This report is not representative of the faithful and honorable service of hundreds of thousands of servicemembers.”

Potok said his organization does not believe there is any effort to recruit known racists.

“We’re not alleging any kind of conspiracy to bring these people into the military,” Potok said.

For more on the Southern Poverty Law Center, go to: www.splcenter.org/

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