The U.S. Military’s Pattern of Failing to Confront White Supremacy Within Its Ranks

The presence of white supremacy and right-wing extremism in the U.S. military has been a serious concern for years, given heightened attention following the involvement of several former and even current military personnel in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. A recent Pentagon report warned that the infiltration of such ideology among the armed forces poses a serious national security threat, and officials have acknowledged a lack of centralized tracking of specific cases or numbers.

American Oversight has been investigating the government’s response to the prevalence of extremism in the military, and has received records and responses to Freedom of Information Act requests that further illustrate how branches of the military are not adequately tracking incidents of white supremacy within their ranks. On Tuesday, USA Today reported on records we obtained from the U.S. Navy that “show a pattern in which [Navy and Marine Corps] military leaders chose to deal with personnel involved in extremism by dismissing them in ways that would not attract public attention.”

Navy officials told USA Today that those records represent the most serious incidents, and that most cases “are dealt with internally rather than being formally investigated, according to military law experts and service members. That means there’s no paper trail.”

Requests for records of incidents or related studies were made to multiple branches of the military as well as to Defense Department headquarters, the latter of which has yet to respond. Below is a summary of records and responses American Oversight has received in its investigation to date.


Navy

In response to our FOIA request, the Navy released records containing reports and supporting documents regarding 13 investigations into incidents involving white supremacist or related activity in the Navy or Marine Corps from 1997 to 2020. In its cover letter attached to the documents, the Navy wrote that the branch “does not have a case category designated for white supremacy or hate crimes, nor do we track those types of crimes.” The letter also stated that the Navy “does not conduct studies concerning incidents of white supremacy. Furthermore, we do not track the number of such incidents. However, individual commands may conduct internal command investigations without notifying our Service.”

Marine Corps

We asked the U.S. Marine Corps (USMS) for records related to incidents of white-supremacist or far-right activity or ideology among military personnel. USMS sent us a spreadsheet that listed 29 complaints, created by the Office of Manpower and Reserve Affairs, filed between May 2018 and July 2020. Four of the complaints were categorized as extremist, 15 were categorized as supremacist, and 10 as “other dissident activities.” 

USMC told us that they could not find records responsive to our request for studies regarding extremist incidents. It also said it had been advised by the Judge Advocate Division’s Military Personnel Law Branch that any ensuing action recommended or executed in response to incidents “is not tracked and there is no searchable database from which to retrieve it” — meaning the results of these 29 complaints and of other potential instances of extremism is not being tracked.

Army

The Army released records containing an unclassified report titled “Indications of Extremism in the Military 2017 – 2019,” created in response to “an increase in extremist activity by former and current military personnel.” The report examined 22 cases that had been publicly reported, and indicated that most of the information had been compiled from open sources.

In addition, the Army told American Oversight that its Research institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences found no records of reports or studies concerning far-right extremist incidents, and no records indicating the number of incidents or ensuing actions.

Coast Guard

A three-page spreadsheet provided by the Coast Guard summarized seven separate incidents from late 2018 through early 2020. In its cover letter, the Coast Guard indicated that it was unable to release records under the Privacy Act because the information sought was exempt material compiled for law enforcement purposes.

Air Force

The Air Force stated that it had no records of any study or report on incidents of white supremacist or far-right activity or ideology among military personnel.

American Oversight will continue to investigate white supremacist activity in the military and the threat it poses to our democracy.

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