TW: racism, anti-Sikh violence, White Supremacist violence, military infiltration
Undoubtedly, you’ve probably heard something about the horrendous hate crime in Wisconsin on Sunday. A gunman with indisputable White Nationalist and Supremacist ties killed six members of the Oak Creek Sikh Gurudwara (temple), seriously injured the first police officer to arrive on the scene, and finally killed himself after receiving a fatal injury to his stomach. Amid the more topical reports on his explicitly racist band and his other forms of participating in the White Nationalist movement, you might have seen some unclear references to his military background. Actually you’ve likely heard it more than a few times and potentially a few more after that as it was one of the first facts released about him immediately after the shooting. Understandably, many women and men in the service have expressed concern that a man who was not honorably discharged from the military for repeated infractions is neither representative of them nor necessarily defined by that aspect of his background.
While it’s clear that Wade Michael Page’s behavior is clearly not characteristic of the military community, what is distressingly unclear is the significance of his military service to the story in most mainstream reporting. In fact, there is a point to be made here, as Page served after the 1995 de facto change in military policy (which was followed by a few 1996 reforms) towards hate groups – instituted as a result of military members at Fort Bragg committing a racially-motivated murder of a Black couple. In the wake of that crime and as investigations revealed Oklahoma Bomber Timothy McVeigh had in fact openly promoted White Supremacist ideas while part of the military, a more rigid enforcement of the ban on membership in hate groups or other organizations that advocated violence was instituted from the top of the military command structure. Page, however, was not dishonorably discharged three years later for any apparent sympathies with White Supremacists but generally discharged (which doesn’t carry the same stigma) for personal misconduct.
A million questions remain unanswered as of yet. As the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has long alleged, these policies banning involvement with racist political groups as a service member may not be adequately enforced. As a result many military members “were allowed to continue in the military even after their white supremacist activities were exposed” and even the military’s internal reviews (on page 12) admit that when “individuals can perform satisfactorily, without making their extremist opinions overt through words or actions that violate policy, reflect poorly on the Armed Forces, or disrupt the effectiveness and order of their units, they are likely to be able to complete their contracts.” The lax enforcement of this ban allows covert White Supremacists to gain professional military training – skills that are highly useful after serving if you want to wage unofficial war on certain ethnic groups. Was Page living proof the military’s failure to fully cut itself off from White Supremacists?
Even if Page’s politics developed into their recent violent form after his discharge, there’s still something to actually say about his military service other than its existence. The FBI has in fact long warned that they are absolutely certain that “[m]ilitary experience is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement as the result of recruitment campaigns by extremist groups and self-recruitment by veterans sympathetic to white supremacist causes.” Particularly following 9/11, such individuals “frequently occupy leadership roles within extremist groups and their involvement has the potential to reinvigorate an extremist movement.” If he wasn’t interesting in White Supremacy while in the military, was Page one of those former military members recruited by White Supremacists who eventually became a militant leader and ultimately killed six targets?
Against the backdrop of inadequate oversight for military members’ involvement with violent political groups and the often overt manipulation of those circumstances by White Supremacists, Barack Obama was elected President and Congress began negotiating health care reform. A wide variety of racist political organizations saw the already high levels of recruitment and the number of hate groups reach record levels.
(Data and image from the SPLC)
Now, with the perfect conditions for White Supremacists to infiltrate the military and with a near decade of recruitment efforts aimed at former military members, much of the United States isn’t even doing the window dressing of welcoming service women and men home from the Iraq war. Frequently socially isolated and otherwise faced with difficulties, many former military members are at their most vulnerable right now, which is worryingly good news for those who want to convert them to a violent cause.