The U.S. Military's History of Recruiting and Retaining Neo-Nazis

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A man holding a rifle in front of a flag with a swastika on it.
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When Wade Michael Page allegedly attacked the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin this past weekend, there was a lot to be shocked by. There was the reality of the act itself. There was his identification as a neo-Nazi. And, most shocking to many, was the fact that he was a former member of the U.S. armed forces.

Wade, however, is not the first neo-Nazi veteran to have committed murder in the United States. In countless lower-radar cases, extremist veterans have brought violence from the military base to the home front.

Matthew Kennard has investigated the crossover between the military and hate groups. He’s the author of “Irregular Army: How the U.S. Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror.” The book comes out next month.

Facing flagging recruiting numbers during two major conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military lowered its standards. To maintain enough troops, standards were lowered to accept not only criminals, overweight people, and people with low IQs, but gang members and white supremacists. 

Regulations were relaxed to the extent that recruits with swastika tattoos had little to no difficulty enlisting in the armed forces. "In times of chronic troop needs, like the War on Terror, they need wiggle room so that they can retain these people and maintain the troops." 

"In my research, basically, white supremacists and neo-Nazi activists see the military as a way to gain military training courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, and to bring back to the U.S. and start a domestic race war," Kennard says.
"It really does call into question the whole pretext of the War on Terror if the U.S. military, which we were told was trying to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East, was sending these people that were basically wanting to arm themselves to start a domestic war in the United States, which Page shows can end up in some of the most horrendous massacres that the U.S. has seen." 
"There are many ways to detect white supremacist soldiers if the will is there. During the War on Terror, the will wasn't there." 
"In terms of future attacks in the United States, it might already be too late because they've spent 10 years training some of the most violent people in the United States," Kennard says. "That's the scary thing."