This is not going to be a fun ride. Much like the last three years of global COVID-19 pandemic upheaval—or the four years of Donald Trump’s molestation and domination of the 24-hour news media spectacle—there is a darkness lurking just barely below the surface of some of the most powerful institutions in this country. Two of those institutions, the military and the police, wield unparalleled power, and right-wing extremists have been successfully recruiting and growing their ranks within both of these institutions. The situation could hardly be more horrifying.
New attention has been given to the severity of right-wing infiltration in the armed services and law enforcement in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Dozens of current and former service members were active participants in the now infamous breach, as reported by The New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer. The FBI and Department of Justice have released several statements and reports on the rise of domestic extremism in the U.S., and their focus necessarily includes its metastasizing within law enforcement and the military.
Of course, a law enforcement agency being in charge of investigating itself or other law enforcement agencies leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many. Especially when we consider that they have a long track record of largely ignoring right-wing extremism while simultaneously bringing down the heaviest levers of state repression on left-wing movements—remember when they colluded in the assassination of the Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton?
How can the FBI, military or Department of Justice transparently investigate themselves, and what underlying motives would they jeopardize in doing so? We now have former FBI agents, like retired Special Agent Eric Jackson, coming out and warning about the Oath Keepers—which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), claim “tens of thousands of present and former law enforcement officials and military veterans as members, and is one of the largest far-right anti-government groups in the U.S. today.”
Only a few days ago, the Oath Keepers’ founder Stewart Rhodes and 10 other associates were arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy relating to the Jan. 6 attack. According to PBS NewsHour, Rhodes is a former U.S. Army paratrooper and a Yale Law School graduate.
The military has also gone on record admitting that they knew that some enlisted, active-duty members are part of the Atomwaffen Division (AWD), a group the SPLC described as “a terroristic neo-Nazi organization.” Military.com journalist Gina Harkins detailed the acquisition of a Pentagon report to Congress which noted the group is of particular concern.
“Military members are highly prized by these groups as they bring legitimacy to their causes and enhance their ability to carry out attacks,” the report stated. “[Groups] that advocate white supremacy or nationalistic ideologies…want to recruit military personnel or infiltrate the ranks themselves ‘for the purpose of acquiring combat and tactical experience.’”
This sentiment is absolutely chilling. Considering that the U.S. institution of policing has its origins in the slave patrols of the early U.S. colonies, the question is, once again, should we trust the upper brass of the military or of law enforcement—among the largest purveyors of violence in the United States, often with impunity—to investigate and curtail right-wing extremism in their ranks?
Do they really even want to?
We have the Portland Police Bureau’s own local example in Officer Mark Kruger who built public shrines to Nazis from the Third Reich, dressed up in Nazi regalia and joked about his violence towards female protestors. He was never fired and even had his measly suspension without pay reversed when he and the union—the Portland Police Association—sued the city. He was even awarded an achievement medal before he retired. It is noteworthy that his colleagues and supervisors supported him all along the way. A known Nazi-sympathizer in their ranks meant to police the communities of Portland.
Established historical and present connections of the FBI and law enforcement across the nation to white supremacy—the antecedent of right-wing extremism—extend to the military through their dehumanization of enemy combatants.
From the genocidal and longest-lasting conflicts—like the so-called American Indian Wars—through to Vietnam and the most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the racist caricature and dehumanization of the other has been a profoundly motivating force. We won’t print the infamous racial epithets they’ve used here—but you get the picture.
Recent progressive moves—such as allowing transgender soldiers to serve openly or the lauding of the late Colin Powell for having been the first Black person to serve as Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs before that—might try to paint a picture of an inclusive human rights-respecting military when the truth is anything but.
Coming back to holding themselves accountable, recent reporting by The New York Times’ Dave Philipps has embarrassed the military with data that shows that its own reporting on civilian deaths in the war against ISIS in Syria was grossly under-reported, and was managed with little-to-no oversight by Delta-Force operators—who have shown a consistent bias towards action and airstrikes.
Clearly, we cannot rely on these institutions to report on themselves. They will not rout out their bigoted colleagues. Nothing will be done about lethal airstrikes against innocent civilians when the only accountability lies in the hands of those accountable.
Likewise, with all of the facts on the ground painting such a dire picture, we must find a way to hold these institutions accountable—and we must fend for ourselves when we come into their cross-hairs for doing so. I warned you this was going to be a dark ride.
Illustration by Whitney Griffin