It’s time to root out white supremacists in the military and law enforcement

OPINION: In a vote along party lines—meaning zero Republican support—the House passed an amendment requiring government agencies to produce a report on white supremacist and neo-Nazi activity in federal law enforcement and the military. Addressing the problem is long overdue.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

White supremacists in the military and law enforcement are not a new phenomenon. But the crisis is growing like a cancer, and now, apparently, the government is finally taking this utmost threat seriously. In light of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, if America fails to root out the white domestic terrorists in our midst, then the country as a whole is in a heap of trouble. And those specifically who are not white supremacists are in deep trouble.   

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to require government agencies to produce a report on white supremacist and neo-Nazi activity in federal law enforcement and the military. This measure would include the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI.

With a 218-208 vote, the amendment was approved on purely party lines, with all Democrats voting for the amendment and all Republicans voting against it. This breakdown should not surprise those who have paid attention, given the Republican Party is a leading purveyor of white supremacy and party leadership has embraced an agenda of white nationalism; whatever passes as policy in that party these days reflects the racist conspiracy theory known as the “great replacement theory“—the idea that the white man is an endangered species, and Democrats, liberals and Jewish people are replacing him with Black and brown people.

It is likely the Republicans in the Senate will kill the legislation because white supremacists are the base of the Republican Party. A recent poll found that 7 in 10 Republicans believe in the great replacement theory.

A Pentagon report last year sounded the alarm on the white supremacist threat in the armed services. The report focused on recruitment and called for changes in the screening process for military recruits, given that even a small number of domestic extremists pose a national security threat and undermine military cohesion. The number of white extremists in the military is unknown. In the past, white supremacist servicemembers have committed murder, planned acts of terrorism and have been involved in other disturbing activities.

Active-duty servicemembers are “highly prized” members of domestic terrorist groups who legitimize these groups and help increase recruitment, according to the Pentagon report. And all that helpful combat and weapons training translates into more successful terrorist attacks. Over the past two decades, right-wing extremists have killed more people in America than any other extremist group, according to a senior Department of Defense official.

Some active-duty soldiers have been discharged for their membership in white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. More importantly, white supremacist servicemembers with ties to militia groups such as the Oath Keepers participated in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election and install Donald Trump as dictator.

As we have learned from the congressional hearings, the Oath Keepers—whose members are reportedly tens of thousands of current and former military and law enforcement officials—were key players in the deadly attack. An estimated 13 percent of insurrection-related arrests have been of veterans or active-duty soldiers, and one-fifth of applicants to the neo-Nazi group Patriot Front claim military ties. At least five Patriot Front members, including four veterans and a National Guard cadet, were arrested last month for planning to attack an Idaho Pride event.

Joining forces with groups such as the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, the Republican Party and others, the Oath Keepers harbor racist and antisemitic beliefs and call for a civil war—an “armed revolution,” which they tried to carry out at the Capitol insurrection.

Perhaps the most prominent military member involved in Jan. 6 was retired lieutenant general and Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. A QAnon conspiracist who has ties to the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and has openly flashed the white power hand sign, Flynn claimed President Biden stole the 2020 election from Trump, and he called for violence. Flynn advised Trump to seize voting machines across the country and impose martial law. And Flynn pleaded the Fifth when investigators asked him if the violence of Jan. 6 was justified and whether he believed in a peaceful transfer of power.

If that was not enough, Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, then-deputy chief of staff of the Army and brother of Michael Flynn, was involved in key discussions with U.S. Capitol Police and District of Columbia officials on whether to send in National Guard troops to end the violent Capitol riot. The Pentagon at first denied Charles Flynn had been involved in any such calls that day.   

Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a part of DHS, has fostered a culture of racism and violence against migrants, with dehumanizing verbal abuse against people from the Global South. The nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency, CBP has employed white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members since its inception nearly a century ago, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.   

Border Patrol agents have killed 100 people in the last decade, abused Indigenous children and caused their deaths, posted racist and sexist material online, and have spread replacement theory without being held accountable. The blatant racism and brutality of the Border Patrol were on full display in September 2021, when CBP agents were photographed and video recorded riding on horseback and chasing, whipping and yelling at Haitian migrants on the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas.

A now-iconic photo shows a Border Patrol agent on horseback armed with a whip and grabbing Mirard Joseph, a Haitian migrant. The organization Haitian Bridge Alliance filed a federal lawsuit against the Biden administration and CBP on behalf of Joseph, alleging CBP agents used horse reins as whips against Haitian people. A CBP report called for discipline for four agents for violations such as using “denigrating and offensive language” and “force or the threat of force.” denied. However, the report denied allegations from the Haitian Bridge Alliance that agents used horse reins to strike Haitian migrants, even as the images of such behavior sparked international outrage.   

White supremacists have infiltrated the military and the police for decades, if not forever. America, you have a problem on your hands, and it is coming from inside. You armed and trained this threat, and you gave it a uniform, so this is on you. 


David A. Love is a journalist and commentator who writes investigative stories and op-eds on a variety of issues, including politics, social justice, human rights, race, criminal justice and inequality. Love is also an instructor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, where he trains students in a social justice journalism lab. In addition to his journalism career, Love has worked as an advocate and leader in the nonprofit sector, served as a legislative aide, and as a law clerk to two federal judges. He holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. His portfolio website is davidalove.com.

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