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Ellison to Mattis: Investigate White Supremacists in the Military

Defense Secretary James Mattis talks to troops at an outdoor movie theater at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Dec. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)

WASHINGTON — Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) asked Defense Secretary James Mattis to delve into reports of white supremacist activity within the armed forces, citing in part a September poll by Military Times that found 25 percent of active-duty respondents reporting witnessing white nationalist activity from colleagues.

Ellison, deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee and vice-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, noted in his letter to Mattis today ProPublica and Frontline PBS’ “Documenting Hate” investigation that on Thursday revealed an active-duty Marine, Vasillios Pistolis, bragging that he’d “cracked 3 skulls open” during last year’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. The probe also identified three other current service members in the Army or Navy who are members of the neo-Nazi Atomwaffen.

“The involvement of service members in white supremacist organizations or other hate groups is cause for significant concern, particularly given their combat and weapons training,” Ellison wrote. “Although the ProPublica and Frontline investigation focused particular attention on the actions of a single Marine allegedly involved in the violent and tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer, I am concerned these actions may be indicative of a broader problem within the military.”

“Although Department of Defense guidance clearly prohibits discrimination and extremist behavior, it appears that some service members are still able to join and actively participate in extremist organizations. Disturbingly, the investigation also highlighted that at least some volunteers with seemingly credible ties to the white supremacist movement are being allowed to enter the military.”

Ellison added to Mattis that while the ProPublica and Frontline PBS investigation “appeared limited to Atomwaffen, some evidence suggests that the problem may be more widespread.”

He cited the Military Times survey, which was taken about a month after the deadly violence in Charlottesville.

When surveyed service members were asked whether white nationalists pose a threat to national security, 30 percent of respondents called it a significant danger, compared to Syria at 27 percent, Pakistan at 25 percent, Afghanistan at 22 percent and Iraq at 17 percent.

Nearly 42 percent of non-white troops in the survey said they personally experienced examples of white nationalism in the military, compared to 18 percent of white service members.

Ellison asked the Defense secretary to investigate the actions of the service members identified in the ProPublica and Frontline PBS report. “I also request information on the number of reports of extremist activity by service members over the past five years, the number of full investigations conducted, and the number of troops that were disciplined for extremist actions or ties,” the congressman added. “In addition, I seek information on the steps currently being taken to screen recruits for extremist ties.”

He asked for a response by May 21.

After Charlottesville, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller tweeted, “No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act.”

Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, tweeted, “The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our Values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.”

James Alex Fields, who was demonstrating with the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and is on trial for murder in the death of Heather Heyer, was in the Army for four months in 2015 before failing basic training.