The United States Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis issued a report last week suggesting that current political and economic conditions are energizing right-wing extremist groups, that many of these groups follow extremely conservative ideologies and that some may seek to recruit and “radicalize” veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
True, true and true.
But, conservatives reacted by throwing a knee-jerk hissy fit. They twisted the report’s meaning to imply that they, and more importantly our war heroes, were being vilified by a partisan document.
Their argument seeks to suppress and subjugate two rather unfortunate facts: while only a tiny number of conservatives and veterans are members of hate groups, nearly all hate groups do indeed follow far-right ideology. And they covet members with military experience.
A report issued last summer by former President Bush’s F.B.I. entitled “White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel since 9/11” said that “military experience is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement” and that these groups “have attempted to increase their recruitment of current and former U.S. military personnel.”
So, which soldiers are most vulnerable? According to the Homeland Security report, it would probably be those “facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities.” This could be a large group because far too many soldiers come back from war broken men. According to a RAND study released on Friday, 300,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reported some sign of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. It said that only about half of those will seek help and only half of those seeking it will receive “minimally adequate” treatment.
These soldiers could prove fertile ground for men hoping to prey on their fear, loneliness and dispossession.
And those extremist leaders may be able to connect more easily with some of these soldiers because many were soldiers themselves. According to the F.B.I. report, “although individuals with military backgrounds constitute a small percentage of white supremacist extremists, they frequently occupy leadership roles.”
Because many know firsthand the value of military experience, they not only recruit those leaving the military, they send recruits into it. According to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Many white supremacists over the years have pushed their followers to join the military and enter either the special forces, where the training is judged to be the best in the world, or the infantry, where you will learn the skills necessary to fight the coming race war.”
The only debate we should be having is about the best way to protect our newest veterans from falling prey to this handful of military apostates.If they only recruit a few, that is still too many. Terrorists have shown the world time and again that a few well-trained men is all it takes.