AS the members of the crowd that stormed the US Capitol on Jan 6 are being identified, a curious trend has emerged: several members of the mob were in fact former US military personnel. Of those who have been identified thus far, there’s Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old air force veteran who was killed during the attack. There’s Lt-Col Larry Brock, a combat veteran who was photographed wearing a combat helmet, body armour and tactical gear while carrying zip ties, which prosecutors allege were intended for taking members of Congress hostage.
Capt Emily Rainey, an army psychological warfare officer, not only attended the rally but also bussed 100 people to the venue. Retired Navy SEAL Adam Newbold on his return from the Capitol posted a video on his Facebook talking about how ‘proud’ he was of the riot. Jake Angeli, the now famous shirtless ‘horned shaman’ was also a former member of the US Navy, but while you can write him off as a crank, you can’t do the same for Donovan Crowl, a former Marine and Gulf War veteran who now belongs to the Oath Keepers — a far-right anti-government militia comprised of serving and former police and military personnel — who also was part of the attacking mob. Washington, D.C. police officers have also gone on record saying that several rioters openly displayed military badges and IDs during the attack.
Subsequently, lawmakers called on the military to review the allegiances of the 20,000 National Guard members who are being deployed in the Capitol to make sure none of them have allegiance to neo-Nazi or anti-government militias.
Thus far, at least one guardsman has been removed from the Washington mission after he was found to be expressing support for white supremacy on the internet, in open view.
The Capitol riots included several former members of the US military.
Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at hate group watchdog organisation, the Southern Poverty Law Centre, says: “If you look at the list of domestic terrorism attacks, you will find a lot of veterans.”
This was the case with Wade Page, a neo-Nazi and former soldier who killed seven people at a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin in 2012. Page had previously claimed in an interview that he was radicalised during a tour in Iraq, where he encountered other neo-Nazis in the ranks of the US military and came under their tutelage.
Then there’s Coast Guard officer Christopher Hasson who stockpiled weapons to assassinate ‘liberal’ judges, media personalities and black people with the aim of inciting a race war. And of course, there’s Timothy McVeigh, a Desert Storm veteran who killed over 160 people in the Oklahoma City bombing. These are just a few names among many, and the reporting on such cases tends to be sparse, partly because the perpetrators are white and non-Muslim, and hence do not fit with the ‘accepted’ image of terrorists in the US.
Another reason is that groups like Atom waffen and The Base tend to operate under a ‘leaderless resistance’ philosophy in which individuals commit acts of terror without actually being linked to the said groups and are written off as lone wolves even if they were directly radicalised by the ideology of these groups. These groups are actively trying to recruit members of the military and also are sending their own members into the military.
The reasons are simple: the military training they thus receive is then transferred to other members of the group, who may otherwise have no real combat experience. One arrested member of Atomwaffen alleged that they have members and sympathisers in the military who steal equipment from bases to supply the terror organisation.
It’s not like this was all a big secret: in 2009, a Department of Homeland Security report raised exactly these concerns, but after a massive backlash from conservative lawmakers and veterans it withdrew the report and defunded the unit that wrote it.
Statistics show that after every foreign war, there is a corresponding increase in recruitment for white supremacists in the US, a trend that dates back to the Civil War and the subsequent forming of the KKK. The trend has thus far held through the years and the countless foreign wars America has waged. Justifying the Oklahoma bombing, McVeigh wrote that it was “morally equivalent” to the US action in Iraq and other countries. Essentially, the argument goes: if it’s okay to bomb other countries for ‘freedom’ why is it wrong to bomb your own country for the same goal?
While the US military tightened its screening after two African Americans were killed in Fort Bragg in 1996 by a neo-Nazi paratrooper, the ‘war on terror’ caused such a demand for recruits that these standards were lowered and even recruits sporting Nazi tattoos were merely asked to explain that in a note, after which they were allowed to enlist. It is indeed a great irony that fighting terror aboard led to terror coming home. Just not how they expected it.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2021