In the Army Still?
White Supremacists and the American Military
by David J. Leonard & C. Richard King |
NewBlackMan (in Exile)
Increasingly since 9/11, American political discourse and popular culture has acknowledged, if not celebrated, the sacrifices of members of its armed forces. The often self serving praise of the service of others, which so few with privilege have ever seriously contemplated, has not resulted in heightened care for soldiers and veterans, nor deeper reflection among many on those who opt to serve, and what their service might mean for American democracy.
Unfortunately, Wade Michael Page likely will not foster the needed conversations about these issues, but instead prompt attention to the dispositions and drives that led to Page to commit what has repeatedly been described “as a senseless act.” Yet, as noted by Rinku Sen in Colorlines, these murders “are neither senseless nor random, and the vast majority of such incidents here involve white men. Racism holds a terrible logic, for a concept with no grounding whatsoever in science or morality, yet too many white people don’t see any pattern.” Equally powerful, Harsha Walia reminds readers to break down the walls between extreme and mainstream, between individual and societal, between civilian and military, to look at this violence not as yet another instance of a bad apple but yet another of the rotten tree(s):
The crimes of white supremacists are not exceptions and do not and cannot exist in isolation from more systemic forms of racism. People of colour face legislated racism from immigration laws to policies governing Indigenous reserves; are discriminated and excluded from equitable access to healthcare, housing, childcare, and education; are disproportionately victims of police killings and child apprehensions; fill the floors of sweatshops and factories; are over-represented in heads counts on poverty rates, incarceration rates, unemployment rates, and high school dropout rates. Colonialism has and continues to be shaped by the counters of white men’s civilizing missions.
To our minds, if this properly projects the arc of media coverage, until the next trauma or panic, we fear we will have lost real occasion to put into dialogue two key elements of Page’s biography: he was a veteran and he was a white supremacist. We do not know how these elements of his identity and experience interfaced with one another, though apparently his general discharge in 1998 was not related to bias. We do know, however, that thinking about the connections between white nationalist groups and the U.S. military, between the mainstream and the extreme, will help us better apprehend the shooting in Wisconsin, and more engage their implications more sensibly. “It would be a mistake to dismiss Page was an isolated actor from a lunatic fringe disconnected from the mainstream of U.S. society. In fact, the reality is that white supremacy is a persistent, tragic feature of the American cultural and political landscape,” writes Jessie Daniels. “The extreme expressions of white supremacy – like this shooting, or like some of the violent images and messages previously circulated in print and now online – are part of a larger problem. White supremacy is woven into the fabric of our society and it kills people.” We see this fact in the relationship between white supremacy and the U.S. military.
This is not a new issue, but it one that continues to resurface, often in association with tragic acts of violence. Nearly 25 years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) brought to the attention of the Reagan administration that “active-duty Marines at Camp Lejeune, NC, were participating in paramilitary Ku Klux Klan activities and even stealing military weaponry for Klan use.” Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger acted decisively, clarifying for members of the armed forces that involvement with “white supremacy, neo-Nazi and other such groups…[was] utterly incompatible with military service.”