Navy

Navy, Marines investigated 13 white supremacy cases, held no court-martials: USA Today

A review of documents published on Tuesday by USA Today found that for decades the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have removed white supremacists from their ranks but left no public record of their racist activities.

Through documents obtained with public-record requests by the open-government advocacy group American Oversight, USA Today found 13 instances of major investigations over more than 20 years in which military leaders chose to dismiss personnel involved in extremism in ways that would not attract attention.

Navy records from 1997 to 2020 describe investigations looking into allegations of white supremacy that include assault, theft, verbal abuse, threats and gang crime. None of the 13 investigations detailed in the records resulted in a court martial, which could have resulted in the military officers receiving a dishonorable discharge.

Another 10 cases were not released, USA Today reports, because they are being reviewed.

The report also highlights that at least five Marines have been discharged since 2017 due to extremist ties, including in 2018 when Lance Cpl. Liam Collins was removed for posting on a white surpemacist internet forum.

Some of the personnel who were investigated were issued small fines or pay cuts, USA Today reports. Most of those who were let go were discharged under honorable conditions, only slightly less well-regarded than an honorable discharge.

USA Today notes that there is no section of the military criminal code that refers to extremism or white supremacy.

According to Heidi Beirich, chief strategy officer of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, this absence "indicates how little the military cares about these issues."

"You can do the most heinous things in terms of racism, bigotry, extremist groups and there is no cost to you whatsoever," Beirich said. "Now you've been trained by the military and you're unleashed on the civilian population."

USA Today points to one instance in 2000 when two enlisted members of the U.S. Navy - Edward Fix and Jacob Laskey - left a neo-Nazi rally and went to downtown Jacksonville, Fla. The Navy records say they were trying to find a Black person to beat up.

They, along with another white man, attacked John Joseph Newsome with their boots and broken bottles while allegedly shouting, "Kill the [N-word]."

Less than two years after the Navy discharged him, Laskey was involved in an attack on a synagogue, throwing swastika-etched bricks through the building's windows. He was released from prison in 2018 after having spent more than a decade in jail.

One female officer, Elizabeth Gallagher, started an online white supremacist message board on which she boasted of her security clearance and wrote long passages about Hitler, Jews and Black people, according to the outlet. She was discharged under "other than honorable conditions" in 2003.

Military law experts who spoke to USA Today said most incidents like these are dealt with internally instead of being formally investigated, leaving no paper trail. Some experts told the outlet they believe the administrative discharge was the best choice because it was the quickest way to remove the offending officers from service.

In a statement to The Hill, a representative from the Navy Office of Information said that the Navy "will investigate" misconduct and "those found in violation of the Navy's policies will be held accountable."

"The Navy does not and will not tolerate supremacist or extremist conduct. Discrimination of any kind, for any reason, goes against the Navy's core values and will not be tolerated." We strive to provide a climate of equality. Sailor participation in supremacist or extremist activities is directly contrary to professionalism standards which all Sailors are expected to follow. We will investigate reports of misconduct and those found in violation of the Navy's policies will be held accountable."

The officer went on to state, "The Navy does not track if a member was administratively separated for extremist or related activities specifically."

A Marine Corps spokesperson told The Hill that the "vast majority of the men and women in the Marine Corps and those who serve as civilian employees perform their duties and responsibilities with integrity, and do not support racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists, including white supremacists, and other domestic terrorists such as anti-government violent extremists."

"The Marine Corps is clear on this: There is no place for extremism or supremacist views in our Marine Corps. Our strength is derived from the individual excellence of every Marine regardless of background.  Domestic terrorism and extremist behavior run contrary to our core values.

The spokesperson added that there is "no code for discharge due to extremism." 

"Separations codes allow us to accurately track why a Marine was separated. There is no code for discharge due to extremism.  Most of our discharges for this destructive behavior are classified as misconduct or commission of a serious offense."

USA Today notes that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is a Black man, signed a one-day stand-down order in February that would pause other activity in order for military leaders to assess extremism. Austin last week issued a memo that outlined the Pentagon's plans to address extremism in the military. These efforts include heightened screenings of military recruits and revising the DoD's definition of extremism.

In February, the Navy unveiled almost 60 recommendations to rein in gender and racial discrimination among sailors.

The report from Task Force One Navy stated that current recruitment efforts "while admirable in many respects, clearly fell short of adequately addressing the societal challenges of today."

"We needed to seize this moment to engage in conversations about race, diversity and inclusion within our force more than ever before," the report said. "We had to have open, honest and necessary conversations across our Navy and take action."

Updated on Friday at 2:48 p.m.

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