When it comes to rooting out extremists, military investigators have provided conflicting accounts of their own regulations.

Melissa del Bosque
March 7 2021, 11:00 a.m.

A recruit receives his weapon at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif., on March 1, 2021. Photo: Lance Cpl. Zachary Beatty/ U.S. Marine Corps

LIAM COLLINS JOINED the Marine Corps in 2017 with the intention of recruiting other soldiers to form a paramilitary defense force, a “modern day SS,” as he wrote in the now-defunct neo-Nazi forum Iron March in 2016. “Everyone [in the group] is going to have been required to serve in a nation’s military, whether U.S., U.K. or Poland,” Collins wrote, according to a federal indictment filed in November. “It’s a goal for the long term.”

In the military, Collins was promoted to Marine lance corporal at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where he served as a rifleman and earned medals including the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and a Humanitarian Service Medal, according to his personnel records. The whole time, federal prosecutors allege, Collins was a committed white supremacist intent on inciting a race war and creating a white separatist state.

In the Marines, Collins met like-minded soldiers in Jordan Duncan, a cryptology analyst, and Justin Wade Hermanson, a corporal serving in the same unit as Collins. By the summer of 2020, prosecutors say the three, along with another man, Paul James Kryscuk, were manufacturing their own silencers and fully automatic rifles and amassing an arsenal. They moved to Boise, Idaho, where they surveilled and talked about shooting Black Lives Matter protesters. “The final frontier is real life violence,” Kryscuk wrote to the group on Instagram, according to the indictment. He praised Collins for having “sacrificed the most and contributed the most for the cause. Added 3 leathernecks and got us tons of gear and training while suffering in the Corps for years.”

After the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, in which dozens of those charged had a military background, newly appointed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pledged to “rid our ranks of racists and extremists.” But the nation’s first Black defense secretary will first have to contend with a deeply entrenched military culture that has long ignored the problem.

The soldiers, including 21-year-old Collins, who were indicted for illegal weapons manufacturing and distribution, illustrate how military leaders have long resisted more careful vetting during recruitment. Despite posting white supremacist views online during recruitment and after enlistment, Collins didn’t raise any red flags. He was only investigated after anti-fascist activists and journalists publicized his Iron March posts in 2019.

Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, said she and others have for decades lobbied the Department of Defense to implement basic procedures that would detect white supremacists during recruitment, such as tattoo databases and the screening of social media accounts. “They just won’t put robust screening measures in place,” Brooks said. “Looking at social media accounts, for instance, could reveal so much, as we learned recently.”

Brooks was referring to the FBI vetting the social media accounts of thousands of National Guard members providing security at the Capitol during Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. At least 12 members were sent home due to security concerns because they’d posted extremist views online, the Associated Press reported, two of them about Biden’s inauguration. Some had ties to right-wing militias.

“Most people with these views, they’re hiding in plain sight,” said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. The indictment of Collins and his co-defendants, she said, appears to be “another classic example of the fact that the military wasn’t paying very close attention.” …

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