Under the Bush administration the U.S. military allegedly started to recruit neo-Nazis and gang members to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, argues investigative journalist Matt Kennard.
RT: A question about the series of essays you wrote, “The regular army.” When you were working on this, which one of these topics was the most shocking for you?
Matt Kennard: The neo-Nazis was obviously the most shocking, because these people hate everything to do with the Middle East and their goal is to kill what they call “hajis.” So that’s the shocking result of the war of terror, as the mainstream narrative is that the West is taking democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet we are sending these neo-Nazi troops there. Gangbangers is another one, which is gang members from all over the west coast have been in the military since 2002.
RT: This whole issue of neo-Nazis in the army, how did you come across this? When did you realize it is actually a much bigger issue than people might think?
MK: I knew when I went to graduate school that there was a problem in the U.S. military in that they couldn’t get enough recruits. They were explicit about allowing felons in and people with low IQs and they changed the regulations so they could get more people into the U.S. military. But with neo-Nazism it’s obviously not going to play as well in society, so they had kept that low.
So I decided to investigate via FOIA request and by interviewing neo-Nazi soldiers that had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. What I uncovered basically after a six-month investigation was that this was a military-wide phenomenon that had been allowed to happen under the Bush administration, under the cover of the press. No one was actually covering it, they were covering other sections of the military, but not this specific phenomenon, so I spent the next year looking into it and eventually published it. Even after publication the U.S. military made no comment on it, so they have done nothing about it.
RT: Do you have any numbers as to how many people see themselves as neo-Nazis?
MK: It’s difficult because the U.S. military don’t keep specific data on neo-Nazis. They couple them together with gang members, so it’s impossible to say. There have been FBI reports saying they’ve uncovered 203 neo-Nazi veterans, but in terms of hard numbers there’s nothing, really.
RT: When a person like that leaves the military, do they go out and train other people?
MK: A part of the mission is to go and kill brown people in the Middle East, but also to bring the training back to the U.S. to start what they call a “race war,” which they envision as a war between all the races in America and eventually the white nationalists will take power. It’s a crazy idea, but these people really believe it and there are enough of them to make this a very worrying phenomenon, coupled together with the fact that gang members are bringing back a lot of expertise in military training to the U.S.
RT: Could U.S. officials be interested in this? If they have someone that aggressive in the military, don’t they have to worry about the more emotional sides like post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.?
I think neo-Nazis can still get post-traumatic stress disorder, but having talked to some of the neo-Nazi troops that went to Iraq, they said that their superiors were quite aware of their opinions and often sent them on missions that were seen as the more dangerous ones because they were what they called “hardcore.”
There is a military interest in having “hardcore” troops with a warlike mentality. But I actually don’t think the U.S. military did this consciously. This is something they had to do because they couldn’t get enough troops. It’s not an ideological preference for neo-Nazis. They couldn’t get enough troops so they quietly got rid of the regulations.
RT: The US military started hiring people when they kicked off the war on terror without checking their backgrounds. What about now?
MK: The occupation in Iraq is not winding down. Plus the fact that the financial crisis has put a lot of people out of work, which has made the military more attractive. At this stage it’s not critical, but the regulations that were changed during the war on terror at its height were not ever changed back. They have the same legal framework and the same recruitment framework.
RT: What about some of the other topics that you cover in the set of essays, like drug use in the army, and post traumatic stress disorders not being treated well enough.
MK: Right, post traumatic stress is a really interesting one, obviously because these are young Americans that are coming back here and are often committing suicide or committing crimes against other people. And the U.S. military recruits have been so often sent to second or third terms of duty. Drug users… again, I've got information from the U.S. military which looked at the discharges for different reasons.
And if you look at the discharges because of drugs and alcoholism they go right down. Unless the troops have really cleaned out their acts for one or another reason, it means that the military is refusing to kick out people who are on drugs and alcohol in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, that's again worrying for the U.S. military, again really worrying for the occupied population, because they are under a military that is populated with alcoholics and drug abusers.
RT: When the soldiers actually leave the army, do you have a kind of larger picture painted in terms of how well they are being taken care of, these veterans?
MK: Well, under Bush it was terrible – he cut a lot of money going to veteran healthcare. Obama's being slightly better, but the volume is just huge. In September 2008, I think, 1.6 million Americans served in Iraq and Afghanistan – that's the population of Philadelphia, or a country like Estonia. So, that's a hell of a lot of people. So, these people are not being looked after as they should be. And they are often being sent back into combat after doctors have said that they have some sort of syndrome or PTS-related syndrome.
RT: How do you see the way the U.S. mainstream media covers these wars?
MK: Across the mainstream spectrum of the United States, the wars are being supported by liberals and conservatives. I mean there's been a lot of anger with the Bush administration. They say the war has been prosecuted badly and that the idea that we wanted to take democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan was never questioned. So I think that this is a massive failure of the U.S. media.
RT: What do you think are the tougher questions that the U.S. media should be asking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
MK: That's quite simple – the question is whether we are there to spread democracy, or to secure the resources.
RT: Do you think these wars could have been avoided altogether, both in Iraq and Afghanistan?
MK: Iraq was an illegal war. I mean that senior military officials say that it has killed a million people by some estimates. In Iraq there are two million refugees, the country has been basically devastated. So, I can't see how anything could be a justification for that kind of devastation of a country, especially under a false excuse – if you remember we went there for weapons of mass destruction that were never found.
Afghanistan, essentially there was some tenuous basis for the war: the Taliban sheltering Al Qaeda. So you can make an argument for it. But having occupied it now for 8 years, we haven't done the lives of Afghanis any better.