A decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups, recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military, according to a watchdog organization.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines.
"We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," the group quoted a Defense Department investigator as saying in a report to be posted today on its Web site, www.splcenter.org. "That's a problem."
A Defense Department spokeswoman said officials there could not comment on the report because they had not yet seen it.
The center called on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to appoint a task force to study the problem, declare a new zero tolerance policy and strictly enforce it.
The report said that neo-Nazi groups like the National Alliance, whose founder, William Pierce, wrote "The Turner Diaries," the novel that was the inspiration and blueprint for Timothy J. McVeigh's bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, sought to enroll followers in the Army to get training for a race war.
The groups are being abetted, the report said, by pressure on recruiters, particularly for the Army, to meet quotas that are more difficult to reach because of the growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq.
The report quotes Scott Barfield, a Defense Department investigator, saying, "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members."
Mr. Barfield said Army recruiters struggled last year to meet goals. "They don't want to make a big deal again about neo-Nazis in the military," he said, "because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they'll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."
The 1996 crackdown on extremists came after revelations that Mr. McVeigh had espoused far-right ideas when he was in the Army and recruited two fellow soldiers to aid his bomb plot. Those revelations were followed by a furor that developed when three white paratroopers were convicted of the random slaying of a black couple in order to win tattoos and 19 others were discharged for participating in neo-Nazi activities.
Yeah, yeah, nobody could have forseen that in the wake of an unpopular war that only racists and skinheads would join the military...