Mark Pitcavage's Testimony Before the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel Regarding White Supremacy in the Military

Remarks by Mark Pitcavage, Senior Research Fellow, ADL's Center on Extremism
  • February 11, 2020

Chairwoman Speier, Ranking Member Kelly, distinguished members of the Subcommittee, good afternoon.  I am Mark Pitcavage, a Senior Research Fellow with ADL’s Center on Extremism.  It is an honor to appear before you today to address the issue of white supremacy in the U.S. military.

For decades, ADL has fought against hate, anti-Semitism and extremism in all forms by exposing extremist groups and individuals who spread hate and incite violence. Today, ADL is the foremost nongovernmental authority on domestic terrorism, extremism, hate groups and hate crimes.

The issue of extremism in the military is one ADL’s Center on Extremism has tracked for years. We alert the services about military members tied to extremism, provide assistance upon request to recruiters and investigators, and offer training on extremism and related subjects—for example, ADL annually provides its Law Enforcement and Society training to the command staff of the Army Criminal Investigation Command and Provost Marshal General. 

In 2009, ADL wrote Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates urging him to take measures to deal with white supremacy in the armed forces.  The problem has only grown in urgency since then. In my testimony, I would like to share important context about the nature of extremism in the armed forces.

Problems related to white supremacy in the military can be traced back a century. Our active and reserve components are large enough—numbering over two million men and women—to reflect broader American society in key ways, including the presence of extremism. For some decades, each time the white supremacist movement has surged, that surge has been mirrored by a similar upswell within the armed forces.  It happened during surges in the 1980s, the 1990s, and in 2008-2011.  Today it is happening again, as the U.S. is experiencing a surge in white supremacy propelled by the rise of the alt right, which has brought many young, newly-radicalized white males into the movement. This is aggravated by the spread of hate online.

With each surge, the military incurs not only an increase in extremists but also increases in crime and violence.  Extremists in the military have planned terrorist acts, engaged in murders and hate crimes, stolen weapons and military equipment, and provided information to other extremists. The current surge of white supremacy is no exception.

Less than two weeks ago, Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Hasson was sentenced in federal court to 13 years in prison in connection with a plot to commit domestic terrorism. Prosecutors described Hasson as a man “inspired by racist murderers” who “intended to exact retribution on minorities and those he considered traitors.”  Had law enforcement not caught him, they noted, “we now would be counting the bodies of the defendant’s victims.”  Internet searches Hasson made revealed who these possible victims; his searches included “where do congressmen and senators live when they are in DC,” “how to rid the U.S. of Jews,” and “most liberal fed[eral] judges,” among others. Hasson wrote that “I can’t strike just to wound. I must find a way to deliver a blow that cannot be shaken off.”

Other extremists in the military have recently been found distributing information related to explosives and WMDs, assaulting people during white supremacist rallies, possessing bombs and explosive materials, and using a firearm to threaten members of a mosque.  Even more have been exposed attending white supremacist events, joining extremist groups, distributing racist propaganda, and posting in white supremacist chat rooms and forums.

The presence of extremists in the armed services has and will continue to be dangerous to service members, their families and others and harmful to the good order, discipline, morale and effectiveness of our troops.

It is a problem that the military cannot afford to ignore.

ADL’s experiences working with the services have caused us concern that policies and regulations are not always widely or uniformly implemented, nor key personnel always trained in uniform and systematic fashion.  We encourage you to work with the Department and services to ensure uniformity and clarity of regulations; proper training on how to handle evidence of extremism for those involved in recruitment, discipline and military justice; We offer our expertise and experience to help the services tackle this issue, including developing curricula or train-the-trainer events.

Most importantly, we encourage all DoD and military leaders, as well as you, to speak out against hate. Setting an example from the top is essential, particularly in the military.  

We must protect the men and women who protect our nation.

I look forward to your questions.  Thank you.