Islamic State Khorasan within Taliban-Ruled Afghanistan Dynamics and Synergies with Allies and Enemies
Noellynn Slaughter Despite two decades of US led counterterrorism efforts since 9/11, terrorism has continued…
Anne Speckhard & Molly Ellenberg
Seventy-two cases of active-duty and veteran military members involved in white supremacists and violent anti-government militias and groups located in open-source reporting from 2017-2022 were compiled and analyzed on 17 key variables. Researchers examined the shared characteristics among white supremacist and far-right violent extremists with military experience, differences between active-duty military members who engage in violent extremism and those who become involved as veterans and processes by which contemporary military members become radicalized to white supremacist and far-right violent extremist ideologies. It is clear that all branches of the military have been targeted and infiltrated by violent extremist groups and those identified here ranged in rank from private to lieutenant colonel. Forty-three percent of the sample (who could be coded on this variable) were active-duty at the time of the incident. Seventeen members of this group rose to become leaders in their groups, perhaps due to their military experience. Twelve percent had joined their groups prior to military service and 14 percent were radicalized while in the military. It was also clear that veterans with posttraumatic stress particularly are vulnerable to recruitment. Given that not only are these individuals weapons-trained, but close to half (who could be coded on this variable) also had combat experience, it is chilling that eight individuals were involved in an incident which involved actual, attempted, plotted, or threatened violence. While the overall numbers involved are small, the brutality, lethality, and widespread psychological impact of some of the plots and actions by the cases presented herein, makes clear the military has a duty to engage in military-wide prevention efforts to ensure that members are not admitted who are already radicalized into extremist violence, that members understand what is prohibited and are socialized to identify and intervene when they see violent extremism in the ranks, and that those who are identified are treated in a manner that does not cause the whistle-blower to be punished or the extremist to be released from the military prior to some rehabilitation efforts having been taken. Additionally, the results of this study emphasize the role that Veterans Affairs and non-profits dedicated to helping veterans transition into civilian life have to play in this prevention and intervention work, as well.
In February of 2021, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that he was putting in place a series of “stand down” days to begin to address the problem of extremism in the military. This order was made partially in response to the finding that approximately 12 to 15 percent of people charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol Hill riot a month prior on January 6, 2021, had military experience. A report from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism’s found that despite this relatively low proportion of rioters with military experience (which nonetheless far exceeds the proportion of Americans with military experience), 37 percent of those with military experience were associated with violent extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, making them four times more likely to be part of a such a group than rioters without military experience (Milton & Mines, 2021; Jensen, Yates, & Kane, 2022). Although the majority of Capitol Hill rioters were not members of organized extremist groups, having previously served in the military clearly was a meaningful predictor of membership in such a group. Further evidence of this phenomenon is provided by the finding that of 87 applicants to Patriot Front, which participated in the January 6th riot as well as 2017’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, 18 claimed to be current or former members of the U.S. military, amounting to about 20 percent of applicants (Torchinsky, 2022). In 2020, 6.4 percent of all domestic terror attacks investigated as such by the FBI were committed by active-duty and reserve military members – this proportion does not include acts committed by veterans (Jones et al., 2021).
Despite its apparent impact as a watershed event with regard to popular awareness of the presence of extremists in the military, January 6th was not the first indication of a potential problem of violent extremist infiltration in the U.S. military, nor in other Western militaries in recent years. Among other domestic terrorists in U.S. history with military experience, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a Bronze Star recipient, Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph was formerly in the U.S. Army, and Ruby Ridge standoff leader Randy Weaver was a U.S. Army engineer (Jones et al., 2021). A recent investigation in Germany resulted in the arrests of 25 people alleged to have been planning to overthrow the government and seize power. The group called itself “citizens of the Reich” and included both far-right political figures, a member of the German aristocracy, and both active and former military members, including members of elite units (Kirby, 2022). This occurred only two years after another elite unit of the German military was disbanded after members associated with neo-Nazi groups stole explosives and ammunition from the military (Bennhold, 2020), and one active-duty German special forces member plotted a false flag terror attack implicating immigrants (Flade, 2021).
The problem extends beyond active and former military members directly engaging in extremist violence, however. As explained by van Dongen and colleagues (2022), there are five different types of consequences of the intersection between far-right violent extremism and the military: “military personnel 1) committing right-wing extremist violence; 2) facilitating right-wing extremist violence by organizations; 3) perpetuating ideologically motivated hate crimes or violation of procedures and rules of engagement while on deployment; 4) hampering military diversity and inclusion efforts with activities and behaviors; and 5) undermining civilian control over the military” (p. 1).
The statistics and attention-grabbing headlines listed above are supported and further explained by evidence from in-depth psychosocial interviews with 51 current and former white supremacist and anti-government militia members (Speckhard, Ellenberg, and Garret, 2021). These groups target active and veteran military members to take advantage of their weapons training, possible access to weapons and intelligence, and the air of patriotism they can lend to the group. Racist millenarian groups believe that there is an impending racial war (Barkun, 1989), and that those plotting to “retake” the government or create a white ethno-state will need accomplices in the military (van Dongen et al., 2022). Similarly, anti-government accelerationists who wish to take down the established system to replace it with one more to their liking often advocate for military infiltration.
The reasons active-duty and veteran military members join white supremacist and far-right violent extremist groups are varied, but most are based in their fundamental psychological needs for belonging, significance, and a “noble” purpose (Speckhard, 2016; Kruglanski et al., 2013). Indeed, people rarely join violent extremist groups because of their ideologies, but rather because they believe the group will meet their needs. It is only after they join these that they come to adopt their violent ideologies in order to maintain their newfound sense of significance, importance, and acceptance through a process of “directed hate” (Speckhard, Ellenberg, & Garret, 2022). Whether discharged honorably or dishonorably, extremists with military experience can serve violent extremist groups and movements as trainers, be held up as icons of valor and defense of American values, lend an air of patriotism and legitimacy to the group and its violent goals, and even plan and execute lethal attacks on the people and institutions they once swore to protect (Speckhard, Ellenberg, and Garret, 2021; Koehler, 2022; Haugstvedt & Koehler, 2021). It is important to note that apart from some accelerationist groups, far-right violent extremists, including those categorized by observers as “anti-government,” do not consider themselves as such. In fact, far-right violent extremist ideologies, particularly neo-Nazism, pride themselves on hyper-patriotism (Perry & Schleifer, 2022). Rather, they consider themselves to be fighting for what they see as their country’s true culture and heritage and against malicious forces which seek to destroy it from within (e.g., the “Zionist Occupation Government” [ZOG] (Jackson, 2017)). Thus, it is likely fair to say that most active and former military personnel who join far-right violent extremist groups do not see themselves as acting contradictorily to their oath to protect and defend their country. In fact, some may believe that some of their actions while serving in the military were actually contrary to that oath, such as those who adhere to the antisemitic conspiracy theory that wars fought by the United States and other Western countries in the Middle East have been conducted at the behest of Israel (Feingold, 2017). Likewise, military members who oppose gun control and favor small government (certainly not extremist ideologies in and of themselves), or who believe former President Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen (Wolf, 2021), may come to believe it is critical to defend their interpretation of the Constitution, even if it means clashing with police and other government forces.
Despite increased media and academic attention on the problem of military members joining violent extremist groups, very few studies have empirically examined the phenomenon at an individual level (Speckhard, Ellenberg, and Garret, 2021; Koehler, 2022; Haugstvedt & Koehler, 2021). Rather, most literature has tended to focus on statistics of numbers of violent extremist attacks committed by people with military experience (Jones et al., 2021) and overarching examinations of potential future challenges in this arena (van Dongen et al., 2022) and measures that should be taken to counter it (Helmus, Byrne, & Mallory, 2021). The psychosocial vulnerabilities and motivations of current and former military members warrant further exploration using quantitative and qualitative methods. An initial step to gaining a holistic understanding of this well-documented problem is to compile and analyze on the aggregate the individual cases of violent extremism among active and veteran military personnel which have been covered in the media in recent years. This is not the first such study but rather aims to expand upon the findings of other researchers, including that carried out by Haugstvedt and Koehler (2021), whose dataset used ends in 2018, and another carried out by Jensen and colleagues (2022), which takes a wider lens toward all types of extremism between 1990 and 2021.
The Present Study
The goal of the present study is to provide insight into the phenomenon of people with military experience engaging in white supremacist and far-right violent extremism. Of course, military members have historically been involved in violent extremism of other ilks, such as the Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan, who was inspired by the militant jihadist ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki (Meleagrou-Hitchens, 2020) and other militant jihadists who have attempted to sabotage and kill their compatriots in arms. There have also been several cases of people with military experience engaging in acts of violent extremism on behalf of far-left ideological groups (Esch, 2018). Nonetheless, it would be disingenuous to portray these threats as equal in frequency or severity. The U.S. Government and others have made clear over the past years that the greatest threat to U.S. national security is domestic violent extremism, particularly that motivated by white supremacist and violent far-right ideologies (Sullivan & Benner, 2021). Thus, the present article focuses exclusively on these types of violent extremist groups. Additionally, as mentioned previously, the problem of violent extremists with military experience is not limited to the United States and has also been found in many Western countries. Simply for the sake of brevity and feasibility, the present study focuses exclusively on violent extremists who were members of the U.S. military. As will be discussed in the final section of the article, this study should be replicated using samples from other countries. Finally, it is worth repeating that the problem addressed in this article is not a new one; violent extremists have served in the U.S. military since its inception. Again, for the sake of brevity and feasibility, and given the sharp rise in white supremacist and far-right violent extremist behavior since 2017 (O’Harrow, Tran, & Hawkins, 2021), the present study focuses exclusively on violent extremist incidents which occurred in the five-year period between 2017 and 2022.
The present research aimed to address the following broad research questions, as far as they could be assessed from open-source reporting:
An initial online search for violent extremism cases among military members and veterans (and different combinations of these terms) resulted in thousands of hits. A snowball method, wherein any names mentioned in a given article were subsequently searched, was used until no new names could be found. Generally, most of the names came from a few websites, namely ProPublica, Frontline, NPR, HuffPost, and Task and Purpose. Further details on the cases, however, came from websites such as the Marine Corps Times, Army Times, Navy Times, and Air Force Times, as well as local news publications from the named individuals’ hometowns or the areas where the extremist incidents occurred. We would be remiss in failing to credit, however, anti-fascist websites such as Identify Evropa and Panic at the Discord for providing information on individuals named in the news articles whose extremist behavior primarily took place online (i.e., violent extremist social media posts).
Each case was coded on 17 variables, in addition to their name. These variables were: Branch, Status (i.e., training only, active-duty, reservist, veteran), Combat Experience, Rank and/or Role in the Military, Year Joined the Military, Year Left the Military, Violent Extremist Group Affiliation, Year Joined Violent Extremist Group, When Radicalized (i.e., before, during, or after military service), Disciplinary Action Taken by Military, Rehabilitative/Treatment Provided by Military, Arrested and/or Cited, Convicted, Sentence, Group Leader, Group Founder, Violent or Non-Violent Incident. Not all variables were able to be coded for each case, given the missing data limitations of open-source research. Additionally, there were many cases in which a variable could be coded in multiple ways. For example, an individual may be a veteran of the Army who later joined the Reserves or National Guard. In these cases, their most recent status at the time the extremist incident occurred was used. Similarly, for individuals who served in multiple branches of the military, the most recent branch in which they served at the time the extremist incident occurred was used. Ranks listed are the rank held by the individual at the time of the incident, even though some faced a reduction in rank following the incident. Individuals associated with any white supremacist or far-right violent extremist group were included, and the definition of “far-right violent extremist” was applied to include the Boogaloo Bois, an anti-government movement which is not exclusively white supremacist (Kriner & Lewis, 2021), and incels, whose misogynistic ideology often, but not always, overlaps with violent far-right ideologies (Hoffman, Ware, & Shapiro, 2020). With regard to the designation of an incident as violent or non-violent, a relatively broad interpretation was used, wherein any incident of actual, attempted, plotted, or threatened violence was coded as violence, regardless of whether the individual was charged with a violent crime or charged with any crime at all. Non-violent incidents included affiliation with violent extremist groups, extremist social media posts that did not explicitly threaten violence and posting flyers advertising violent extremist groups or ideologies. Non-violent incidents also included arrests for property crimes and firearms charges that were not associated with explicit plots, threats, or attempts to commit violence. Because all data collected was open-source, IRB approval was not required for this study. The dataset, which includes hyperlinks to useful articles about each case, is presented in the Appendix.
The search resulted in 72 names of individuals with military experience linked to white supremacist or far-right violent extremist incidents in the United States between 2017 and 2022. Whereas 35 percent of all military personnel serve in the Army (including the National Guard), 45.8 percent of the cases in this sample served in the Army (34.7 percent) and National Guard (11.1 percent). The Marine Corps was also overrepresented in this sample; while 14 percent of all military personnel serve in the Marines, 40.3 percent of the cases in this sample were associated with the Marines. This finding is consistent with the assessment conducted by Jensen and colleagues (2022), which found that “78 percent of criminal extremists [between 1990 and 2021] served in the U.S. Army or Marine Corps, including Reserve and National Guard units” (p. 2). The Air Force and Navy were represented to a lesser extent in this sample; while each branch includes approximately 24 percent of all military personnel, 8.3 cases in this sample served in the Air Force and 4.2 percent served in the Navy. Three percent of military personnel serve in the Coast Guard, as compared with 1.4 percent (n = 1) of the cases in this sample (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020).
The plurality of the cases (43.1 percent) were active-duty at the time the incident occurred. An additional 12.5 percent of cases were reservists. Of the rest of the cases, 27 individuals (37.5 percent of the total sample) were veterans and four individuals (5.6 percent) had only completed or dropped out of basic training. One individual’s status (other than being a military member) was undiscoverable. This is a marked difference from the finding by Jensen and colleagues (2021) that 83.7 percent of criminal extremists with military experience between 1990 and 2021 were veterans, most of whom had been separated from the military for over two years. This discrepancy could be due to a lower threshold for inclusion in the present dataset (the extremist incidents did not need to be crimes) but could also suggest an increase in extremist activity among active-duty servicemembers. Combat experience was unknown for 35 of the 72 (48.6 percent) of the individuals. Of the remaining 37, approximately half (n = 19) had combat experience, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. That 26.4 percent of the sample had confirmed combat deployments is consistent with the finding by Jensen and colleagues (2021) that 29.9 percent of criminal extremists between 1990 and 2021 had combat deployments. One such individual was Dillon Hopper, who joined the Marines in 2005 and served in Iraq and Afghanistan before retiring as a staff sergeant in 2017. Shortly thereafter, he led Vanguard America, a white supremacist group, to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Hopper styled himself as Vanguard America’s “commander,” indicating his efforts to mold the group according to military structure (Swaine and Beckett, 2017).
Ranks ranged from private to lieutenant colonel, though the plurality of the sample were non-commissioned officers, including seven corporals, five staff sergeants, three sergeants, one master sergeant, and one technical sergeant. Other common ranks included lance corporal (n = 9) and private first class (n = 6).
Year of entry into the military was unknown for 43.1 percent of the sample, but for those cases whose year of entry could be found (n = 41), the individuals joined the military between 1968 and 2021, though most (51.2 percent) joined after 2010. Similarly, the year of exit was unknown for 45.8 percent of the sample, but for those whose year of exit could be found (n = 39), most (69.2 percent) left the military after 2017. This number is almost certainly a function of the search parameters, which limited the search to violent extremist incidents since 2017, and exit was often tied to the incidents themselves. The individual who joined the military in 1968 was Vietnam veteran Lonnie Leroy Coffman. On January 6th, he reportedly came to Washington, D.C. prepared for war, though he did not ultimately enter the Capitol building. When he was arrested, he was armed with two loaded guns. Nearby was his portable arsenal, a truck which contained Molotov cocktails, a nine-millimeter handgun, a rifle, a shotgun, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, large-capacity ammunition feeding devices, a crossbow with bolts, machetes, and camouflage smoke devices. Coffman was linked with a Texas-based militia that staged an “armed citizen camp” to enforce immigration laws, prosecutors said. Coffman’s family members said he suffered from depression, one of the symptoms of which is anhedonia, or loss of interest. Coffman may have been drawn to his militia as a way of reigniting a sense of purpose in his life (Jackman, 2022).
The individuals belonged to a variety of violent extremist groups, though by nature of the search methodology, those groups which have been the focus of media stories, particularly those involved on January 6th and at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, are more heavily represented. Specifically, 18.1 percent of the cases were affiliated with Identity Evropa, and 15.3 percent of the cases were affiliated with unnamed Neo-Nazi groups which convened primarily online on websites such as Iron March. Other heavily represented groups were those which have been highlighted in the media since 2020, namely the Boogaloo Bois (12.5 percent), the Oath Keepers (8.3 percent), and the Proud Boys (6.9 percent). There were also four cases associated with Atomwaffen Division and three cases associated with the Wolverine Watchmen, a Michigan militia which has been linked to the Boogaloo movement and were convicted for violent extremist activities and in the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Whitmer. Two cases each were identified from Patriot Front, Ravensblood Kindred, Right Sector, The Base, and Vanguard America, and these cases were typically linked to one another. Individual cases were also identified from American Patriots, Feuerkrieg Division, incels, Rapekrieg, U.S. Nationalist Initiative, and an unnamed white nationalist group.
It is noteworthy that some of the groups listed above are often classified as “anti-government.” There are certainly cases in the present sample in which an individual felt betrayed by the government and military and sought to fight against it. These individuals would have been more likely to join a group like the Boogaloo Bois. The Boogaloo Bois may be considered a decentralized successor to the militia movement of the 1980s and 1990s, whose adherents advocate accelerating an inevitable and imminent armed revolt, a second U.S. civil war, and the collapse of society—referred to by the group members as the “boogaloo.” The Boogaloo Bois believe that bringing about this event will require attacking law enforcement and violently toppling the U.S. government. The Boogaloo Bois movement began coalescing in 2019 among angry young men, mostly but not exclusively white, who view the U.S. government as repressive. These men believe that purportedly repressive policies, namely gun control and vaccination requirements, will be the source of a mass uprising against the government. The movement is comprised of white supremacists as well as those who do not endorse racism. Rather, the group’s evolving ideology is solidified around the belief of an impending civil war which may include anti-government violence and attacks on police. Emblematic of the Boogaloo Bois’ mixed ideology but unifying anti-law enforcement sentiment is their members’ presence at the January 6th riot as well as the protests for racial justice in the summer of 2020, where Boogaloo Bois were accused of inciting violence amidst the mostly peaceful protests (Dickson, 2020). Boogaloo adherents with military experience include Steven Carrillo, an Air Force staff sergeant who was sentenced to 41 years in prison for shooting two federal security officers, killing one, in Oakland, California in June of 2020. Carrillo admitted during his trial that in the months leading up to the attack, he had aligned himself with an anti-government ideology and wanted to carry out violent acts against federal law enforcement in order to incite a civil war. Carrillo faces additional charges for his alleged involvement in a separate shooting on the same day in Ben Lomond, California, resulting in the death of a Santa Cruz County Deputy Sheriff and injuries to other law enforcement personnel (U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of California, 2022).
The Wolverine Watchmen—the Michigan-based militia connected to the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer in October 2020—is also affiliated with the Boogaloo movement (Knowles, 2020). The group’s alleged leader, Joseph M. Morrison, joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 2015 and was serving in the 4th Marine Logistics Group at the time of his arrest and arraignment. His adherence to the Boogaloo ideology is clear: Morrison went by the name Boogaloo Bunyan on social media and kept a sticker of the Boogaloo flag featuring a Hawaiian floral pattern and an igloo on the rear window of his pickup truck (Thompson, Hassan, & Hajj, 2021). Another member of the group, Paul Bellar, trained for a year with the U.S. Army at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, before being discharged in 2019 with a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Bellar was responsible for designing the tactical training exercises used by the Wolverine Watchmen that included the use of firearms and medical treatment (Cranney, 2022).
As described previously, many people with military experience who join so-called “anti-government” groups would not describe them as such. Rather, many violent extremist groups in the United States that advocate anti-government sentiments claim to uphold the Constitution and to be fighting against only those nefarious forces which seek to change the Constitution or the country in general. These groups cherry-pick the parts of the Constitution which support their view of the United States as a country by and for white men (as President Lincoln’s successor, President Andrew Johnson, proudly proclaimed) (PBS, n.d.). These groups thus tend to fight against government actions which contradict this world view, specifically laws involving gun control or civil rights, including for members of the LGBTQ+ community (Neiwert, 2015; Hatewatch Staff, 2021). In addition to the Oath Keepers, Patriot Front may also be placed into this category of anti-government groups. Marine reservist Victor Krvaric, for example was revealed to be a member of Patriot Front in the aforementioned leak. Krvaric stated in his Patriot Front application that he “found out about Jews” while in the Marines and that his brother had introduced him to the alt-right “Groyper” movement. Perhaps indicative of Krvaric and other purportedly anti-government groups’ perceptions that their beliefs are consistent with some current government officials (whether or not these perceptions are accurate), the same brother who introduced Krvaric to the Groyper movement previously led the San Diego State College Republicans, and their father had once served as their county’s Republican Party chair (Dyer, 2022).
The year when the individuals in the samples joined their groups was unknown for most (69.4 percent), but of the 22 cases for which this information could be found, most (n = 17) joined their groups in 2017 or later, again, a feature of the present methodology. Of the rest, one individual joined their group in 2009, three joined in 2015, and one joined in 2016. Five individuals in the sample, including Dillon Hopper of Vanguard America, had founded their groups. Another of the group founders in the sample was Stewart Rhodes. Rhodes served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper and received an honorable discharge after being injured in a night parachuting accident. When Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, he often referred to his military service and worked hard to bring military members, veterans, and police into his group’s ranks. These recruitment efforts helped to bolster the group’s patriotic bona fides and the group also offered non-military members high-level training in survival and combat skills, including from former Special Forces operators. On January 6th, the Oath Keepers wore military gear and moved in tactical formations, indicating how successful Rhodes had been in this domain (Southern Poverty Law Center, n.d.).
Including the five founders, 17 individuals in the sample were known to have been leaders in their groups. It is possible that leadership skills learned in the military as well as the high esteem in which military members are held in far-right violent extremist groups make individuals with such experience well-suited to leadership roles in their groups. Notably, Marines were significantly more likely than members of the other branches to be leaders in their groups, c(4) = 9.861, p < 0.05. Veterans were no more likely than active duty servicemembers, reservists, or training dropouts to be leaders in their groups, c2(3) = 2.158, p = 0.540. Alongside Hopper, described previously, another Marine who became the leader of a white supremacist group is Nathan Damigo, founder of Identity Evropa. After a childhood in the ethnically diverse city of San Jose, California, Damigo joined the Marines in 2004. Damigo reportedly felt more comfortable among the predominantly white Marines than he had in San Jose, and later described becoming “race aware” and subsequently “race conscious” during his time in the Marines. In 2007, while on leave, Damigo was arrested for an armed robbery against a man he accused of “looking Iraqi.” He later cited PTSD and a feeling of betrayal by the military as contributing to his commission of this crime. After being released from prison, Damigo became involved in a number of white supremacist groups before founding Identity Evropa in 2016 (Southern Poverty Law Center, n.d.).
For nearly half of the sample (48.6 percent), we were not able to discern whether they became radicalized to white supremacist and/or far-right violent extremist ideologies before, during, or after their military service. Of course, all of those whose incidents occurred while they were serving on active-duty or as reservists were radicalized either before or during their service. Of these (n = 40), publicly available sources provided evidence of five (12.5 percent) having been radicalized prior to their military service and deliberately joining the military in order to gain weapons and tactical training. For another 14 (35.0 percent), there was publicly available evidence that radicalization occurred during their service, but there was not enough information to discern when radicalization occurred for the remaining 21. Of the veterans (n = 27), there was publicly available evidence that two were already radicalized prior to joining the military, that four became radicalized during their service, and that nine became radicalized after leaving the military.
One particularly chilling individual who was radicalized prior to joining the military was Matthew Belanger, a member of a group called Rapekrieg, which advocates targeting Jews, women, and other members of marginalized groups and using rape as one of its weapons to subdue and instill fear in its enemies and to “increase the production of white children,” according to court documents filed in Belanger’s gun charges case. According to FBI sources, Belanger allegedly wrote the Rapekrieg manifesto, published in May 2020, when Belanger was stationed in Hawaii as an active-duty Marine (Rawnsley & Hughes, 2022). Belanger was discharged from the Marines for extremist activity. The Marines did not release information about what type of discharge Belanger received, but federal prosecutors stated that he was discharged under “Other than Honorable conduct (Serious Offense), specifically for dissident/extremist activity.” Investigators allege that unnamed witnesses reported that prior to Belanger joining the Marine Corps, he and other members of Rapekrieg talked about carrying out a mass shooting at a synagogue but later decided it would be better to attack and burn it down with Molotov cocktails (Schogol, 2022; Fieldstadt, 2022).
Actions taken by the military against those who were active-duty or reservists at the time of their incident were mixed, an expected outcome given the varied nature of the incidents. Of this group (n = 40), eight individuals were involved in an incident which involved actual, attempted, plotted, or threatened violence. For these eight, disciplinary actions taken by the military were unknown for four, one individual was not disciplined, one individual had disciplinary action taken against him that did not include discharge, and two were discharged from the military as a result of the incident. Of the 32 whose incidents did not involve violence, disciplinary actions were unknown for 15, two had no disciplinary action taken against them, three had disciplinary action taken against them that did not involve discharge, and 12 were discharged as a result of the incident. There was no evidence that any of these individuals were offered or directed to participate in any sort of counseling or rehabilitation-type treatment by the military as a result of the incident. There were no significant differences in disciplinary actions taken between those active-duty and reserve servicemembers who had and had not been involved in violence-related incidents, c(2) = .695, p = 0.707.
An example of an individual disciplined but not discharged is William Jeffrey Poole, who was an operations reserve officer at the 98th Training Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, when he was investigated for violent extremist social media posts. Online, Poole referred to himself as a racist, bigot and National Socialist (i.e., an adherent to Nazism). That he posted such content on an Army subreddit, as well as other social media sites, is concerning in its indication that Poole believed that other soldiers might agree with his views. In addition to describing himself as a white supremacist, Poole advocated for the nuclear destruction of multiple major, Democratic-led, U.S. cities: “Our nation would be better off without NYC, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Seattle, etc. They’re all full of traitors and bugmen.” He also called for armed insurrection against the U.S. government, and the killing of his fellow service members. Poole was commissioned into the Army Reserve in 2008 and had two Afghanistan deployments already under his belt when he wrote in September 2019, “Nuclear war wiping out the major cities would be a healthy reset for our nation. As long as Tel Aviv got a taste too.” The military did not make public what specific disciplinary actions were taken against Poole, but he remained a reservist as of 2021 (Myers, 2019, 2021).
In contrast, one individual whose punishment by the military was made public is Vassillio Pistolis, a Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, who took part in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 (Snow, 2019). At the time, Pistolis was an active member of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group comprised of a series of terror cells working toward and preparing for a race war and the ultimate collapse of society (Southern Poverty Law Center, n.d.). Pistolis admitted to Marine Corps investigators that he had become interested and involved in white supremacist violent extremism while on active duty but claimed that he had only joined the Atomwaffen Division for “shock value.” However, this statement was belied by his statement that the “government will collapse and there will be World War III,” indicating genuine belief in the group’s purpose. In June of 2018, a military court sentenced Pistolis to 28 days’ confinement, reduction in rank to E-1, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay for one month. In July of 2018, he was expelled from the Marine Corps (Snow, 2019).
Among the entire sample, 41 were known to have been arrested or cited (in the case of illegally posting flyers) for their involvement in violent extremism. Over half of this group (n = 23) had been charged with actual, attempted, threatened, or plotted violence. Of the 41 arrested or cited individuals, 21 had been convicted or pleaded guilty, two had been acquitted or had their charges dropped, and the outcome was unknown, including pending, for 18. For those who were convicted or pleaded guilty, sentences by civilian courts ranged from 20 hours of community service (for trespassing and violating a city ordinance while posting flyers advertising a neo-Nazi group) to life in prison (for driving a car into a crowd of protestors at Charlottesville and killing Heather Heyer). Veterans and training dropouts – that is, those who were not serving in the military at the time of their incident – were significantly more likely than active-duty and reservists to be involved in actual, attempted, plotted, or threatened violence, c(3) = 12.548, p < 0.01. Similarly, individuals for whom there was evidence that radicalization occurred after their military service had concluded were significantly more likely than those who radicalized before or during service to be involved in any sort of violence-related incident, c(2) = 13.778, p < 0.01.
Some of the individuals categorized as having been involved in violence-related incidents include the Proud Boys charged with conspiring to incite violence on January 6th. Joseph Randall Biggs, for example, served 12 years in the Army and had two combat deployments as an artilleryman, earning a Purple Heart and a Combat Action Badge. Biggs was a staff sergeant when he left in the Army under a medical discharge (Toropin & Beynon, 2022). Rising to leadership in the Proud Boys, Biggs, who used the Twitter handle @RamboBiggs, was calling for “Death to Antifa” in 2019, for extremists to bring guns and ammunition to a rally in Portland, and for sexual violence against women (Sidner, Rappard, & Cohen, 2021). One of Biggs’s fellow Proud Boys who entered the Capitol on January 6th was Dominic Pezzola, 43. Pezzola served in the Marine Corps Reserves for seven years as an infantry assault man, leaving as a corporal in 2005 with no deployments. He allegedly used a shield to smash one of the Capitol windows, allowing the rest of the Proud Boys to enter. Those in the lead reached the Senate chamber only minutes after then-Vice President Pence was rushed to safety (Weiner & Hsu, 2021). Evidence of the Proud Boys’ use of their members’ military training is further provided by the case of Zachary Rehl, whom officials say was key to setting up the group’s radios. Rehl served as a logistics specialist in the Marine Corps for four years and was discharged in 2012 as a corporal. According to court documents, Rehl “brought a number of programmable radio devices with him, and he assisted in the plans to program and distribute them to ensure the group could communicate through the day.” These Chinese-made radios were capable of transmitting “on more than 1,000 different frequencies, making them far more difficult to monitor or overhear” (Toropin & Beynon, 2022).
Finally, one of the most violent incidents in the dataset is the ongoing case of Alex Zwiefelhofer and Craig Lang, who joined the far-right Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector in the mid-2010s, when the group was fighting Russian separatists. Both were discharged from the Army after going AWOL (absent without leave), Zwiefelhofer in 2018 after he had already been fighting in Ukraine, and Lang in 2014 prior to traveling. After being returned by the Ukrainian government to the United States, the two allegedly planned to travel to Venezuela with the intent to kidnap and murder communists (Miller, 2021). In order to fund their trip, the pair robbed and murdered a couple in Florida. As of this writing, Zwiefelhofer is awaiting trial while Lang has returned to Ukraine and has not been extradited (Kofsky et al., 2022).
The events of January 6th and subsequent trials appear to have brought the age-old challenge of violent extremism among military members to the fore. Attention on horrifying individual cases can give the impression that these are isolated incidents, while broadscale evaluations of military policies and regulations often ignore the individual processes by which people become radicalized and recruited into violent extremist groups and their need for rehabilitation. The present article aimed to bridge these two common forms of analyses by providing a quantitative analysis of all publicly available cases of far-right violent extremist radicalization among current and former military members that occurred over the last five years, complemented by qualitative descriptions of some of the cases, highlighting their individual radicalization processes.
There were several key findings in this article. First, Marines appeared to be disproportionately represented in violent extremist groups compared with people associated with other military branches and were also more likely to be leaders in their groups. This could be a phenomenon similar to that observed among special forces soldiers by Koehler (2022), in that the relative homogeneity among Marines, as well as a particular reputation for hypermasculinity, increases Marines’ susceptibility to the violent extremist narrative put forth by far-right violent extremist groups. However, it is also possible that these individuals were not influenced in their radicalization by the Marine Corps (though some stated that they were), but rather that the same personal characteristics and ideological narratives which motivated them to join the Marines also motivated them to join far-right violent extremist groups. It is also probable that the reputation of physical strength, valor, intensity, and masculinity among Marines makes them more attractive to violent extremist recruiters, making them more likely to be recruited than members of other military branches. Similarly, the same reputation may make them more attractive as leaders once they join their violent extremist groups.
Second, although a minority of the sample were found to have already held violent extremist beliefs before joining the military, this was not uncommon. It is clear that the military needs to improve its ability to weed out potential recruits who hold these beliefs, including by conducting more thorough background checks and social media searches, both of which would have revealed the violent extremist beliefs of many of the cases in this sample. Similarly, military recruiters and those in charge of intake must recognize that adherents to far-right violent extremist ideologies typically do not perceive themselves as “anti-government,” and would therefore state truthfully that they did not hold any anti-American beliefs or group memberships. Thus, these questions should be amended to better assess violent extremist ideologies.
Third, disciplinary actions taken by the military against active-duty servicemembers and reservists were inconsistent. There appeared to be no difference between actions taken against those who posted racist statements online or were found to be members of violent extremist groups and those who made direct threats of violence. This finding reinforces the conclusions from previous reports that military personnel still struggle to understand what constitutes violent extremism, which behaviors and memberships are and are not acceptable, and what the consequences are for engaging in proscribed behavior. Making these rules clear, as Secretary Austin directed in his stand-down days, would allow the military, across branches, to address the problem of violent extremism in the military systematically, rather than in a piecemeal fashion which is less likely to deter others from such behavior.
Finally, veterans and training dropouts were more likely than active-duty servicemembers and reservists to engage in violent behavior and were more likely to have been radicalized after leaving the military. In some respects, this finding is positive in that it suggests that those still employed by the military are either psychologically deterred or physically prevented from engaging in more violent acts. It is notable that previous ICSVE research with former violent extremists, including Jeff Schoep, the former leader of the National Socialist Movement, found that membership actively tried to infiltrate the military to prepare for a coming race war but were instructed to keep a low profile and go unnoticed, presumably until they were to be activated. The higher incidence of violence among veterans and training dropouts in the sample also supports the “bad transition” theory posited by Castro and Kitnzle (2018), that those who are not able to smoothly transition from military to civilian life are more vulnerable to negative outcomes including violent extremist radicalization. This may particularly be true for those returning from unpopular, morally injurious, and highly traumatic service in Iraq and Afghanistan (Hoge et al., 2004; Molendijk et al., 2022). Notably, very few of the individuals in the sample were commissioned officers. Rather, many held non-commissioned officer ranks, meaning that they had leadership experience while in the military but were not necessarily sought after for civilian jobs upon leaving the military, whereas as commissioned officers are often recruited by private security and defense contractors and given lucrative positions. Thus, these individuals likely experienced a precipitous drop in meaning and purpose in their lives, as well as respect received from others, after leaving the military, making them susceptible to promises made by violent extremist recruiters to give them significance, dignity, and a noble cause for which to fight.
Limitations and Directions for Future Research
This study is not without limitations. First and foremost, it relies on open-source data. This reliance means that not all variables could be coded for all cases, because not all information was publicly available, specifically regarding military service and disciplinary action taken by the military, as well as information about the individual’s membership in their violent extremist group prior to the incident described in the media. The use of open-source data also means that the sample is skewed toward cases perceived by the media as interesting enough to cover. The study is also limited in its scope. Future research should investigate all cases of violent extremists in the military, for instance by adding the individuals from this dataset to the PIRUS database used by Haugstvedt and Koehler (2021) and adding the variables used in this dataset to PIRUS, as well. Such an investigation could allow for an examination of changes over time, including as military regulations and services for veterans evolve. Additionally, this research should be repeated for cases in other countries, particularly in other Western countries such as Germany where this problem has also recently come to light. Such a study would be difficult, however, given the stricter rules regarding defendants’ privacy and media gag orders that are more common outside of the United States (Blom, 2017).
This study clearly reiterates and expands upon the problem of extremist activity among active-duty and veteran military members that needs to be addressed. The stand-down days ordered by Secretary Austin appear to have resulted in better definitions of what are and are not prohibited behaviors, but the military responses to violent extremism among active-duty members remains opaque and does not appear to take into account the downstream effects of taking disciplinary action without psychological rehabilitation, particularly if an individual with weapons training and extremist beliefs is sent out into the general public with a newfound grievance against the military and the broader U.S. government. While the numbers involved are small, the brutality, lethality, and widespread psychological impact of some of the plots and actions by these few, make clear the military has a duty to engage in military-wide prevention efforts to ensure that members are not admitted who are already radicalized into extremist violence, that members understand what is prohibited and are socialized to identify and intervene when they see violent extremism in the ranks, and that those who are identified are treated in a manner that does not cause the whistle-blower to be punished or the extremist to be released from the military prior to some rehabilitation efforts having been taken. Additionally, the results of this study emphasize the role that Veterans Affairs and non-profits dedicated to helping veterans transition into civilian life have to play in this prevention and intervention work, as well.
Barkun, M. (1989). Millenarian aspects of ‘white supremacist’movements. Terrorism and Political Violence, 1(4), 409-434.
Bennhold, K. (2020, July 3). As Neo-Nazis seed military ranks, Germany confronts ‘an enemy within’. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/03/world/europe/germany-military-neo-nazis ksk.html?smid=tw-share
Blom, R. (2017). Naming Crime Suspects in the News. Media Law, Ethics, and Policy in the Digital Age, 207.
Castro, C. A., & Kintzle, S. (2018). Military transition theory. Springer.
CFR.org Editors (2020, July 13). Demographics of the U.S. Military. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/demographics-us-military
Cranney, J. (2022, August 23). Former soldier accused in Michigan governor kidnap plot arrested in Columbia. The Post and Courier. https://www.postandcourier.com/columbia/former-soldier-accused-in-michigan governor-kidnap-plot-arrested-in-columbia/article_3faf26b8-0a4a-11eb-b2d9 bfcdf496a059.html
Dickson, EJ. (2020, June 5). Far-right ‘Boogaloo Bois’ are trying to incite violence at protests. Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/boogaloo-boys-george floyd-protests-black-lives-matter-1010117/
Dyer, A. (2022, February 4). Marines investigate reservist for alleged link to white supremacist group. The San Diego Tribune. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/military/story/2022-02-04/marine-reservist neo-nazi-group
Esch, M. (2018, June 19). ‘Commie Cadet’ sends vulgar message on his way out of the Army. Army Times. https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2018/06/19/commie-cadet sends-vulgar-message-on-his-way-out-of-the-army/
Feingold, H. (2017). Jewish power in America: Myth and reality. Routledge.
Fieldstadt, E. (2022, July 27). Former Marine is accused of leading neo-Nazi group and planning to attack a New York synagogue. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us news/former-marine-accused-leading-neo-nazi-group-planning-attack-new-york rcna40295
Flade, F. (2021). The insider threat: Far-right extremism in the German military and police. CTC Sentinel, 14(5), 1-9.
Hatewatch Staff. (2021, April 5). Popular among antigovernment extremists, ‘Second Amendment sanctuary’ resolutions pose risks. Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2021/04/05/popular-among-antigovernment extremists-second-amendment-sanctuary-resolutions-pose-risks
Haugstvedt, H., & Koehler, D. (2021). Armed and Explosive? An Explorative Statistical Analysis of Extremist Radicalization Cases with Military Background. Terrorism and Political Violence, 1-15.
Helmus, T. C., Byrne, H. J., & Mallory, K. (2021). Countering Violent Extremism in the US Military. RAND Corporation.
Hoffman, B., Ware, J., & Shapiro, E. (2020). Assessing the threat of incel violence. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 43(7), 565-587.
Hoge, C. W., Castro, C. A., Messer, S. C., McGurk, D., Cotting, D. I., & Koffman, R. L. (2004). Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health problems, and barriers to care. New England journal of medicine, 351(1), 13-22.
Jackman, T. (2022, April 1). Alabama man with Molotov cocktails, guns, on Jan. 6 gets 46 month sentence. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md va/2022/04/01/coffman-molotov-cocktail-sentence-jan6/
Jackson, S. (2017). Conspiracy theories in the patriot/militia movement. GW Program on Extremism.
Jensen, M. A., Yates, E., & Kane, S. (2022). Radicalization in the ranks: An assessment of the scope and nature of criminal extremism in the United States Military. START.
Jones, S. G., Doxsee, C., Hwang, G., & Thompson, J. (2021). The military, police, and the rise of terrorism in the United States. Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Kirby, P. (2022, December 7). Germany arrests 25 accused of plotting coup. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-63885028
Knowles, H. (2020, October 9). Wolverine Watchmen, extremist group implicated in Michigan kidnapping plot, trained for ‘civil war.’ The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/10/08/wolverine-watchmen-michigan militia/
Koehler, D. (2022). From Superiority to Supremacy: Exploring the Vulnerability of Military and Police Special Forces to Extreme Right Radicalization. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 1-24.
Kofsky, J., Linehan, P., Scott, D., Hosenball, A., & Simon, E. (2022, February 28). Army vet charged in Florida double murder may remain at large in Ukraine. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/International/us-army-vet-charged-florida-double-murder remains/story?id=83066233
Kriner, M., & Lewis, J. (2021). The Evolution of the Boogaloo Movement. CTC Sentinel, 14, 2.
Kruglanski, A. W., Bélanger, J. J., Gelfand, M., Gunaratna, R., Hettiarachchi, M., Reinares, F., … & Sharvit, K. (2013). Terrorism—A (self) love story: Redirecting the significance quest can end violence. American Psychologist, 68(7), 559.
Meleagrou-Hitchens, A. (2020). Incitement: Anwar al-Awlaki’s western jihad. Harvard University Press.
Milton, D., & Mines, A. (2021). ” This is War” Examining Military Experience Among the Capitol Hill Siege Participants. MILITARY ACADEMY WEST POINT NY.
Miller, C. (2021, April 9). Double killing in Florida. American on the run in Ukraine. Buzzfeed News. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/christopherm51/craig-lang-ukraine-far right-extremists-true-crime?bfsource=relatedmanual
Molendijk, T., Verkoren, W., Drogendijk, A., Elands, M., Kramer, E. H., Smit, A., & Verweij, D. (2022). Contextual dimensions of moral injury: An interdisciplinary review. Military Psychology, 1-12.
Myers, M. (2019, October 11). CID investigating whether Army infantry officer called for mass murder and destruction amid racist, anti-government Reddit screeds. Military Times.https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2019/10/11/cid-investigating whether-army-infantry-officer-called-for-mass-murder-and-destruction-amid-racist-anti government-reddit-screeds/
Myers, M. (2021, May 25). The Army wants to kick out an avowed white supremacist officer, but they won’t admit it. Military Times. https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your military/2021/05/25/the-army-wants-to-kick-out-an-avowed-white-supremacist-officer but-they-wont-admit-it/
Neiwert, D. (2015, September 10). Oath Keepers head to Kentucky to repeat Bundy Ranch tactics in Kim Davis Dispute. Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/09/10/oath-keepers-head-kentucky-repeat bundy-ranch-tactics-kim-davis-dispute
O‘Harrow, R., Tran, A. B., & Hawkins, D. (2021, April 12). The rise of domestic extremism in America. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/interactive/2021/domestic-terrorism data/
PBS. (n.d.) The impeachment of Andrew Johnson. PBS. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/grant-impeachment/
Perry, S. L., & Schleifer, C. (2022). My country, white or wrong: Christian nationalism, race, and blind patriotism. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 1-20.
Rawnsley, A., & Hughes, S. (2022, July 26). Exclusive: Neo-Nazi marine plotted murder, rape campaigns with group, feds say. Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/marine-murder-rape-plot-rapekrieg 1388238/
Schogol, J. (2022, July 27). Ex-Marine booted for extremist activities accused of calling for Nazi-inspired mass rape and murder. Task and Purpose. https://taskandpurpose.com/news/marine-accused-neo-nazi-group/
Sidner, S., Rappard, A., & Cohen, M. (2021, February 4). Disproportionate number of current and former military personnel arrested in Capitol attack. CNN analysis shows. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/31/us/capitol-riot-arrests-active-military-veterans soh/index.html
Snow, S. (2019, September 4). The neo-Nazi boot: Inside one Marine’s descent into extremism. Marine Corps Times. https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine corps/2019/09/04/the-neo-nazi-boot-inside-one-marines-descent-into-extremism/
Southern Poverty Law Center. (n.d.). Atomwaffen Division. Southern Poverty Law Center.https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/atomwaffen-division
Southern Poverty Law Center. (n.d.). Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/elmer-stewart-rhodes
Southern Poverty Law Center. (n.d.). Nathan Benjamin Damigo. Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/nathan-benjamin damigo
Speckhard, A. (2016). The lethal cocktail of terrorism: the four necessary ingredients that go into making a terrorist & fifty individual vulnerabilities/motivations that may also play a role. International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism: Brief Report.
Speckhard, A., Ellenberg, M., & Garret, TM. (2021). The challenge of extremism in the military is not going away without a new perspective. ICSVE Research Reports.
Speckhard, A., Ellenberg, M., & Garret, TM. (2022, March 29). Directed hate: The three stages in adopting white supremacist ideologies. Homeland Security Today. https://www.hstoday.us/subject-matter-areas/counterterrorism/directed-hate-the-three stages-in-adopting-white-supremacist-ideologies/
Sullivan, E., & Benner, K. (2021, June 15). White supremacists top domestic terror threat, officials say. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/12/us/politics/domestic-terror-white supremacists.html
Swaine, J., & Beckett, L. (2017, August 14). Leader of neo-Nazi group linked to Charlottesville attack was a US marine. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/14/charlottesville-attack-vanguard america-james-fields-dillon-hopper
Thompson, A. C., Hassan, L., & Hajj, K. (2021, February 1). The Boogaloo Bois have guns, criminal records, and military training. Now they want to overthrow the government. ProPublica. https://www.propublica.org/article/boogaloo-bois-military-training
Torchinsky, R. (2022, February 9). 1 in 5 Patriot Front applicants say they have ties to the military. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/02/09/1079700404/1-in-5-patriot-front applicants-say-they-have-ties-to-the-military
Toropin, K., & Beynon, S. (2022, June 7). Veterans make up most of Proud Boys members indicted on sedition for Jan. 6 violence. Military.com. https://www.military.com/daily news/2022/06/07/veterans-make-most-of-proud-boys-members-indicted-sedition-jan-6 violence.html
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of California. (2022, June 3). Steven Carrillo sentenced to 41 years in prison for murder and attempted murder for role in drive-by shooting at federal courthouse in Oakland. U.S. Department of Justice. https://www.justice.gov/usao ndca/pr/steven-carrillo-sentenced-41-years-prison-murder-and-attempted-murder-role drive
Van Dongen, T., Veilleux-Lepage, Y. D., Leidig, E., & Rigault Arkis, H. (2022). Right-wing extremism in the military: a typology of the threat. ICCT Research Papers.
Weiner, R., & Hsu, S. S. (2021, January 29). Actions by Proud Boy at Capitol show ‘planning, determination, and coordination,’ U.S. alleges. The Washington Post.https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/brothers-charged-eugene-goodman chase/2021/01/29/80dec868-6239-11eb-afbe-9a11a127d146_story.html
Wolf, Z. B. (2021, May 19). The 5 key elements of Trump’s Big Lie and how it came to be. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/19/politics/donald-trump-big-lie explainer/index.html
|Name||Branch||Status||Combat||Rank/Role||Years in Military|
|Taylor Bechtol||Marines||Veteran||Unknown||Staff Sergeant||?-2018|
|Joshua Beckett||Army||Veteran||Yes||Combat Engineer||2011-2015|
|Matthew Belanger||Marines||Active duty||No||Lance Corporal||2018-2021|
|Paul Bellar||Army||Training only||No||Unknown||2017-2018|
|Joseph Randall Biggs||Army||Veteran||Yes||Staff Sergeant||2005-2012|
|Thomas Caldwell||Navy||Veteran||Unknown||Lieutenant Commander||1975-1995|
|Steven Carrillo||Air Force||Active duty||Unknown||Staff Sergeant||2009-?|
|Corwyn Storm Carver||Army||Active duty||Unknown||Private First Class||?-?|
|Michael Joseph Chesny||Marines||Active duty||Yes||Sergeant||2007-2018|
|Lonnie Leroy Coffman||Army||Veteran||Yes||Unknown||1968-?|
|Liam Collins||Marines||Veteran||Unknown||Lance Corporal||2017-2020|
|Christopher Cummins||Army||Reserves||Yes||Lieutenant Colonel Physician||?-?|
|David Wayne Dezwaan||Air Force||Active duty||Yes||Technical Sergeant||2007-?|
|Jordan Duncan||Marines||Veteran||Unknown||Cryptology Analyst||2013-2018|
|Brandon Trent East||National Guard||Active duty||Unknown||Unknown||?-2019|
|James Alex Fields||Army||Training only||No||Unknown||2015-2015|
|Nathan Freihofer||Army||Active duty||Unknown||Second Lieutenant||?-?|
|Tres Genco||Army||Training only||No||Unknown||2019-2019|
|Jonathan Gould||Army||Active duty||Unknown||Specialist||?-2019|
|Francis Harker||National Guard||Active duty||Unknown||Specialist||?-?|
|Jay C. Harrison||National Guard||Active duty||No||Unknown||?-?|
|Christopher P. Hasson||Coast Guard||Active duty||Unknown||Lieutenant||1988-?|
|Justin Wade Hermanson||Marines||Active duty||Unknown||Corporal||?-?|
|Dillon Hopper||Marines||Veteran||Yes||Staff Sergeant||2005-2017|
|Joseph Kane||National Guard||Active duty||No||Intelligence||2012-?|
|Jason Laguardia||Marines||Reserves||Unknown||Lance Corporal||?-?|
|Noah Latham||Army||Veteran||Yes||Drone operator||?-2020|
|Brian Lemley||Army||Unknown||Yes||Cavalry scout||?-?|
|William Loomis||Air Force||Veteran||Unknown||Airman||?-?|
|Andrew Lynam||Army||Reserves||No||Private First Class||2016-?|
|Felippe Maher||Marines||Active duty||Unknown||Lieutenant||?-2021|
|Joseph Manning||Marines||Active duty||Yes||Staff Sergeant||2002-2018|
|Thomas Cade Martin||Marines||Active duty||Unknown||Lance Corporal||?-2020|
|Joseph Maurino||National Guard||Active duty||Unknown||Infantryman||?-?|
|Shawn Michael McCaffrey||Air Force||Active duty||No||Airman First Class||2021-2021|
|Mason Mead||Marines||Active duty||Unknown||Lance Corporal||?-2019|
|Ethan Melzer||Army||Active duty||Unknown||Private||2018-?|
|Joe Mercurio||Marines||Active duty||Yes||Lance Corporal||2019-?|
|Jarrett Morford||Marines||Active duty||No||Private First Class||2020-?|
|Joseph Morrison||Marines||Active duty||Unknown||Lance Corporal||2015-2020|
|Ethan Nordean||Navy||Training only||No||Unknown||?-?|
|Dannion Phillips||Air Force||Active duty||Unknown||Airman First Class||?-?|
|Logan Piercy||Marines||Active duty||Unknown||Lance Corporal||?-2019|
|Vasillios George Pistolis||Marines||Active duty||Unknown||Lance Corporal||?-2018|
|William Jeffrey Poole||Army||Reserves||Unknown||Major||?-?|
|Cory Reeves||Air Force||Active duty||Unknown||Master Sergeant||2005-2020|
|Zachary Rehl||Marines||Veteran||No||Logistics Specialist||2008-2012|
|Elmer Stewart Rhodes||Army||Veteran||No||Paratrooper||1984-1985|
|Brandon Russell||National Guard||Active duty||Unknown||Private First Class||2016-2017|
|Erik Mitchell Sailors||Marines||Veteran||Unknown||Unknown||2011-2016|
|Andrew Schmidt||National Guard||Active duty||No||Private First Class||2019-?|
|Anthony Schroader||Marines||Reserves||No||Private First Class||2018-2019|
|Jarrett William Smith||Army||Active duty||No||Specialist||2017-?|
|Dalton Woodward||National Guard||Active duty||Yes||Unknown||?-2019|
|Name||Group||Year Joined Group||When Radicalized||Group Leader||Group Founder|
|Taylor Bechtol||Boogaloo Bois||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Joshua Beckett||Atomwaffen Division||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Paul Bellar||Wolverine Watchmen||Unknown||After||No||No|
|Joseph Randall Biggs||Proud Boys||2018||After||Yes||No|
|Thomas Caldwell||Oath Keepers||2020||After||Yes||No|
|Steven Carrillo||Boogaloo Bois||Unknown||Unknown||No||No|
|Corwyn Storm Carver||Atomwaffen Division||Unknown||Unknown||Yes||No|
|Michael Joseph Chesny||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Lonnie Leroy Coffman||American Patriots||Unknown||After||No||No|
|Liam Collins||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||Before||Unknown||Unknown|
|Donovan Crowl||Oath Keepers||2020||After||No||No|
|Christopher Cummins||Identity Evropa||Unknown||Unknown||No||No|
|Nathan Damigo||Identity Evropa||2016||During||Yes||Yes|
|David Wayne Dezwaan||Unknown||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Jordan Duncan||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Mike Dunn||Boogaloo Bois||2020||After||Yes||No|
|Brandon Trent East||Ravensblood Kindred||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Stephen Farrea||Identity Evropa||Unknown||Unknown||No||No|
|James Alex Fields||Vanguard America||Unknown||Unknown||No||No|
|Nathan Freihofer||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Gabriel Garcia||Proud Boys||Unknown||Unknown||No||No|
|Jonathan Gould||Identity Evropa||2017||During||No||No|
|Timothy Hale-Cusanelli||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||Unknown||No||No|
|Francis Harker||The Base||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Kenneth Harrelson||Oath Keepers||2020||Unknown||No||No|
|Daniel Harris||Wolverine Watchmen||2020||Unknown||No||No|
|Jay C. Harrison||Identity Evropa||2018||Unknown||No||No|
|Christopher P. Hasson||White nationalist unspecified||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Justin Wade Hermanson||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Christopher Hodgman||Identity Evropa||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Dillon Hopper||Vanguard America||2015||Before||Yes||Yes|
|Aaron Horrocks||Boogaloo Bois||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Joshua James||Oath Keepers||2020||Unknown||Yes||No|
|Joseph Kane||Identity Evropa||2018||Unknown||No||No|
|Victor Krvaric||Patriot Front||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Jason Laguardia||Identity Evropa||Unknown||Unknown||Yes||No|
|Craig Lang||Right Sector||2015||After||No||No|
|Noah Latham||Boogaloo Bois||Unknown||During||Unknown||No|
|Christopher Ledbetter||Boogaloo Bois||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Brian Lemley||The Base||Unknown||After||Unknown||Unknown|
|William Loomis||Boogaloo Bois||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Andrew Lynam||Boogaloo Bois||Unknown||During||Unknown||No|
|Joseph Manning||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Thomas Cade Martin||U.S. Nationalist Initiative||Unknown||Unknown||Yes||Yes|
|Joseph Maurino||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Shawn Michael McCaffrey||Identity Evropa||Unknown||Before||No||No|
|Mason Mead||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Joe Mercurio||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Joseph Morrison||Wolverine Watchmen||Unknown||Unknown||Yes||No|
|Ethan Nordean||Proud Boys||2017||Unknown||Yes||No|
|Stephen Parshall||Boogaloo Bois||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Dominic Pezzola||Proud Boys||2020||After||No||No|
|Dannion Phillips||Identity Evropa||Unknown||Unknown||No||No|
|Logan Piercy||Identity Evropa||Unknown||During||Unknown||No|
|Vasillios George Pistolis||Atomwaffen Division||2017||Before||Yes||No|
|William Jeffrey Poole||Neo-Nazi unspecified||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Cory Reeves||Identity Evropa||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Zachary Rehl||Proud Boys||Unknown||Unknown||Yes||No|
|Elmer Stewart Rhodes||Oath Keepers||2009||After||Yes||Yes|
|Brandon Russell||Atomwaffen Division||2015||Before||Yes||Yes|
|Erik Mitchell Sailors||Patriot Front||2017||Unknown||Yes||No|
|Andrew Schmidt||Identity Evropa||Unknown||Unknown||No||No|
|Jarrett William Smith||Feuerkrieg Division||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Jessica Watkins||Oath Keepers||2020||After||Yes||No|
|Dalton Woodward||Ravensblood Kindred||Unknown||During||Unknown||Unknown|
|Alex Zwiefelhofer||Right Sector||Unknown||Unknown||No||No|
|Name||Military Disciplinary Action||Arrested||Convicted||Civilian Sentence||Violence-Related Incident|
|Matthew Belanger||Yes, with discharge||Yes||Unknown||Unknown||Yes|
|Paul Bellar||No||Yes||Yes||20 years||Yes|
|Joseph Randall Biggs||No||Yes||Unknown||Unknown||Yes|
|Steven Carrillo||Unknown||Yes||Yes||41 years||Yes|
|Corwyn Storm Carver||Unknown||No||N/A||N/A||No|
|Michael Joseph Chesny||Yes, with discharge||Yes||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Lonnie Leroy Coffman||No||Yes||Yes||46 months||Yes|
|Liam Collins||Yes, with discharge||Yes||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Nathan Damigo||Yes, with discharge||No||N/A||N/A||No|
|David Wayne Dezwaan||Yes, without discharge||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Yes|
|Brandon Trent East||Yes, with discharge||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Stephen Farrea||Unknown||Yes||Yes||20 hours community service||No|
|James Alex Fields||No||Yes||Yes||Life in prison||Yes|
|Nathan Freihofer||Yes, without discharge||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Timothy Hale-Cusanelli||Unknown||Yes||Yes||48 months||No|
|Francis Harker||Yes, with discharge||Yes||Yes||Four years and nine months||No|
|Jay C. Harrison||Unknown||No||N/A||N/A||No|
|Christopher P. Hasson||Unknown||Yes||Yes||13 years||No|
|Justin Wade Hermanson||Unknown||Yes||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Jason Laguardia||Yes, with discharge||No||N/A||N/A||No|
|Noah Latham||Yes, with discharge||Yes||Yes||Unknown||No|
|Christopher Ledbetter||No||Yes||Yes||Five years||No|
|Brian Lemley||No||Yes||Yes||Nine years||Yes|
|Felippe Maher||Yes, with discharge||No||N/A||N/A||No|
|Joseph Manning||Yes, with discharge||Yes||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Thomas Cade Martin||Yes, with discharge||No||N/A||N/A||No|
|Shawn Michael McCaffrey||Unknown||No||N/A||N/A||No|
|Mason Mead||Yes, with discharge||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Joe Mercurio||Yes, without discharge||No||N/A||N/A||No|
|Joseph Morrison||No||Yes||Yes||20 years||Yes|
|Logan Piercy||Yes, with discharge||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Vasillios George Pistolis||Yes, with discharge||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Yes|
|William Jeffrey Poole||Yes, without discharge||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Cory Reeves||Yes, with discharge||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
|Elmer Stewart Rhodes||No||Yes||Yes||Unknown||Yes|
|Brandon Russell||No||Yes||Yes||Five years||No|
|Erik Mitchell Sailors||No||No||N/A||N/A||No|
|Anthony Schroader||Yes, with discharge||No||N/A||N/A||No|
|Jarrett William Smith||Unknown||Yes||Yes||30 months||No|
|Dalton Woodward||Yes, with discharge||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||No|
About the Authors:
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She serves as Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and an Affiliate in the Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University.
She has interviewed over 800 terrorists, violent extremists, their family members and supporters around the world, including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. Over the past five years, she has conducted in-depth psychological interviews with 273 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, as well as 16 al Shabaab cadres (as well as family members and ideologues,) studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, and their experiences inside ISIS and al Shabaab.
Speckhard developed the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project from these interviews, which includes over 250 short counter narrative videos that mimic ISIS recruitment videos but contain actual terrorists strongly denouncing ISIS as un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal. These videos have been utilized in over 200 Facebook and Instagram campaigns globally. Beginning in 2020, she launched the ICSVE Escape Hate Counter Narrative Project, interviewing dozens of white supremacists and members of hate groups, developing counternarratives from their interviews, and creating anti-recruitment videos. She has also conducted rare interviews with five Antifa activists (Antifa protestors rarely grant interviews.)
Dr. Speckhard is also an expert in rehabilitation and repatriation of terrorists and their families. In 2007, she designed the psychological and Islamic aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000+ detainees and 800 juveniles. This work led to consulting with foreign governments on issues of terrorist prevention, interventions and repatriation; and the rehabilitation and reintegration of ISIS foreign fighters, wives and children. She has worked with NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), UN Women, United Nations Countering Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (UNCTED), United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC), the EU Commission and EU Parliament, and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, and the FBI.
Today Dr. Speckhard actively trains key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, elite hostage negotiation teams, educators, and other professionals in countering violent extremism, locally and internationally. Her focus is on the psychology of terrorism, the effective use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE, as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS. Her consultations and trainings include U.S., Canadian, German, British, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, Belgian, Danish, Iraqi, Syrian, Jordanian and Thai national police and security officials, among others.
Dr. Speckhard is the author of five books: Homegrown Hate, Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi, and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. She has appeared on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, CBC, and in the New York Times, Washington Post, London Times, TIME Magazine, Newsweek, Daily Beast and more. She regularly writes a column for Homeland Security Today. Her research has been published in Global Security: Health, Science and Policy, Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, Journal of African Security, Journal of Strategic Security, the Journal of Human Security, Bidhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies, Journal for Deradicalization, Perspectives on Terrorismand the International Studies Journal. Her academic publications are found at https://georgetown.academia.edu/AnneSpeckhard and www.icsve.org.
ICSVE’s Breaking the ISIS Brand and Escape Hate Counternarrative videos and training seminars can be watched on ICSVE’s YouTube channel.
ICSVE’s research has been funded by the EU Commission; U.S. Departments of State, Homeland Security, Defense and Justice; UN Women; and the Embassy of Qatar.
Molly Ellenberg, MA is a research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism [ICSVE]. Molly is a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Maryland. She holds an M.A. in Forensic Psychology from The George Washington University and a B.S. in Psychology with a Specialization in Clinical Psychology from UC San Diego. Her research focuses on radicalization to and deradicalization from militant jihadist and white supremacist violent extremism, the quest for significance, and intolerance of uncertainty. Molly has presented original research at NATO Advanced Research Workshops and Advanced Training Courses, the International Summit on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma, the GCTC International Counter Terrorism Conference, UC San Diego Research Conferences, and for security professionals in the European Union. She is also an inaugural member of the UNAOC’s first youth consultation for preventing violent extremism through sport. Her research has been cited over 100 times and has been published in Psychological Inquiry, Global Security: Health, Science and Policy, AJOB Neuroscience, Frontiers in Psychology, Motivation and Emotion, Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, Women & Criminal Justice, the Journal of Strategic Security, the Journal of Human Security, Bidhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies, and the International Studies Journal. Her previous research experiences include positions at Stanford University, UC San Diego, and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.
 Anne Speckhard is the Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in Georgetown School of Medicine. Molly Ellenberg is Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism and a Ph.D. Student in the University of Maryland Social Psychology Department. The authors wish to thank ICSVE research fellows Kate Strezishar and Tiffany Dove for background research on behalf of this article.
 This type of ethnic posttraumatic triggering of aggressive responses among war veterans who served in Iraq has been observed by the first author in Brussels where such vets frequently reported being triggered by hearing Arabic spoken by North African immigrants.