The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School advised its students and personnel last week from using 14 different logos, including the Roman numeral “III” symbol, which they link to extremist groups and ideologies. The school banned personnel from wearing the symbols on duty and have told students using the symbols outside of duty hours could also result in punishment.
Janice Burton, a spokesperson for the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) provided a list of the 14 “extremist” symbols to American Military News on Wednesday. The list of symbols comes from a database of symbols the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau has labeled “extremist imagery.”
The symbols include:
- QAnon symbols
- The III symbol
- Proud Boys symbols
- Oath Keepers symbols
- Symbols of National Social Club 131
- The “Kek” flag
- Boogaloo symbols
- The Swastika
- A Swastike and dagger symbol
- The Nordic “Sunwheel”
- “SS” lightning bolts
- The Wheel Cross, also known as an Odin’s Cross or Celtic Cross
- “WP” symbols, including as a hand sign
- The Archangel Michael Cross
- The Othala Rune
- The Norse Algis Rune
- The “Totenkopf” or “Death’s Head” skull and crossbones
- The Universal Order, skastika and scales symbol
- The nuclear symbol
- Triple parenthesis ((( )))
- Pepe the frog
Col. Matt Gomlack, chief of staff at the training center, advised all personnel that if they wear or post any of the symbols going forward they could face “military punishment.”
Burton said the command policy is that personnel must wear their normal duty uniforms during duty hours, precluding non-uniform symbols during duty hours. She also said personnel are made aware that displaying the symbols off-duty could also be “misconstrued” and could also face negative consequences.
One particular symbol, the “III” symbol, has been used by the which has been used as an unofficial symbol of Trauma 3, an 18-month, special operations medical course at SWCS that instructs service members on tactical combat casualty care.
“Certain aspects of that logo have a striking resemblance to the symbology of an extremist organization — specifically the Roman numeral three with the Betsy Ross star circle, which was used by Trauma 3,” Gomlack told Military.com.
The “III” symbol has also been associated with the Three Percenters, which a SWCS briefing slide described as a “militia movement/paramilitary group with members who adhere to a far-right/libertarian ideology with a primary focus on firearms ownership right and opposition to expansive U.S. federal government authority.”
The Three Percenters say the “III” symbolism is rooted in the belief that just three percent of the American colonial population actively fought against the British government at any given time during the American Revolution. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says the Three Percenters believe that “just as a small revolutionary vanguard overthrew the tyrannical British rule in America, a dedicated group of modern patriots could rid the United States of today’s alleged tyranny.”
While Gomlack said Trauma 3 has used the “III” symbol “way longer” than the Three Percenters, and even placed the symbol on shirts the training center sold. Gomlack said the parallels between the shirts and the Three Percenter symbolism were “organically detected” but “those shirts that we sold five years prior in a blissful state of ignorance of our symbology that parallels this extremist group — they are still out there.”
Another symbol listed by SWCS is the Oath Keepers symbol, which is the group’s name enclosed in a black and gold tab similar to those worn by Army Rangers.
The Oath Keepers are a group that derives their name from the oath military service members and police officers take to defend the Constitution “from all enemies, foreign and domestic.” While the Oath Keepers describe themselves as a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders, the ADL has described them as an “anti-government right-wing” organization. The ADL states the group asks its members to pledge to disobey unconstitutional orders they might get from their superiors, such as mass gun confiscation and rounding up citizens to place in concentration camps; concerns the ADL says are based on conspiracy theories.
The JFK SCWS’ efforts to distance itself from various symbols come as President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said he will rid the ranks of extremists. Last week, Austin ordered a 60-day stand-down across the entire Department of Defense, to address extremism within the ranks.
Gomlack said the special operations training school is working to develop rules for reviewing its symbolism “so that we can avoid producing a T-shirt or a unit logo or a course logo or something that somebody could mistakenly attribute to an extremist organization.”
Gomlack said, “The command is doing two things: We are protecting our formation from potential misperceptions … and two, we are also sending a message that extremism is not tolerated in the Department of Defense and certainly not in our organization.”