Rep. Pete Aguilar’s bill seeks to keep white supremacists out of military

Rep. Pete Aguilar speaks at the Islamic Center of Redlands. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-San Bernardino, has introduced a bill with seven recommendations to prevent white nationalists from infiltrating the U.S. military — something a new Pentagon report says is already happening and is a continued threat.

Aguilar’s bill would turn the recommendations from that report — which he had requested after seeing news coverage suggesting it was increasing problem — into law.

“We should say, the overwhelming number of people serving in our country do so with the utmost respect for the constitution and their role,” Aguilar said. “However, there are limited exceptions that individuals do seek military service as a way to bolster their own standing in domestic terror groups.”

The Department of Defense has said it will implement all but one of the recommendations in the report and is evaluating the final recommendation, but it’s important to make them legally binding so that future administrations can’t back away from those commitments, Aguilar said.

That includes scanning recruits’ tattoos in a database to see if they are white nationalist symbols and working with the FBI to develop an unclassified version of the FBI’s Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism training.

The 65-page report says the United States has had a resurgence of white supremacy since 2014, and a concerning number of domestic extremists and white supremacists — although “low in absolute terms” — are joining the military to get training that can then be used in violent actions. Military veterans were among the violent insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol Jan. 6, for instance.

“DoD is facing a threat from domestic extremists (DE), particularly those who espouse white supremacy or white nationalist ideologies,” the report states. “Some domestic extremist/terror groups (a) actively attempt to recruit military personnel into their group or cause, (b) encourage their members to join the military, or (c) join, themselves, for the purpose of acquiring combat and tactical experience. Military members are highly prized by these groups as they bring legitimacy to their causes and enhance their ability to carry out attacks.”

In addition to possibly committing violence outside of the military, they pose a threat to good order and discipline within the military, according to the report.

While it might be accelerating, the trend isn’t new, said Brian Levin, director of Cal State San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism,

“I really want to applaud Rep. Aguilar for his leadership because this is long overdue and the kind of initial reforms that we’ve been pushing for for some time, but did not have a receptive majority in Congress,” Levin said. “This has been an ongoing problem because a lot of extremists and hate groups want to recruit people with military skills. This legislation will be a solid foundation.”

The Shielding Our Military from Extremists Act seeks to bring into law these seven recommendations from the report:

* Continue the Department of Defense’s coordination with the FBI to use the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal to evaluate concerning tattoos.

* Coordinate with the FBI’s Cryptology and Racketeering Records Unit to interpret tattoo meaning and significance.

* Collaborate with the FBI to create an unclassified version of the FBI’s Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism training.

* Collaborate with “pertinent government stakeholders” to develop a consistent definition of domestic extremist ideologies.

* Collaboration between the Office of the Under Secretary for Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Office of the Under Secretary for Defense for Intelligence and Security to seek further insight into capabilities that will help the defense department meet its recruiting needs.

* The Intelligence and Security office should review Standard Form 86 (a questionnaire for national security positions) to make its questions “more precise, easily understood and well-defined.”

* The Intelligence and Security office and Personnel and Readiness office should consider adding a designator to Defense Form 214 (discharge papers) due to domestic extremism.


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