Tensions are high in America right now, with talk of “purges” of the military and police. The Security Studies Group believes that the military’s culture is well-suited to educational efforts aimed at taming extremism, but we are also devoted to the protection of the American way. This includes the rights of free expression, freedom of religion, and so forth. While servicemembers do not enjoy the full array of rights that civilians do, especially on duty, protecting their rights is a crucial part of our mission. Security Studies Group (SSG) President Jim Hanson is himself a former member of 1st Group, US Special Forces, and has deeply held convictions about the duty to respect the rights of his fellows. Reports arose this month that special operations forces were being threatened with being chaptered out, detained, or otherwise punished for a wide array of symbols. Some of these symbols are clear cases of extremist symbolism. Others, however, were reported to be religious symbols that are not necessarily associated with any kind of extremism or white supremacism. One of these latter was reportedly the Celtic Cross, a Christian symbol with Irish roots that adorns many churches. Indeed, it is approved for usage on Veterans Administration tombstones. We decided to investigate.
I spoke with Janice Burton, who is both the Deputy Public Affairs Officer at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS), and also the editor of the journal Special Warfare. She sent me the presentation that was used at the lecture that generated these reports in the media, which I include below so that you can review it yourself. As you can see, the Celtic Cross is not singled out as an extremist symbol. Rather, the report mentions only a specific interpretation of the Celtic Cross that is used by Stormfront and similar organizations. She assured me that the ordinary Celtic Cross is not under any suspicion, and that in fact one of the guys in the office has a tattoo of one. It is just the interpretation being used by racist groups that is in the presentation.
Burton assured me that no one is being threatened with being chaptered out over any symbols. Rather, the presentation tracks to an issue that arose last year, when one of the schools at SWCS discovered that the Three Percenter movement had adopted a symbol that looked very much like a part of their logo. They changed their logo to avoid the association with the paramilitary movement. The presentation, which Burton characterized as purely educational, was just to familiarize everyone at the school with symbols they might encounter so that they would know to avoid them. The presentation was originally put together by the New York Police Department’s intelligence arm, and specifies that usage of the symbols is not by itself grounds for any action because of First Amendment protections. Burton said that t-shirt shops and such around Fort Bragg often have patriotic or religious t-shirts for sale, some of which may incorporate some of these symbols. The purpose of the session was to make sure that they did not unintentionally display symbols that might suggest special operations forces were aligned with extremist groups.
Media reports that people are being punished or threatened with discharge over these symbols are false, she said.
Again, SSG is devoted to the protection of the American way and the rights of servicemembers. Should you as a servicemember feel that your rights are being violated, we encourage you to contact us. That said, media reports often inflame our cultural divisions in order to ‘get clicks’ and drive traffic. In this case, it appears that the truth is happier than what the reports would have had you believe.(LES) NYPD Infographic - Awareness of Extremist Imagery Provides Opportunities for Officer Safety