The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit and The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Attack from within

By George J. Bryjak

Posted on: Friday, August 17, 2007

Collectively, the armed forces of the United States comprise the finest military organization in the world. The overwhelming number of men and women in its ranks are highly trained, honorable individuals willing to fight and die for their country. Lately, however, the integrity of the nation’s military has been compromised from within.

Since 2003, the U.S. Army has issued a significant number of “moral waivers” to recruits with criminal records: 15 percent of total recruits in 2004, 12 percent in 2005 and 11.7 in 2006. Over the past three years, more than 125,000 men and women with criminal records have joined the military. According to Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky., some of these individuals have “serious criminal misconduct” in their backgrounds. The most egregious offenses include receiving stolen property, aggravated assault, robbery, making terrorist threats and vehicular manslaughter.

Most experts are of the opinion that the unpopularity of the Iraq war is primarily responsible for the increase in “moral waiver” recruits. Individuals who oppose the war are not likely to enlist, while the majority of its “talk the talk,” hard-nosed supporters are unwilling to “walk the walk” to the recruiting office. As Alan Gropman of the Pentagon’s National Defense University argues, “There is terrific pressure put on recruiters ... They have to meet their mission so they request more waivers. In order to make the numbers they have to lower their standards.”

John D. Hutson, president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire and former judge advocate general of the Navy, believes there is a very good reason why the military has traditionally shunned potential recruits with criminal histories: “If you are recruiting somebody who has demonstrated some sort of antisocial behavior and then you are putting a gun in their hands, you have to be awful careful about what you are doing ... You are not putting a hammer in their hands, or asking them to sell cars. You are potentially asking them to kill people.”

David Isenberg, Navy veteran and senior analyst at the British American Security Information Council, notes that studies from past decades indicate soldiers with criminal records are more likely to disobey military regulations: “The worse ... moral background you came from, the lousier job you did, not only in terms of your personal performance but in dragging down unit cohesion.”

Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University, states that lowering standards via moral waivers “increases the likelihood of problems in the unit, discipline problems.” As discipline is the bedrock of any military organization, anything that undermines the chain of command can only reduce a unit’s combat effectiveness.

No doubt some individuals with criminal histories (especially those who have committed less serious offenses) will be rehabilitated by the armed forces, becoming first-rate soldiers and respectable citizens. The question is, which ones with what offense history? This query may be impossible to answer as the military does not track criminal history of personnel.

While recruiters dispense moral waivers to clear the way for one problematic group of enlistees, another, arguably much more dangerous cohort of young men is entering the armed forces without waivers: neo-Nazis, racist skinheads and gang members. A 2006 investigation by the hate-group-monitoring Southern Poverty Law Center concluded that “large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinheads” are in the U.S. military. Department of Defense gang detective Scott Barfield told the SPLC that neo-Nazis “stretch across all branches of service, they are linking up across the branches once they’re inside, and they are hard core. We’ve got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad ... That’s a problem.” (Although the Pentagon has long been aware of white supremacists in uniform, it dismissed the SPLC report).

Barfield stated that to meet enlistment quotas, “Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces and commanders won’t remove them,” even when these troops have been positively identified. Based at Fort Lewis, Wash., Barfield has identified and submitted evidence on 320 extremists at that Army installation. Only two had been discharged as of mid-year 2006. According to a 1998 Defense Department study, young extremists are encouraged by older leaders to join the military and gain access to weapons, combat training and potential new recruits to white power organizations.

The SPLC investigation identified a former Special Forces officer who wrote an article for the National Alliance (a neo-Nazi organization) publication Resistance.

“Light infantry is your branch of the service because the coming race war and the ethnic cleansing to follow will be very much an infantryman’s war,” he wrote. “It will be house-to-house, neighborhood-by-neighborhood until your town or city is cleared and the alien races are driven into the countryside where they can be hunted down and ‘cleansed.’”

While on active duty, T.J. Leyden, a former racist skinhead and Marine, recruited for the Hammerheads, a nationwide skinhead gang. He later renounced his neo-Nazi affiliation and now conducts anti-extremism training seminars for the military.

“Right now, any white supremacist in Iraq is getting live fire, guerilla warfare experience,” Leyden said. “And if he comes back and decides at some point down the road that it’s race war time, all that training and combat experience he’s received could easily turn around and bite this country in the a—.”

A January 2007 report, “Gang-Related Activity in the U.S. Armed Forces Increasing,” issued by the National Gang Intelligence Center, concluded that members of nearly every major street gang “have been identified on both domestic and international military installations.” Although occurring in all branches of the armed forces, military gang activity is most prevalent in the Army, the Army Reserve and the National Guard. Principal findings of this study include the following:

¯Some gang members enlist to receive weapons and combat training as well as obtain access to weapons and explosives.

¯Gang incidents involving active-duty personnel on or near U.S. military bases include drive-by shootings, assaults, robberies, drug distribution, weapons violations, extortion and money laundering.

¯Military training could result in more organized, sophisticated and violent gang activity as well as an increase in deadly assaults on law enforcement officers.

¯The military enlistment of gang members could ultimately lead to the worldwide expansion of U.S.-based gangs.

¯As most gang members maintain an allegiance to their gangs, these individuals could jeopardize the safety of other soldiers.

While military personnel with criminal records as well as gang and neo-Nazi affiliations existed prior to the Iraq War, their numbers have increased since the inception of this conflict. If U.S. involvement in the Iraq campaign drags on for another five to 10 years, this problem will only intensify, perhaps reaching a crisis level. A growing racist and criminal element within the armed forces is undermining the honor and possibly the effectiveness of the most distinguished institution in American society.

George J. Bryjak served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1964-67 and then was a sociology professor for 24 years at the University of San Diego. Now retired from teaching, he lives in Bloomingdale.


Alvarez, L. (Feb. 14, 2007) “Army Giving More Waivers in Recruiting,” New York Times

Bender, B. (July 13, 2006) “More Entering Army with Criminal Records,” Boston Globe

Bowman, T. (Feb. 14, 2006) “Army Accepting More Recruits with Criminal, Drug Histories,” Baltimore Sun

“Gang-Related Activity in the U.S. Armed Forces Increasing” (2007) National Gang Intelligence Center, Stars and Stripes,

Gerstein, J. (March 16, 2006) “Army Transfers Could Trigger a Gang War,” The New York Sun

Holthouse, D. (Summer 2006) “A Few Bad Men,” Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center

Kifner, J. (July 7, 2006) “Hate Groups Are Infiltrating the Military, Groups Asserts,” New York Times

Main, F. (March 16, 2006) “Gangs in the Ranks,” Chicago Sun-Times

Mitchell, B. (Feb. 11, 2007) “White Supremacists Presence Has Been a Concern for Years,” Stars and Stripes,

Powers, R. (Feb. 12, 2007) “Gang Activity in the U.S. Military,”,

Turse, N. (Oct. 1, 2006) “U.S. Is Recruiting Misfits for Army,”,

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