There have been 27 reports of extremist activity by service members over the past five years, the Defense Department said in a 2018 letter addressed to then-Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.
All but two of those 27 service members had been formally investigated and 18 service members were disciplined or separated from the military, the DoD said.
The letter from the Pentagon, dated Aug. 24, 2018, was sent to Ellison in response to his request for information related to supremacist and extremist activity across the military.
Ellison’s request was made following a bombshell ProPublica story that Marine Lance Cpl. Vasillios G. Pistolis had ties to a neo-Nazi group known as Atomwaffen Division.
The letter from the DoD may be the only hard data across the military of the number of service members participating in supremacist or extremist activities.
The DoD explained in its letter to Ellison that tracking the number of service members disciplined for extremist activity is “problematic” because troops are often punished or separated for a number of different offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Senate appropriators included in its $695 billion defense spending plan for fiscal 2020 a mandate for military officials to more closely track and respond to incidents of white supremacy and pro-Nazi activity in the ranks, Military Times reported Thursday.
“Punishment may not, in an of itself, be descriptive of extremist actions of activity,” the letter reads.
Pistolis was charged with Article 92, failure to obey a regulation, and Article 107, making false official statements, and ultimately was found guilty at a summary court-martial.
Pistolis was processed for administrative separation and ultimately booted from the Corps on July 11, 2018, according to Corps officials.
The DoD says its screening process for potential recruits is a “multilevel” approach that involves criminal and medical record checks, interviews with recruiters, and fingerprint checks, the letter explained.
“Moreover, tattoos are screened and questions asked regarding possible gang affiliation,” the letter reads.
The DoD noted in its letter that the Office of Personnel and Management Federal Investigative Service gained access to the violent gang file of the National Criminal Information Center, following the signing of a memo with the FBI in November 2009.
Active participation in extremist or supremacist groups is a violation of DoD policy and service members can be punished, and are often separated for these incidences.
Several Marines have been put on the chopping block in 2019 following reports of their ties to various neo-Nazi or hate groups.
In June, the Corps said it was booting out Hawaii-based Lance Cpl. Mason Mead following an investigation into a Twitter handle @Jacobite_Edward, which espoused Nazi propaganda. The social media account was alleged to be run by Mead.
Mead “admitted guilt to an Article 92 charge, advocating supremacist ideology on May 7,” 1st Lt. Jose Uriarte, a Marine spokesman, previously told Marine Corps Times.
“His discharge will be characterized as Under Other Than Honorable Conditions," Uriarte said.
Mead, who was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, was separated from the Corps on July 5, according to Capt. Eric Abrams, a Marine spokesman.
In May, Lance Cpl. Logan Piercy, a Marine assigned to 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division, was booted for his ties to a hate group.
Piercy came under investigation after leaked chat logs tied him to Identity Evropa.
The Anti-Defamation League describes Identity Evropa as “a white supremacist group focused on the preservation of “white American culture” and promoting white European identity.” The ADL believes the group is founded by a Marine veteran.
“We are confident that collectively, the policy and processes described above have worked well. The Department will continue to be vigilant in this matter." the letter reads.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.