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Why Can’t the Military Root Out Far-Right Extremism in Its Own Ranks?

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The Department of Homeland Security fumbled a domestic terrorism report in 2009 that warned about right-wing militias targeting the U.S. Army for recruits.

As a recent college graduate in 1995, Daryl Johnson took a road trip from Utah to Virginia where a job at the United States Army’s Counterintelligence Center (ACIC) at Fort Meade, Maryand, awaited him. On the way, he stopped in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where only months earlier Timothy McVeigh, a U.S. Army veteran radicalized by anti-government rhetoric and interactions with members of right-wing militias, had killed 168 people with a truck bomb. Many had initially believed the bombing was a foreign terrorist attack, but Johnson, from the onset, had possessed a different theory. He had noted the attack had targeted a building housing FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) offices, and that the explosion happened on the two-year anniversary of a botched ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, that resulted in over 80 deaths. It was a connection the FBI had also made, which ultimately resulted in the arrest of McVeigh and a handful of domestic co-conspirators shortly after the attack.

Johnson worked as an analyst at the ACIC from 1995 to 1999, where he coordinated with Military Intelligence units, Criminal Investigations Command (CID) investigators, the FBI, and the ATF to collect information on violent far-right extremist groups that posed a threat to the military. The reports coming in from across the country made Johnson realize the Army was facing a real threat in their own backyard. In Michigan, a militia plot to attack a National Guard post was uncovered and thwarted in 1995. Months later, also in Michigan, there was an anti-government militia that infiltrated the Fort Custer Army Training Center and plotted attacks on service members it considered “communists.” In Massachusetts a militia, which included an army reservist, stole $100,000-worth of night vision goggles from a National Guard armory. The list went on, and the takeaway was clear: Far-right extremists were targeting the U.S. Army for recruits, sometimes from within the army’s own ranks.

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