An Army commander recently briefed U.S. Special Forces candidates and trainees they could be detained or chaptered out of the Army if they are found affiliated with certain imagery popular on the political right that is now considered to be associated with extremism, Breitbart News can exclusively reveal.
The briefing, by Army Col. Mike Henry, MD, deputy commander of Special Warfare Medical Group (Airborne)/Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center at the U.S. John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (JFKSWCS) at Fort Bragg, came two days after President Joe Biden was inaugurated, a source familiar with the briefing said.
Henry is responsible for training over 2,500 Army and Navy Special Operations medics.
Around the time of the briefing, slides from the New York Police Department Intelligence Bureau were also posted around the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center (JSOMTC) and distributed to soldiers. The slides, dated January 14, listed and described about two dozen symbols, ideologies, and memes considered to be “associated with or appropriated by domestic violent extremism.”
The slides said:
Recent high-profile mass-casualty attacks in the West have demonstrated the enduring threat posed by a wide range of racially/ethnically motivated violent extremists and conspiracy-driven malicious actors, including those inspired by far-right, neo-Nazis, and white supremacist worldviews. Due to his concerning trend, NYPD Intelligence Bureau advises law enforcement to maintain awareness of key symbols, icons, and graphics associated with or appropriated by domestic violent extremist movements that — in some cases — were observed during the January 6 deadly and destructive riot at the US Capitol.
Soldiers were told the list came from the Department of Homeland Security and was an updated list of what federal and local law enforcement need to be “on the lookout for,” according to the source.
Henry “told us that if anyone gets caught wearing, buying, selling, affiliated with in any way, any of those things on those list, that the first thing he’s going to do is chapter us out of the Army. The second thing is, he’s going to handle the investigation by sending it over to the DHS,” the source said. “He didn’t quite outright say that we would be arrested, he used the word ‘detained.'”
Some of the imagery on the slides clearly refer to hate symbols, such as a swastika or other Nazi-related symbols. However, also included is “Pepe the Frog” — an internet meme frequently posted by members of the political right to troll the political left. The slides, obtained by Breitbart News, said this about the meme:
While not originally meant as a hate symbol, Pepe the Frog, or the ‘sad frog meme’ was appropriated by users who post racist, anti Semitic, anti-LGBT, and other bigoted content. Individuals will also alter Pepe the Frog to show him in various costumes or as recognizable hate figures, such as Hitler.
More worrying for some soldiers, however, is the list’s inclusion of imagery popular among members of the military long before the racial unrest of the summer of 2020, such as the “Three Percenters” symbol — the Roman numeral III with 13 stars around it.
In fact, until recently, graduates of the SWMG’s Trauma III course had the option to buy a shirt with a Three Percenter logo on the front, the source said.
“Now those shirts, all of them have to be thrown away, and cannot be worn again and they have to change the logo because it’s been associated with these extremist behavior,” the source said.
Supporters of the “Three Percenters” idea claim it stands for the three percent of American patriots who fought the British during the American Revolutionary War. A website for a group claiming to be the “original” Three Percenters states: “We are NOT racists, NOR are we white supremacists… . We are NOT anti-government.” Some reports say the group has tried to stop violence at rallies.
However, progressive watchdog groups Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League have deemed Three Percenters as part of an anti-government militia movement. That definition has caught some in a lurch, such as Patriots rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser, who came under scrutiny last year for having it tattooed on his left arm. He said in an interview with WBZ-TV:
I was 18 when I got it. It was described to me as the percentage of colonists that rose up against the government of the British … . I was like, ‘Wow, that is such an American sentiment, a patriotic sentiment.’ Coming from a military family, I thought that really spoke to me. I always was proud to be an American. I’m very proud to be an American.
Rohrwasser also had the American flag, “Liberty or Death,” and “Don’t Tread on Me,” tattooed on him, but nevertheless apologized for the Three Percenters tattoo and had it removed.
The slides, which are marked “law enforcement sensitive,” describe the “Three Percenters” as a “North American militia movement/paramilitary-style group with members who adhere to a far-right/libertarian ideology with a primary focus on firearms ownership right and opposition to expansive U.S. federal government authority.” Along with the description is a photo of a Three Percenters flag being held up outside the Capitol building during the January 6 protests.
According to the source, there are soldiers who — like Rohrwasser — believed the Three Percenters symbol was an expression of patriotism and are now worried that they may be kicked out or punished for past affiliation.
“To be honest, I’m a little bit scared because I have been affiliated with Three Percenters due to the fact that they extend from the Revolutionary War, that three percent of the population stood up against the British, and that’s what started the Revolutionary War, and I love that ideal. I’ve kind of taken that to heart,” the source said.
“And for them to now demonize it and make it so where the people who are willing to stand up for the country are now being told we’re extremists and that we’re terrorists and that if we share these ideals with anyone or if we publicly speak on these ideals, that not only will I be chaptered out of the Army, but that I could possibly be detained and then put under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security,” the source added.
Soldiers allegedly walked away from the briefing stunned. Some are now trying to remove past social media posts or are deleting their social media accounts, while others who feel they did nothing wrong are refusing to do so. “This is the time that I feared would come. This is the beginning,” the source said.
Breitbart News reached out to JFKSWCS and asked about the January 22 briefing. A spokesperson for JFKSWCS said “at no time” did leadership warn of any specific consequences, but confirmed that discussions about “emblems and extremist symbols” were taking place. The spokeswoman said in a statement:
Army policy directed all subordinate commanders to review current emblems and discuss the issue of extremist symbols with their Soldiers. In keeping with good order and discipline as prescribed in Army policy and Secretary of Defense guidance, Commanders in each of the units within the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School made it a priority to emphasize that extremist organizations’ objectives are inconsistent with the Army’s values, goals and beliefs.
Our leadership discussed this information with their Soldiers to better educate them on current offensive symbols and logos. Commanders further reminded Soldiers they represent the Army, both on and off duty. While the results of any association with extremism were discussed, at no time did the leadership advise Soldiers that there would be specific consequences based upon alleged affiliations.
The spokeswoman did not comment on the slides.
Lawyer and First Amendment expert Harmeet Dhillon said the military should not retroactively punish soldiers for things they may have said or done in the past if there was no guidance.
“Let’s say someone shared a meme about Pepe the Frog without necessarily knowing what that is now inferred to mean, but there was no Army code of conduct that covered that, or said that was inappropriate,” Dhillon said in an interview with Breitbart News.
“I hope it is not the case that the Army is going to impose some new standards that apply to people that got some tattoo, or owned some T-shirt, or shared some meme five years ago,” she added. “That’s not fair.”
“It is fair for the Army to have standards and norms going forward that govern what people do while they’re on duty, or wearing a uniform, or perceived as a member of the United States military, but even then, people have certain privacy standards for what they do in their private lives,” she said.
Other imagery on the slides included those associated with QAnon, the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the National Social Club 131, the “Kek” flag, the Boogaloo movement, the National Socialist Order, 14, 88, the swastika, the sonnenrad or sunwheel, the SS, the Celtic Cross, the WP “okay” hand symbol, the Archangel Michael Cross, the “Othala Rune”, the “Norse Algis Rune”, the “Totenkopf”, the Universal Order symbol, the nuclear symbol, and the ((( ))) “echo.” The descriptions of QAnon and the Oathkeepers are also accompanied by photos of protesters at the Capitol on January 6.
The slides also note “possession of these symbols is protected under the first amendment and is not alone sufficient grounds for arrest or prosecution.”
But that is little consolation for soldiers who are facing a Biden administration undertaking a vaguely-defined effort to combat extremism in the military, after the identification of some veterans participating in rioting or violent activity at the Capitol on January 6.
During his confirmation hearing, Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has vowed to get rid of “racists and extremists.”
The Pentagon has not described how it plans to do that. On Wednesday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced that Austin had called for a 60-day “stand down” — or period when commanders would discuss the issue of extremism with troops.
And the Pentagon has not given details on 12 National Guard members who were tasked with providing security for the January 20 inauguration, but were sent home after being screened for extremist views.
National Guard Bureau Chief Army Gen. Daniel Hokansan said on January 18, “If there’s any indication that any of our soldiers or airmen are expressing things that are extremist views, it’s either handed over to law enforcement or dealt with the chain of command immediately.”
Pentagon officials say they are not sure how big the problem of extremism in the military is.
According to the New York Times, the FBI notified the Department of Defense it had opened criminal investigations involving 143 current or former service members in 2020, and of those, 68 were related to domestic extremism cases, and only one-quarter of those were associated with white nationalism.
“The problem is we don’t understand the full scope of it,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said a briefing last week. “And you don’t know what you don’t know until somebody acts on these kinds of beliefs. So it’s very difficult to get a hand on how many people at any given time espouse these kinds of beliefs and how many act on it.”
Many are worried there may be overreach, as the left seeks to brand anyone who merely attended the January 6 protest or voiced support for it as a domestic terrorist.
“We’re definitely seeking a crackdown on our constitutional rights as we speak — there’s no question about that,” Dhillon said. “It’s a very scary time.”