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The number of Vietnam veterans in that movement was small — a tiny proportion of those who served — but Vietnam veterans forged the first links between Klansmen and Nazis since World War II. They were central in leading Klan and neo-Nazi groups past the anti-civil rights backlash of the 1960s and toward paramilitary violence. The white power movement they forged had strongholds not only in the South, but also in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, California and Pennsylvania. Its members carried weapons like those they had used in Vietnam, and used boot-camp rhetoric to frame their pursuit of domestic enemies. They condoned violence against innocent people and, eventually, the state itself.
Before his 1979 discharge for distributing racist literature, Mr. Miller served for 20 years in the Army, including two tours in Vietnam and service as a Green Beret. Later that year he took part (but was not charged) in a deadly shooting of Communist protesters in Greensboro, N.C.
In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a nine-page report detailing the threat of domestic terrorism by the white power movement. This short document outlined no specific threats, but rather a set of historical factors that had predicted white-supremacist activity in the past — like economic pressure, opposition to immigration and gun-control legislation — and a new factor, the election of a black president.
The report singled out one factor that has fueled every surge in Ku Klux Klan membership in American history, from the 1860s to the present: war. The return of veterans from combat appears to correlate more closely with Klan membership than any other historical factor. “Military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists carrying out violent attacks,” the report warned. The agency was “concerned that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.”
The report raised intense blowback from the American Legion, Fox News and conservative members of Congress. They demanded an apology and denounced the idea that any veteran could commit an act of domestic terrorism. The department shelved the report, removing it from its website. The threat, however, proved real.
Mr. Miller obviously represents an extreme, both in his politics and in his violence. A vast majority of veterans are neither violent nor mentally ill. When they turn violent, they often harm themselves, by committing suicide. But it would be irresponsible to overlook the high rates of combat trauma among the 2.4 million Americans who have served in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the full impact of which has not yet materialized. Veterans of those conflicts represent just 10 percent of those getting mental health services through the Department of Veterans Affairs, where the overwhelming majority of those in treatment are still Vietnam veterans.
That Mr. Miller was able to carry out an act of domestic terror at two locations despite his history of violent behavior should alarm anyone concerned about public safety. Would he have received greater scrutiny had he been a Muslim, a foreigner, not white, not a veteran? The answer is clear, and alarming.
While it may be true that a very small number of veterans of the Vietnam war became involved in the white supremacy movement -