After Racial Slayings, Army Identifies 22 Skinhead Soldiers in 82nd Airborne
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) _ Officials identified 22 soldiers in the elite 82nd Airborne Division with links to skinhead groups, but found no evidence of any racist organizations, the Army said Friday.
The internal investigation of the 15,000-member division was prompted by the arrest of three white 82nd Airborne soldiers in the Dec. 7 slayings of a black couple. Investigators say the man and woman were targeted because of their race.
The Army said the 22 soldiers were either linked to three skinhead groups, associated with members of those groups, or held extremist views. Of those, 17 were considered to be white supremacists or separatists.
The investigation found no evidence of any formal ties with local or national movements, the Army said in a statement. Phone calls to the 82nd Airborne were not immediately returned Friday.
James Florence, president of the Fayetteville NAACP chapter, received a copy of the report Friday.
``It’s a start in the right direction,″ said Florence, who served 31 years in the Army, including the 82nd Airborne. ``But there are definitely more. Racist operations and hate groups are similar to guerrillas _ they’re underground.″
The Army identified three types of skinheads in the 82nd Airborne, all of whom were described as violent but not necessarily racist.
The three groups: neo-Nazis with white supremacist beliefs; ``SHARPs,″ for Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, whose members fight the neo-Nazis; and ``Independents,″ similar to SHARPs but less violent than the neo-Nazis.
Investigators identified nine neo-Nazis and eight other soldiers who hold extremist views but may not be skinheads, four SHARPs and one Independent.
The results of the investigation were reported earlier this week, but the Army wouldn’t release its findings until Friday. The names of all the soldiers have been released to their unit commanders for ``further appropriate action,″ but the Army didn’t specify what that might be.
Army regulations explicitly prohibit soldiers from active involvement in extremist groups, but does not prohibit mere membership in such groups.
Pvt. James Burmeister, 20, of Thompson, Pa., and Pvt. Malcolm Wright Jr., 21, of Lexington, Ky., each are charged with two counts of murder.
Authorities describe the men as self-styled skinheads who were looking for blacks to harass when they fatally shot Michael James, 36, and Jackie Burden, 27, as the couple walked down a Fayetteville street.
Spc. Randy Lee Meadows Jr., 21, of Mulkeytown, Ill., is charged with conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly driving the other two into Fayetteville the night of the slayings.