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Army to Conduct Service-Wide Probe of Hate Group Links

December 12, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army, responding to the killing of a black couple allegedly by white soldiers in North Carolina, said Tuesday it will investigate troop involvement with hate groups across the United States and abroad.

An internal task force headed by Lt. Gen. Larry Jordan, the Army’s deputy inspector general, is to report its findings and recommendations by March 1, 1996.

In announcing the investigation, Army Secretary Togo West told a Pentagon news conference it was time for a close look at ``the climate throughout the Army among America’s soldiers″ with regard to extremism, including white supremacist views.

Army regulations explicitly prohibit soldiers from being actively involved in extremist groups, including those espousing white supremacist views or advocating violence. But there is no prohibition on mere membership in such groups, so long as the soldier is not involved in public rallies, distribution of literature, raising funds, recruiting members or attending meetings.

West expressed sympathy for the families of the couple killed last week in Fayetteville, N.C., outside Fort Bragg, which is home to several elite units, including the 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps.

``I am personally saddened that any American would commit an act of such senseless violence, and it is especially painful to me that the acts are alleged to have been committed by United States soldiers,″ West said.

Police say James Norman Burmeister II, 20, and Malcolm Wright, 21, both privates based at Fort Bragg, confronted a black couple, Michael James, 36, and Jackie Burden, 27, as they walked on a downtown street on Dec. 7. Police say Burmeister and Wright shot both of them in the head. The men are charged with murder.

``We will look to see whether in fact this incident suggests membership in extremist organizations that is active, participation in ways that undermine our basic values of fair play, of dignity, of treating all with respect,″ West said.

All soldiers know from their Army training there is ``no room for racial intolerance of any kind,″ West said.

Less than 24 hours before West’s announcement, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer said in an interview that while Fort Bragg needed to be investigated, he saw no reason for an Army-wide probe of links to white supremacist or other hate groups.

``We have looked at this in the past,″ Reimer said. ``We do not feel it is widespread. We have, from time to time, blips on the screen. We need to zero in on those and focus on that, make sure we take care of it. That’s what we’re going to do.″

Asked about Reimer’s views, West said the general told him ``it is always useful″ to reconfirm what one thinks one knows. ``At this point, having gotten a little warning, both he and I are agreed on the way we want to proceed,″ West said.

Defense Secretary William Perry issued a written statement Tuesday saying that while he could not comment on the facts of the Fayetteville incident, ``I want to say that there is no place for racial hatred of extremism in the U.S. military.″

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