Military Investigating Swastikas at Army Barracks
Jul. 17, 1996
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) _ Red swastikas painted in an Army barracks where black soldiers live raised new concerns about race relations at one of the world's largest Army bases.
Crudely drawn, 2-foot swastikas were found spray painted Tuesday on eight doors inside a barracks for enlisted men and noncommissioned officers with the 950-man 7th Special Forces Group. Black soldiers live in six of the vandalized rooms; the other two rooms are vacant.
Army investigators were trying to determine whether the vandalism was racially motivated, and if someone outside the unit could have entered the building.
President Clinton today expressed outrage over the incident and warned: ``We intend to punish those who are responsible.''
Clinton said the men and women of the armed services ``dedicate their lives to protecting our freedom, they embody our commitment to tolerance and liberty. And they do not deserve this kind of abuse.''
About 350 soldiers were temporarily restricted to their two-building compound Tuesday while military authorities investigated. Soldiers were only allowed to leave the barracks area after they spoke with investigators.
``Something like this will not be tolerated,'' said Walter Sokalski Jr., a civilian spokesman for the Army's Special Operations Command.
The vandalism follows other suspected hate crimes that have damaged the Army's reputation at Fort Bragg.
In December, two white soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division, also based at the fort, were charged with murder and a third was charged with conspiracy in the slayings of two black Fayetteville residents. Police said the killings were racially motivated. Two of the soldiers were said to have ties to neo-Nazi skinheads.
The slayings touched off an Army-wide investigation, which concluded that extremism within the ranks was not widespread. At a House hearing last month, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People disputed that view, maintaining that extremism at Fort Bragg is a serious problem.
Earlier in 1995, the white supremacist group National Alliance rented a billboard along Bragg Boulevard, just outside the Army post, that read: ``Enough! Let's Start Taking Back America'' and gave a phone number.
Callers heard a recorded, racist diatribe claiming that minorities and gays were taking advantage of government subsidies that white, middle-class Americans have to provide.
And in January, five soldiers from the 82nd Airborne were caught in their barracks wearing racist, skinhead attire and posing with a Nazi flag for a magazine photographer.
James Florence, who retired from the 82nd Airborne 20 years ago and is now president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said the swastikas were disturbing but not surprising.
``If it was an extremist organization, I hardly think they would just go around painting swastikas on the doors. ... But the mentality is there,'' he said.
Officials refused to allow reporters to interview any of the troops housed in the three-story, brick barracks, which has about 80 rooms and is similar to a college dormitory.
Some black soldiers on the sprawling military complex with 40,000 soldiers said they had not heard about the swastikas, while others denied the Army has a problem with racism.
``We're all soldiers,'' Pvt. Johnny Flores, who is Hispanic, said outside a convenience store on the base.
The House National Security Committee held a hearing last month to assess steps the services are taking to combat extremist activity in the wake of the Fayetteville slayings and the April 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.