A Minnesota congressman wants full details on what the military knows about extremist activity in its ranks, following news reports detailing at least three service members with ties to a white supremacist group. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat who was the first Muslim elected to Congress, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asking for information on any investigations into troops’ extremist activities and “steps currently being taken to screen recruits for extremist ties.”
“Department of Defense guidance clearly prohibits discrimination and extremist behavior,” he said. But, he said, “it appears that some service members are still able to join and actively participate in extremist organizations.”
Several lawmakers have questioned whether the military has done enough to investigate the issue and root out individuals with ties to extremist groups. The allegation of racism in the Army is reminiscent of a sensational double murder in Fayetteville 23 years ago involving James Burmeister II.
The New York Daily News said at the time that Burmeister was weaned on racism. His father, a mechanic, was a bitter, big-talking bigot who fed his son a steady redneck diet about how minorities had stifled white progress. Young Burmeister matured into the apple of his father’s eye – a young man seething with racist phobias and resentment.
He joined the Army after finishing high school in 1993 and was assigned to Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division. While driving around town on the night of Dec. 6, 1995, Burmeister and Malcolm Wright got out of their car and walked up behind two African-Americans on Hall Street near downtown. Their names were Michael James, 36, and Jackie Burden, 27.
Burmeister executed James with two shots to the head. He then chased Burden, knocked her down with a shot to the back and shot three more bullets into her head. A friend, Randy Meadows Jr., the driver, had parked a block away.
Burmeister and Wright fled in the opposite direction and eventually caught a taxi home. Meadows, meanwhile, got out of the car and walked toward the gunfire. Police picked him up within minutes of the murders, and he gave up the names of his skinhead comrades.
Meadows led the authorities to the trailer where Burmeister and Wright were sleeping. Police found a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, a Nazi flag, white supremacist pamphlets and other gang paraphernalia. The State Bureau of Investigation identified the handgun as the weapon that killed James and Burden.
In 1997, Burmeister and Wright were tried on two counts each of first degree murder and conspiracy. They were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors said that the killing of James and Burden was racially motivated and that Burmeister and Wright were neo- Nazi skinheads who chose their victims at random.
The case prompted the Army to conduct a worldwide inquiry into racism in its ranks. The 1995 investigation ordered by then Army Secretary Togo West found little evidence of organized racist activity but led to stronger policies for preventing it. The probe found that fewer than 100 of 7,600 soldiers interviewed belonged to white supremacist groups. Officials at Fort Bragg identified 21 soldiers who actively participated in skinhead activity. They were later discharged.
On March 21, 2007, James Burmeister died at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, said Keith Acree, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Corrections. Acree said Burmeister died of natural causes but said he couldn’t elaborate because of federal privacy laws.