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Swastikas at Fort Bragg Raise Concerns About Racism in Army

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Jewish officials have stepped up calls on the U.S. military to root out racism and bigotry in its ranks in the wake of another incident at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Red swastikas were painted on eight doors inside one of the barracks early Tuesday morning, the latest incident in a series of hate crimes on or near the Army base.

Military authorities need “to pursue, in a vigorous and decisive manner,” an investigation to determine and punish the culprits of the vandalism, said Samuel Kaplan, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s North Carolina/Virginia office.

Black soldiers, members of the 7th Special Forces Group, who are also known as Green Berets, lived behind six of the vandalized doors. The other two rooms were vacant, officials said.

“Individuals who harbor these animosities,” said Kaplan, “need to understand that there are consequences for their actions.”

In December, three white soldiers were charged in connection with the slaying of two black Fayetteville, N.C., residents. In January, five soldiers were caught posing for a photograph in the barracks with racist attire and a Nazi flag.

“The Army has a responsibility to rule out any type of hate in its community,” said Arthur Berger, director of public relations at the American Jewish Committee. “Swastikas don’t just appear on doors.”

President Clinton expressed outrage Wednesday about the incident.

“No one in America should be subject to such vile acts,” Clinton said. “We intend to punish those who are responsible. We have a zero tolerance for racism in our military and, make no mistake, we intend to apply it.”

A Pentagon report released in March concluded that the influence of hate groups and other extremists in the U.S. Army is minimal.

The report, commissioned after the killing of the Fayetteville couple, “found no widespread or organized extremist activity in the Army.”

But the Pentagon task force that wrote the report “did identify instances of individuals or small, informal groups of individuals who hold extremist views.”

U.S. Defense Department officials were quick to condemn this week’s swastika incident.

“The hate artwork is completely unacceptable. There’s no room for it in the U.S. military,” said Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon.

He promised that the Army would do its best to “find who did this” and “work with members of the services to make sure that such hateful and insensitive activities don’t occur again.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he plans to protest the military law that allows non-active members of hate groups to enlist and that bars only active members.

“I think that would help the Army in finding out where the trouble is coming from,” Hier said.

In a related incident, the Army and Marine Corps recently rejected four enlistees after they attended their high school graduation wearing gowns bearing symbols of hatred on the backs.

The ADL lauded the rejection as sending a “message to all young Americans who are considering a career in the Armed Forces: Racism and bigotry are incompatible with military service.”

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