A soldier in the Minnesota National Guard was outed earlier this year as a dues-paying member of a white nationalist organization — and the military doesn’t seem too fussed.
Following an investigation into his activities online and offline, the Minnesota National Guard has decided not to expel 19-year-old Andrew Schmidt, who enlisted in January.
Schmidt, from Chaska, Minnesota, was identified as a member of Identity Evropa in April by HuffPost, which leaked chats from Discord, a chat server popular with gamers. The internal chats were obtained and published by leftist media collective Unicorn Riot.
“After a thorough investigation into his alleged conduct, the Minnesota National Guard has determined that, in accordance with DoD policy and U.S. Army Regulations, Private First Class Andrew James Schmidt did not engage in prohibited activity during his period of service,” the Guard said in a statement to VICE News. “Due to this, he will be retained by the Minnesota National Guard.”
For decades, the military has struggled with infiltration by right-wing extremists and radicalization within its ranks. Because of this persistent problem, the Army has policies that explicitly prohibit involvement in extremist groups.
Army Command Policy states that participation in extremist organizations and activities by Army personnel is “inconsistent with the responsibilities of military service.”
Schmidt was one of 11 active service members outed as members of Identity Evropa by HuffPost (others are under investigation). He posted in the leaked Identity Evropa discord servers under the username “Hyphenstein” about 60 times between 2017 and 2019. He posted photos showing he’d distributed Identity Evropa recruitment fliers on a college campus, and discussed paying dues. In November, he drove to Colorado to participate in a propaganda campaign called “Defend the Rockies.”
He also promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and talked about his future in the National Guard. His last message was on Feb. 24 (only 10 days before the server was leaked). “Last day in Minnesota before army basic training,” he wrote, adding that he wished he could have made it to a recent Identity Evropa meet-up.
But he seems to have had a change of heart: Schmidt told the Star Tribune this week that he no longer shares Identity Evropa’s ideology and was “embarrassed and ashamed’ of his involvement with the group. Col. Starkey said that Schmidt had received counseling and had been trained in Army policies pertaining to involvement in extremist groups.
Anyone enlisting in the armed services is required to fill out a lengthy questionnaire called SF86. One section of that questionnaire zeroes in on recruits’ associations. The only question that could have potentially applied to Schmidt’s involvement in Identity Evropa asks whether an applicant has “EVER been a member of an organization that is one asking if an organization that advocates or practices commission of acts of force or violence to discourage others from exercising their rights under the U.S. Constitution or any state of the United States with the specific intent to further such action?”
Identity Evropa was founded in 2015 by an ex-Marine named Nathan Damigo, whose colleagues helped organize the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 that left one dead and dozens injured. Khaki-clad Identity Evropa members were seen marching alongside neo-Nazis, chanting slogans like “Jews will not replace us.” Since then, the organization has undergone a leadership change, and its new leader has sought to distance it from the ugly scenes and rhetoric of Charlottesville — with the goal of taking their white nationalist ideology mainstream.
Cover: Staff members leave the Pentagon building through the so-called 'River Entrance', which is usually being used also by the US Defence Secretary and the Chief of Staff of the Army in Washington D.C., USA, 13 November 2015. Photo by: Tina-Jane Krohn/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images