Putin’s Trojan horse: The US military’s problem with far-right Patriot groups

A rally-goer holds a Three Percenters flag at a rally in Portland, Oregon in June 2019. Photo: rightwingwatch.org 

International

Article by: Lieutenant Colonel John Foley, US Army, Retired
Russia’s active measures campaign to destabilize the Western democracies has received a lot of attention since 2016, yet nobody has discussed how it affected the US military. This is an important question for NATO and Eastern European allies since the US military leads the multinational effort to defend Eastern European allies from Russia, and the US military’s ability to resist Russia’s active measures is of utmost importance to everyone concerned.

The Oath Keepers and Three Percenters groups in the US army are now subversive elements who view Putin’s Russia with greater respect. Failure to act will only further erode the NATO alliance and the militaries of Eastern Europe’s sense of mission and purpose, degrade their morale and will to fight against future Russian aggression.

Since the return of Russian aggression, the nations of eastern Europe have faced an onslaught of Russian active measures through social media. Although the Eastern Europeans have learned to cope, the US military is still woefully unprepared for countering Russia’s active measures, since it hasn’t addressed the Russian sympathizers in its own ranks.

The US military often conducts multinational exercises with Eastern European allies with US soldiers frequently conducting train and assist missions. Most US soldiers do this mission with the utmost honor and professionalism, however, European allies need to know not all US soldiers support this mission to counter Russian aggression. Eastern European allies don’t know about a small subversive element within the US military that is openly supportive of Vladimir Putin and hostile to the multinational training mission to defend Eastern Europe.

Upon Barak Obama’s election to the US Presidency in 2008, a subversive movement with strong ties within the US military came into existence. Two influential subversive groups opposed to President Obama grew out of the racist far-right Patriot movement. These two subversive groups were the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

The Oath Keepers and Three Percenters are home-grown, anti-US government extremist Patriot groups established immediately after the election of President Obama. They promote conspiracy theories against the US federal government, such as plotting to take away the rights of American citizens to gun ownership. These two Patriot groups have a small but significant influence within the U.S. military, due in large part to America’s gun culture, strong among the military and veterans.

The Kremlin was quick to take note of these racist Patriot groups and soon exploited the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) was quick to produce anti-Obama racist memes that spread rapidly on social media. These memes were extremely popular among both the Oath Keeper and Three Percenter social media community, who spread them within the US military social media community. Russian cyber actors sensed a unique opportunity to subvert the US military since many Patriots both Oath Keeper and Three Percenters are affiliated in some way with the US military; either active duty, reservists, contractors or retired.

(Photo credit) Oathkeeper in Iraque. Source: Sipsey Street Irregulars.

Russian state media RT helped these groups, RT provided media coverage on many incidents of Oath Keeper resistance to US government authority. The Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, follow various conspiracy web sites and media programs which stressed to their viewers the ever-increasing overreach of the US federal government. Many of these conspiratorial sites offer a venue for Russia propaganda from the media outlets RT and Sputnik. Russian cyber actors stressed topics that appealed to the Patriot ideology of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters; anti-United Nations, Anti-Globalism, anti-EU, Pro-Russian and gun rights associated with the US Constitution’s, 2nd amendment.

Post by The Three Percenters

These Patriot groups are highly susceptibility to Pro-Russian and Pro-Putin propaganda. Between 2009 and 2017, Russia’s active measures successfully influenced much of the Patriot movement in America, especially the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters and turned them into a Pro-Putin subversive element within the US military. These Patriot groups are now subversive elements who view the Putin’s Russia with greater respect than the US government or NATO allies.

The Oath Keepers took a decidedly strong pro-Russia stance in 2017 when they published a ZeroHedge article, against a US military deployment to Eastern Europe, ZeroHedge is a known site for spreading Russian disinformation.

The publication on the Oath Keepers site.

The story echoed Russian talking points hostile to a US military deployment to Eastern Europe. They failed to address Putin’s aggression, but went out of their way to call the US deployment a “dangerous escalation,” stating the “voices of reason were few and far between.” The article called the US troop deployment a “provocation,“ even though it was in response to Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.

The militaries of Ukraine and Eastern Europe shouldn’t ignore the threat posed by the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. The fact that some US service members hold Pro-Putin sympathies should concern everyone opposed to Russian active measures. Any interaction between US forces and their Eastern European allies, such as multinational training exercises, requires vigilance by all parties involved.

During multinational training exercises Eastern European forces need to be vigilant of any US service members belonging to the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters and request their removal from the exercises. These service members often add Velcro patches to the uniforms and depict the logos in various ways. The Oath Keepers’ symbol is a military tab bearing the words “Oath Keeper,” while Three Percenters usually identify themselves by a logo depicting the roman numeral three surrounded by 13 stars.

Prior to any multinational exercises, our Eastern European allies should include force protection and operational security (OPSEC) measures to detect and deter this subversive US home-grown threat. This might sound out of character coming from a former US military officer, but the US Department of Defense has no policy to restrict or reduce the subversive threat posed by the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, so it’s up to other NATO countries and Eastern European allies to deal with this task of minimizing the impact of these pro-Russian sympathizers. Failure to act will only further erode the NATO alliance and the militaries of Eastern Europe’s sense of mission and purpose, degrade their morale and will to fight against future Russian aggression.

Mr. John Foley is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and career Intelligence Officer. He served 27 years in the U.S. military service with both the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army. He had multiple combat deployments to Iraq with the 5th Special Forces, 101st Airborne Division and 1st Cavalry Division. His last active duty assignment was with NORAD-USNORTHCOM. He currently lives in Colorado. His email is at: [email protected]


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