A 19-year-old Chaska man has been recalled from basic training as the Minnesota National Guard investigates his ties to a nationwide white supremacist organization.
He is the latest in a string of current servicemen whose affiliations with the supremacist group were uncovered following the leak of internet chat logs in March.
Days after joining the Minnesota National Guard in January, the Chaska man logged in to a chat room to discuss his future military career with a group of online friends scattered across the country.
The former Normandale Community College student told them he was optimistic about entering a Reserve Officers' Training Corps program after boot camp. Because he graduated high school in 2018 with an associate degree, the man told a Montana ROTC cadet he expected to rise through the ranks quickly.
Those conversations would have been innocuous enough, except the private chat room on Discord — an app for gamers that far-right groups have used for covert communication — was affiliated with Identity Evropa, a white supremacist, anti-immigration group that played a key role in planning the deadly 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va.
The 19-year-old's posts were found among hundreds of thousands of messages between Identity Evropa members released in March by the left-wing media collective Unicorn Riot.
The Star Tribune identified the Chaska man by following a trail of public records and profiles found in popular online gathering places for white nationalists. He is not being named because the Guard has not concluded its investigation and he has not been charged with a crime.
Identity Evropa, which changed its name to American Identity Movement after the Discord leak, has maintained a presence in Minnesota since at least early 2017, though much of its activity has been limited to hanging posters and banners or dropping fliers at college campuses and coffee shops.
In December 2017, the group placed a memorial for Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual Australian-U.S. citizen killed by a Somali-American police officer, outside a Minneapolis police precinct. The chat logs include numerous messages exhorting members to contact media organizations to generate coverage of the memorial, while leaders closely tracked their success.
When the shrine was removed, the Chaska man and two other local Identity Evropa members placed another one at Minneapolis City Hall.
Recruit under investigation
Minnesota National Guard spokesman Maj. Scott Hawks said the man holds the rank of private and attended basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, an Army base in Missouri.
After the Star Tribune asked the Guard about the man's involvement with Identity Evropa, Hawks said the recruit was recalled to Minnesota on April 4 and is now under investigation.
Reached by telephone in April, the Chaska man denied being affiliated with Identity Evropa, though he acknowledged having a Discord account. He was unsure of his status in the Minnesota National Guard but declined to say more. Some of his online profiles were altered or removed after he returned to Minnesota.
Every branch of the U.S. military bars current service members from participating in extremist groups or activities. The definition found in the U.S. Army Commander's Equal Opportunity Handbook includes groups that "advocate racial, gender, or ethnic hatred or intolerance."
"The Minnesota National Guard is an organization that encourages diversity and inclusion," Hawks said. "Attitudes that would be opposing to that would not be welcome in our organization."
In an Identity Evropa-linked chat room called "Nice Respectable People Group," the Chaska man adopted an avatar of a Canadian fascist leader as he wrote using the name "Hyphenstein." He discussed placing leaflets with the slogan "Protect Your Heritage" around his college campus and made sure he kept his membership dues current.
On Memorial Day last year, Hyphenstein and another user shared photos of an Identity Evropa display in Richfield's Veterans Memorial Park.
Among his 30 messages posted sporadically in the channel over 16 months was a meme imagining Identity Evropa and its baby-faced leader, Patrick Casey, "had run the globalists out of DC, all the way back to Israel."
The Chaska man told his associates he was excited to attend Identity Evropa's November 2018 "Defend the Rockies!" anti-immigration rally in Denver. He asked the group to wish him well as he embarked on the "long drive to Colorado."
Hyphenstein's final post in the channel — dated Feb. 24, more than a month after the man enlisted — marked his "last day in Minnesota before army basic training" as he lamented missing "Leading Our People Forward," a national Identity Evropa conference in Kentucky.
Ties to Identity Evropa
Founded in 2016 by a former Marine, Identity Evropa consists mostly of young men who share an ideology based on white identity. Its members advocate ending immigration to the U.S. and oppose efforts to promote diversity, in order to prevent what Casey described at the Denver rally as the "demographic dispossession" of white people.
"They believe the way of making America great again is to make America white again," said Lisa Waldner, a sociology professor at the University of St. Thomas who studies right-wing movements, noting that there has been a long history of white supremacist organizations attempting to recruit from or infiltrate the military.
While its members prefer to call themselves "identitarians," Identity Evropa is considered a white supremacist group by the Anti-Defamation League and listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Identity Evropa was among the organizers of the August 2017 far-right gathering in Charlottesville, where a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd, killing a counterprotester and injuring 28. When hundreds of tiki torch-wielding white nationalists marched through the streets, some chanted "Jews will not replace us" — a play on a slogan popularized by Identity Evropa, "You will not replace us."
HuffPost recently identified seven other servicemen with ties to the group, citing information contained in the chat logs. All the men are under investigation. The Montana ROTC cadet who corresponded with the Chaska man resigned after the report, according to the Kalispell, Mont., Daily Inter Lake.
HuffPost on Saturday named three additional servicemen it said had ties to Identity Evropa.
Nearly one in four troops have encountered white nationalism in the service, a 2017 Military Times poll found.
"We generally mirror society, good and bad," said Maj. Ross Niebur, executive officer of the Minnesota National Guard's Recruitment and Retention Battalion. He added that he doesn't believe extremism is more prevalent in the military than in other communities.
"We force people to be team players, because you fail if you don't embrace being part of the team," Niebur said.
In Virginia, a police officer assigned to a high school was fired this month after being outed by anti-fascists as an Identity Evropa organizer, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
An extensive footprint
Like many young adults, the 19-year-old Chaska man has an extensive online footprint. He maintained profiles on a number of sites frequented by members of the far right.
On the video game platform Steam, he again used the moniker "Hyphenstein" and listed his full name and home state of Minnesota on his profile. His avatar was a photo of Reinhard Heydrich, a Nazi officer who was a chief architect of the Holocaust.
The Chaska man logged in on Feb. 23, a day before he announced his imminent departure from Minnesota in the Discord logs. He did not sign in again until April 8, when the account was altered to remove his name and the Nazi references. Similar profile names and photos linked to the man were found on Twitter, Reddit and Instagram.
At the northeast Minneapolis Armory, home to the Guard's Recruitment and Retention Battalion, recruiting manager Sgt. Maj. Shawn Kor, along with Niebur and Hawks, reviewed the recruit's Standard Form 86, a security clearance background questionnaire. Kor said the Chaska man was required to divulge his affiliation with Identity Evropa at multiple points during the recruitment process but never did.
The recruit would have been asked about ties to extremist groups again during his final pre-enlistment interview, Kor said.
After signing off on the interview, recruits are fingerprinted and subjected to local and national background checks that look for evidence of potential criminal activity and associations. He does not have a criminal record.
"This individual's check came back just fine," Kor said.
Matt DeLong • 612-673-4854