The Minnesota National Guard said it will not expel a 19-year-old Chaska man with ties to a nationwide white supremacist organization, following an investigation into his online activities before he enlisted.
However, the Guard said the man will remain under close supervision.
The man, who holds the rank of private, was recalled to Minnesota from basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in April after his involvement with Identity Evropa was revealed in the leak of hundreds of thousands of messages between the group's members by left-wing media collective Unicorn Riot in March. The Star Tribune is not naming the man because he has not been charged with a crime.
"After a thorough investigation into his alleged conduct, the Minnesota National Guard has determined that … [the Chaska man] did not engage in prohibited activity during his period of service," Guard spokesman Col. Joe Sharkey said in a statement. "Due to this, he will be retained by the Minnesota National Guard."
The 19-year-old has "received counseling and training on Army policies against involvement in extremist groups" and "disavowed any continued association" with such groups or activities, Sharkey said. Every branch of the U.S. military bars current service members from participating in extremist groups or activities.
Reached by telephone Monday, the Chaska man said he was unaware of the Guard's decision. He said he was "embarrassed and ashamed" about his involvement in Identity Evropa and no longer shares its ideology.
"Those groups are really manipulative," he said. "They target young men and make them feel like they're part of something."
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. It has maintained a presence in Minnesota since at least early 2017.
The group, which advocates ending immigration to the U.S. and opposes efforts to promote diversity, played a key role in planning the deadly 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va. Identity Evropa rebranded as American Identity Movement after the leak, which revealed the group's ties to nearly a dozen current service members and a Virginia police officer, among others.
The Star Tribune identified the man by following a trail of public records and profiles found in popular online gathering places for white nationalists.
Using the name "Hyphenstein," the man posted 30 messages over the course of 16 months in an Identity Evropa-linked chat room on Discord, an app for gamers that far-right groups have used for covert communication. Some of the messages discussed joining the Minnesota National Guard and his future plans in the military. In others, he talked about traveling to a November 2018 Identity Evropa gathering in Colorado and paying membership dues to the group.
In his final message — dated Feb. 24, more than a month after he enlisted in the Guard — the man said it was his last day in Minnesota before leaving for basic training.
The Chaska man said that in retrospect, he's actually glad he was exposed.
"It peeled away some of those impressions that were put on me by that organization," he said.