(HuffPost) – A prominent white nationalist joined the U.S. Air Force and recently graduated from boot camp, a HuffPost investigation has found, only weeks after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a military-wide stand-down order to address the problem of extremism in the ranks.
Airman 1st Class Shawn McCaffrey, 28, is a well-known white nationalist who for years has hosted a racist and anti-Semitic podcast featuring friendly interviews with some of the most infamous fascists in America. He was also, at one time, a key member of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa. Evidence of his life as a white nationalist was only a Google search away, and he even got thrown off volunteering duties for Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign in 2019 due to his affiliations. The FBI was also aware of McCaffrey’s involvement in the far right, HuffPost has found.
Yet a video from late January, posted to Facebook by the Air Force’s Detroit recruitment center, appears to show McCaffrey solemnly swearing to “support and defend the Constitution” of the U.S. “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” before shipping off to basic military training.
Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said the military branch was not “aware of the allegations” that McCaffrey was a white nationalist before HuffPost reached out for this story. “Air Force officials are looking into it,” she said. The officials will likely now determine whether McCaffrey violated military rules regarding extremist activity and discrimination.
The military has long had a problem with right-wing extremism. A series of HuffPost investigations in 2019 helped uncover 11 members of Identity Evropa in the military, at least six of whom were subsequently kicked out of the armed services. The riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 threw a spotlight on the problem: About 15% of the people arrested for their role in the insurrection had some sort of military affiliation.
After taking office in January, Austin issued the 60-day stand-down order, which required commanders to have “needed discussions” about extremism with troops. “We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies,” Austin wrote in a memo announcing the order.
But during that same 60-day period, the military was also providing combat training to McCaffrey, highlighting just how woefully ill-equipped — or unwilling — the military is to keep extremists from joining up.
“Either they knew what his ideology was, and they didn’t care, or they didn’t do their due diligence and look into his background,” Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told HuffPost.
McCaffrey didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.
‘F**k The Troops’
Earlier this month, HuffPost received a tip that McCaffrey may have joined the military, though the tipster was unsure of which branch.
A search of a Department of Defense database using McCaffrey’s full name and birthdate, obtained via public records, revealed that he’d joined the Air Force on Jan. 26, 2021.
A video posted to Facebook that same day by “U.S. Air Force Recruiting Great Lakes” shows a man who bears a striking resemblance to McCaffrey standing among a diverse group of recruits, their right hands raised as they take their oath of enlistment. The brief ceremony took place in Detroit, a short drive from the suburb of Novi, where public records show McCaffrey lives.
Stefanek, the Air Force spokesperson, confirmed to HuffPost that McCaffrey graduated from boot camp sometime in March, but she wouldn’t specify an exact date or location.
McCaffrey has been a fixture of the resurgent white nationalist movement in America over the past five years. The evidence of his extremism is abundant and in plain sight. If the military couldn’t successfully screen McCaffrey for extremist ties, it’s hard to believe they could screen anyone.
He has his own author page on AltRight.com, which describes him as “an Identity Evropa activist.”
Identity Evropa, considered a hate group by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, is perhaps best known for being one of the main organizers of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“McCaffrey was really in the inner circle of the organization at its beginning,” said Miller, the SPLC research analyst.
During the height of its activity, Identity Evropa largely eschewed explicit neo-Nazi imagery and terminology, instead branding itself as “identitarian” in the hopes of seeming more palatable to the general public.
McCaffrey featured prominently in some of the group’s propaganda. One Identity Evropa video — which is still on YouTube, despite the platform claiming to ban extremist content — shows him at dinner with the group’s founder, ex-Marine Nathan Damigo, and leader Patrick Casey.
In October 2016, McCaffrey attended a small Identity Evropa anti-immigrant rally in San Francisco, holding the group’s banner and chanting “No sanction, no quarter, get back on your side of the border.”
The next month, shortly after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, McCaffrey traveled to Washington, D.C., for a conference held by the National Policy Institute, an organization founded by the prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer. (Spencer infamously shouted “Hail, Trump!” and “Hail Victory!” — the English translation of the Nazi cry “Sieg Heil!”— during a speech at the conference, to which attendees responded by throwing up Nazi salutes.)
A photo posted to Twitter by Identity Evropa shows McCaffrey in a suit and tie at the conference, standing alongside Damigo, Casey and other group members.
A few months later, in February 2017, McCaffrey joined other white nationalists outside the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, where they’d flocked to troll a livestreamed art project created by actor Shia LaBeouf. The project, called “He Will Not Divide Us,” was conceived by LaBeouf as a piece of anti-Trump protest art. Attendees were encouraged to stand in front of the camera and chant “He will not divide us.”
McCaffrey and his fellow fascist trolls hijacked the livestream, taking off their shirts and chugging milk — a nod to a 4chan meme about lactose and white racial purity. At one point on the livestream, McCaffrey can be seen standing alongside a man with a chest tattoo of a sonnenrad, a symbol often used by Nazis, screaming into the camera.
The museum, seeing LaBoeuf’s art project as a security risk, eventually shut it down.
McCaffrey later left Identity Evropa — and the group itself eventually disbanded — but he remained deeply involved in the alt-right, hosting a podcast called “The Weekly Sweat” under the moniker “Prince Hubris” with his white nationalist co-host Matt Evans, known as “Beardson Beardly.”
The pair routinely recorded marathon livestreams for “The Weekly Sweat,” during which they and their guests lashed out against Jews, women, LGBTQ people, Muslims and other groups, sometimes using racial slurs.
“They had some of the largest names within the movement on the podcast,” Miller said.
Among the notable white supremacist guests were Richard Spencer; Christopher Cantwell, the “crying Nazi” infamous for his role in a Vice documentary about the Charlottesville rally; Patrick Little, a former Senate candidate from California who’s called for the “complete eradication” of Jews; Matt Forney, a prominent misogynist who has defended raping and beating women; Tim Gionet, also known as “Baked Alaska,” who was recently arrested for his role in the Capitol insurrection; and Andrew Anglin, the fugitive founder of The Daily Stormer, one of the most influential and extreme neo-Nazi sites on the internet, who believes Jewish people should be gassed.
In the episode with Anglin, McCaffrey discussed being “redpilled,” an alt-right term for accepting a white nationalist worldview, and described becoming “woke to the JQ,” shorthand for the “Jewish Question,” a phrase with Nazi origins that refers to the anti-Semitic belief that Jews have an outsize, malevolent influence over politics and culture.
McCaffrey then complained that there were too many Jews in West Bloomfield, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He called it “West Jewfield.” (Public records show McCaffrey has lived in the neighboring town of Novi.)
Later in that same “Weekly Sweat” episode, responding to a livestream commenter who suggested that “gays are OK,” McCaffrey launched into a homophobic tirade.
“You fucking faggots,” he said. “They can’t stop sodomizing each other. You’re never OK. And if you think we’re going to stop after we go after the Jews… no. Gays are not OK ever, under any circumstance, and you’re not welcome here. It’s beyond a mental illness. It’s a very deep sick perversion.”
Had Air Force recruiters simply Googled McCaffrey’s name, they may have found a series of articles about him from 2019, after Right Wing Watch reported that he was a volunteer for the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who at the time was receiving a wave of (semi-authentic) alt-right support. The Yang campaign ultimately severed ties with McCaffrey, saying it had been unaware of his bigotry.
In 2020, less than a year before he would join the military, McCaffrey continued to co-host “The Weekly Sweat” while making regular appearances on other far-right podcasts.
In a March 2020 episode of “The Killstream,” an online show hosted by the alt-right Gamergate activist Ethan Ralph, McCaffrey expressed his disdain for the U.S. military.
“You know my whole thing with like ‘Fuck the troops’ and stuff, and as much as I hate the U.S. military, I would enlist to fuck up China,” he said on “The Killstream,” later adding: “Nuke China.”
The exact reasons for his contempt for the military — a sentiment he mentioned often — weren’t immediately evident.
“It seems like every Marine is gay,” he said in one “Weekly Sweat” episode reviewed by HuffPost, “and I really hope we get into a war soon so you fucking faggots have to go defend sand and die and have all your friends die.”
In another episode, McCaffrey argued that women shouldn’t serve in the military. “They shouldn’t leave the house,” he said.
It’s not clear whether McCaffrey still harbored this hatred of the U.S. military when he took his oath of enlistment on Jan. 26.
A ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy About Extremism
For decades, law enforcement officials and scholars of extremism have raised alarm about the risks of far-right extremists, and in particular white nationalists, serving in the armed forces, where they pose a danger to fellow service members, can recruit new people to their cause, and receive combat training they can use to inflict violence on civilian targets.
Timothy McVeigh, who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, was a U.S. Army veteran and served in the first Gulf War. Neo-Nazi Wade Michael Page, who shot and killed eight people in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012, was radicalized during his time as a soldier at Fort Bragg.
In 2019, Brandon Russell, leader of the murderous neo-Nazi group the Atomwaffen Division, was sentenced to prison for storing bombmaking materials in his garage. Russell, who kept a framed photo of McVeigh in his bedroom, was in the Florida National Guard. Speaking to police, Russell’s roommate alleged that Russell “joined specifically for the knowledge and the training, and he wants to use that training against the government.”
Despite these frightening examples — and many, many others — the military still lacks an effective process for screening recruits for extremist ties or beliefs.
A 2005 Department of Defense report said that military recruiters “were not aware of having received training” on how to identify extremists who were trying to enlist.
The report concluded, bluntly: “Effectively, the military has a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy pertaining to extremism. If individuals can perform satisfactorily, without making their extremist opinions overt … they are likely to be able to complete their contracts.”
For McCaffrey, joining the Air Force may have been a breeze.
The screening process he faced likely consisted of just a few yes-or-no questions on a security clearance application about his “associations.”
“Are you now or have you EVER been a member of an organization dedicated to terrorism…?” begins one question in Section 29 of the Standard Form 86. “Have you EVER advocated any acts of terrorism or activities designed to overthrow the U.S. Government by force?” asks another.
McCaffrey presumably checked the “No” box for both questions, and would have been able to make a reasonable-sounding claim for doing so. Identity Evropa was extreme, but modulated its views in public so it could more easily infiltrate and influence the GOP.
And although McCaffrey certainly palled around with people who have called for the overthrow of the U.S. government, HuffPost did not find an instance of him explicitly doing so himself.
Perhaps the last question in Section 29 would have given McCaffrey pause: “Have you EVER been a member of 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…?”
Some Identity Evropa leaders certainly advocated violence against marginalized groups. Still, it’s likely McCaffrey just checked “No” and moved on. Penalties for lying on an SF-86 can be harsh, but who was going to verify whether his answers were true?
“Air Force recruiters rely on national and local criminal background checks to help identify membership in extremist/hate organizations,” Stefanek, the Air Force spokesperson, told HuffPost in her statement.
“All applicants receive an initial FBI background investigation before entering basic military training that includes national and local agency checks for unreported criminal background,” she continued. “Applicants with a criminal history associated with violent extremist activities or extremist organizations are not qualified for Air Force service.”
But these background checks, which only detect a person’s extremist ties if they have been charged with a crime related to their beliefs, would not have raised a red flag about McCaffrey.
A Visit From The FBI
There’s evidence that McCaffrey was already on the FBI’s radar. HuffPost has reviewed emails between an FBI agent and an individual who claimed to the FBI that McCaffrey waged a lengthy Twitter harassment campaign against them and several of their friends.
The emails indicate that an agent at the bureau’s Chicago field office, along with agents at the Detroit field office, had been in touch with McCaffrey.
McCaffrey himself has bragged about his FBI contacts during his podcasts, once even holding up an agent’s business card to the livestream camera. (He blocked out the agent’s name.)
And during a guest appearance on a podcast called “TekWars,” McCaffrey recalled the time two FBI agents visited him at his home in 2017 — to make sure he was safe.
The agents were worried about his well-being, McCaffrey claimed, because he’d been doxxed a few months earlier, after attending the white nationalist National Policy Institute conference in D.C. (Anti-fascist activists often “dox,” or expose the identity and addresses of, white nationalists.)
“They’re like, ‘Have you seen anyone driving by, or, you know, do you feel like you might be unsafe, or anybody might be like, you know, watching you or anything?’” McCaffrey said. “And I’m like… ‘I assume so, but I haven’t seen anybody.’”
The agents, McCaffrey claimed, then asked why he’d signed up for a concealed pistol license after getting doxxed. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, there’s a lot of crazy people in the world, so you got to do what you can,’” he said.
“We’re just here to, you know, make sure you’re OK,” McCaffrey said the agents told him. He said they assured him they wanted to “protect” his freedom of speech.
“They didn’t ask me anything about the alt-right or Identity Evropa or anything,” McCaffrey said.
Spokespeople for the FBI field offices in both Detroit and Chicago declined to comment on the agency’s relationship with McCaffrey.
It’s unclear if the FBI knew whether McCaffrey had joined the Air Force, or if the agency ever alerted military officials about him.
‘A Wake-Up Call’
About 15% of the people charged in relation to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection ― during which a motley crew of Trump supporters, including white nationalists, QAnon believers, Proud Boys and militiamen, broke into the national legislature, sending lawmakers into hiding — were current or former military members, according to an analysis from NPR.
“The 6th of January was a wake-up call for this specific problem,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters about a month after the insurrection. “It’s not as if it hasn’t been studied and reviewed in the past. The problem is that it’s still a problem.”
And some lawmakers are starting to introduce solutions.
In early February, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee, sent a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him to issue an executive order requiring the military to screen the social media of new enlistees. Social media, she wrote, is “not reviewed during the military’s accessions process,” even though there is already the “collection and reporting of other intrusive, private data, such as financial and behavioral health information.”
Had such an executive order been in place before McCaffrey joined up, recruiters may have found one of his multiple Twitter accounts, like the one he used to state that “Black lives do not matter.”
A Department of Defense report published late last year called for exploring ways to work with data companies to mine recruits’ social media accounts for evidence of extremism. However, the report acknowledged that concerns about civil liberties would have to be addressed first, and said it would be a tall task for “human analysts to … effectively search the Internet on the hundreds of thousands of people” who join the military each year.
Plus, white nationalist trolls like McCaffrey commonly use aliases on Twitter — in many cases, he only confirmed which accounts belonged to him during lengthy episodes of “The Weekly Sweat” — and their tweets are often filled with hard-to-decipher alt-right lingo. Finding and understanding the social media posts of extremists would be a complicated, time-consuming job for any military recruiter.
That’s why Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, thinks the military needs to develop a “new unit of experts” specifically focused on rooting out extremists in the military.
Your average military recruiter, Beirich argued, might know what a swastika is, but may not know that “88” is code for “Heil Hitler.“ They also might not recognize “more subtle talking points” about white supremacist conspiracy theories, such as “the Great Replacement.”
“There’s a lot of coded language in these movements, and so I just don’t see how they’re going to be capable of catching people who’ve been enlisted, or even in the enlistment process, without some expertise here,” Beirich said.
Retired Army Col. Jeffrey McCausland, a visiting professor at Dickinson College and a national security consultant for CBS, thinks the military could benefit from new regulations, including a clear, written definition of what groups are considered extremist.
It’s a somewhat “nebulous,” difficult task for both recruiters and commanders, McCausland said, to determine on a case-by-case basis which groups or ideologies are extremist. This is especially true considering how hate groups rise and fall, disappear, and form anew under different names.
“The only way you’re going to get a list like that, and a total revision to the regulations that cover all this, is for the Congress to stand up and say ‘Yep, that list is approved to ban people who have had, or currently have, membership in those groups, from joining the military,’” McCausland said.
But creating such a list, McCausland predicts, would quickly become politically contentious and difficult to pass ― especially as so many far-right groups, including those that took part in the storming of the Capitol, enjoy close relationships with the GOP and the Trump-led Make America Great Again movement.
A House Armed Services hearing on extremism in the military late last month quickly devolved into a circus, with House Republicans repeatedly seeking to downplay the problem or cast it as yet another demonstration of “cancel culture.”
Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) lashed out at a researcher from the Southern Poverty Law Center who was testifying at the hearing, falsely claiming the organization had previously listed two veterans organizations as hate groups. (It emerged later that Fallon’s source for the claim was a satirical news website.)
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called the hearing a “joke.”
“This is not about extremism,” said Gaetz, who has ties to the far right and other groups involved in the January insurrection. “It is not about white supremacy, it is about woke supremacy. It is about converting the military from an apolitical institution to an institution controlled by the political left.”
“Today is about nothing more than cancel culture coming for our military, and it is disgusting,” he added.
What Now For McCaffrey?
There is a chance that McCaffrey could be allowed to stay in the Air Force.
After a series of HuffPost investigations in 2019 helped uncover 11 members of Identity Evropa in the military, at least four others were allowed to remain in the service, including — as HuffPost learned only recently — Airman Dannion Phillips.
Leaked Identity Evropa chat logs showed Phillips joining the group in 2018, after he was already in the Air Force, and later posting photos of Identity Evropa propaganda he had placed throughout Oklahoma City.
Stefanek, the Air Force spokesperson, confirmed to HuffPost last week that Phillips is still in the Air Force, but did not elaborate on why he hasn’t been kicked out of the military, or whether he’s faced any discipline or punishment for belonging to a white nationalist group.
That Phillips and three other Identity Evropa members were allowed to stay in the military suggests the often uneven discipline doled out by commanders to extremists in their ranks.
This is due, in part, to vagaries in the military code.
A Defense Department directive, last updated in 2012, says that military personnel “must not actively advocate supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes.” It also says that service members “must reject active participation” in organizations that promote such causes.
According to McCausland, the retired Army colonel, the key word in that directive is “active.”
“If I’m not an active member of an [extremist] group anymore — I’m not going to meetings, I’m not contacting them via the internet, I’m not doing Zoom calls … then I’m not sure that current regulation precludes me from just being a member,” McCausland explained.
Put another way: A Ku Klux Klan member can be in the U.S military, just as long as he’s no longer attending cross burnings.
What this all means for McCaffrey’s future in the military is unclear. Though deeply entrenched in the alt-right, he is no longer in Identity Evropa and doesn’t appear to have been a member of a formal hate group for years.
And should his superiors ask him about his extremism in light of this story, McCaffrey could just claim he doesn’t hold those views anymore.
In February, Kirby, the Pentagon spokesperson, admitted that when it comes to keeping extremists out of the military, recruiters’ hands are often tied.
“Until [recruits] sign on the dotted line, they are private citizens and there are limits to what the military can do,” he said.
It’s now up to McCaffrey’s commander to decide what punishment, if any, he will face.
His extremism showed no signs of waning in the months before he joined the Air Force. Multiple photos and tweets show McCaffrey attending a “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, 2020 — a precursor to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
In one photo, posted by a reporter from The Daily Dot, he can be seen wearing a Make America Great Again hat, standing alongside a group of white nationalist activists led by Nick Fuentes — a close ally of McCaffrey’s, and a frequent guest on “The Weekly Sweat.”
McCaffrey didn’t travel to D.C. on Jan. 6, when Fuentes reportedly helped lead the violent insurrection at the Capitol, but he appears to have cheered on the insurrectionists from afar.
In a private chat group run by McCaffrey’s “Weekly Sweat” co-host, the contents of which were obtained by the independent media collective Unicorn Riot, a user by the name of “Phubris,” whom other users sometimes called “Shawn,” expressed glee at the violence unfolding at the Capitol.
“Tomorrow might suck,” Phubris wrote. “But tonight, the white man awakened.”
The final message in the chat group posted by Phubris came a few weeks later, on Jan. 26. It was the same day McCaffrey held up his right hand and took his oath of enlistment in the Air Force.