A white supremacist serving in the Air Force has finally been kicked out of the service after months of review, an Air Force spokesperson said last week. Shawn Michael McCaffrey, formerly Airman 1st Class McCaffrey, has a history of promoting white supremacist, anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic beliefs on social media. In fact, a Google search could have detected his hateful opinions, but the Air Force appeared to have missed that when McCaffrey enlisted six months ago on Jan. 26.

“Shawn McCaffrey is no longer serving in the U.S. Air Force,” service spokesperson Ann Stefanek told Task & Purpose on Monday. HuffPost first reported the news last week.

“Information brought to the attention of his command after Mr. McCaffrey’s enlistment led to an entry-level separation due to erroneous enlistment,” she added.

The statement comes three months after McCaffrey’s presence in the military’s premier airpower branch was first reported in April. As the months passed and McCaffrey was still in uniform, he drew the ire of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee.

“I will be contacting Air Force leadership to find out why this individual – who has his own author page on a website for far-right extremists, describes himself as an ‘activist,’ and co-hosted a weekly podcast in which he attacked Jews, women, LGBTQ+ people, the U.S. armed forces, and many others using unacceptable slurs – remains on active duty and under review given the very public and abundant evidence of his extremist ties,” the congresswoman told Task & Purpose in June.

At the time, Stefanek said that the Air Force was “not aware of the allegations during the enlistment process,” she said. “No further information or details of this allegation can be released until the facts involving this allegation are fully reviewed.”

The Department of Defense’s definition of extremism is in flux as the military attempts to bolster its efforts to root out extremists in the ranks. Still, DoD regulations forbid service members from participating in “organizations that advocate supremacist, extremist or criminal gang doctrine, ideology or causes,” such as those that discriminate based on race, creed, color, sex, religion ethnicity or national origin, or advocate the use of force, violence or criminal activity to deprive individuals of their civil rights. 

Several of McCaffrey’s tweets, videos and other activities compiled by HuffPost appear to fit the bill: 

  • McCaffrey was a member of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group that helped organize the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017
  • He was featured prominently in propaganda material for Identity Evropa
  • He attended a conference held by Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer in Washington D.C. shortly after the election of former President Donald Trump
  • He performed white-supremacist insider jokes at an anti-Trump protest
  • He hosted a podcast called “The Weekly Sweat” where he and other white nationalists lambasted Jews, women, LGTBQ people and Muslims, and interviewed at least five major figures in the white supremacist movement

Other comments McCaffrey made that were found by HuffPost are homophobic and disrespectful to service members.

  • Said “fuck the troops” in a March 2020 episode of the online alt-right show “The Killstream”
  • Said “it seems like every Marine is gay” in a “Weekly Sweat” episode where he also said “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.”

It is odd that Air Force recruiters did not identify McCaffrey as a white supremacist during the accession process, given how publicly he avowed his beliefs. But in terms of his online presence, McCaffrey may be an exception rather than the rule. Identifying recruits who have joined such white supremacist groups is increasingly difficult since members often use code words and encrypted platforms to keep their beliefs a secret. 

In the traditional accession process, Air Force recruiters ask about criminal activities, extremist activities and associations, and use national and local criminal background checks to scan for extremist ties in potential recruits, Stefanek said in April. But background checks will detect a person’s extremist ties only if they have been charged with a crime related to their beliefs, according to HuffPost, which means a recruit like McCaffrey would have passed those checks.

“Human analysts cannot effectively and efficiently search the Internet on the hundreds of thousands of people each year that undergo DoD background vetting,” according to a Pentagon report from February about screening recruits for signs of extremism.

Another complicating factor is the fact that recruiters can only use publicly available content to vet their recruits. Meanwhile, domestic extremists use aliases over encrypted platforms such as Discord, Telegram, and 8chan. They often speak in an Internet cipher that uses obscure acronyms, symbols and tattoos such as “88” for “HH,” or “Heil Hitler” or “WMSTEOOPAAFFWC” for the best-known slogan of American white supremacists, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

McCaffrey is far from the only white supremacist to have served in the military. The Pentagon report released in February cited more than 20 examples of service members and veterans who were either members of white supremacist groups or unaffiliated white supremacists. Separately, Task & Purpose has compiled a list of more than 40 current and former service members who have been involved in extremist activity since 2016, such as two Marine veterans arrested in October for allegedly planning to kidnap Michigan’s governor.

However, it could be a while before the military can root out extremists more effectively. Even as the military begins to launch anti-extremism training and recommend anti-racist literature on reading lists, federal lawmakers and pundits decry the efforts as ones that will weaken the armed forces by making it “woke.” Still, Stefanek said the effort was a top priority in her branch.

“Racism, bigotry, hatred, and discrimination have no place in the Air Force,” she said in June. “We are committed to maintaining a culture where all Airmen feel welcome and can thrive.”

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