A former paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division who has been arrested said he enlisted to become more proficient at killing Black people and made overt references to white supremacy.
Spc. Killian Ryan was taken into custody Aug. 26 on a charge related to lying on his secret security clearance and was kicked out of the Army the same day, according to the service. An investigation by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force discovered ties to white nationalism and threats of violence against minorities on social media accounts, according to court records.
"I serve for combat experience so I'm more proficient in killing n-----s," Ryan wrote in one social media post on May 27, 2021. That comment was posted roughly two weeks after he enlisted in the Army. His personal email address at the time was "NaziAce1488," a reference to Adolf Hitler and American white supremacy.
The Pentagon has vowed a crackdown on extremism in the ranks, taking measures such as modifying the vetting process to join the military and asking whether an applicant subscribes to any extremist ideology. But that line of questioning may rely heavily on the honesty of recruits.
Ryan also filled out a Standard Form 86, or SF 86, a questionnaire for his security clearance. In it, he was asked whether he ever advocated for any acts of terrorism.
He was arrested in Cumberland County, North Carolina, which includes Fayetteville and Fort Bragg, on one charge of knowingly making a false statement.
The social media posts and his email handle, which includes the common white supremacy symbol 14/88, were red flags.
The number 14 represents the words in the phrase "We must secure the existence of our people and the future for white children," coined by David Lane, a convicted felon and leader of the now defunct white supremacist terrorist organization The Order. Lane died in prison in 2007. The 88 stands for "Heil Hitler," with H being the eighth letter of the alphabet, according to extremism watchdog groups.
Ryan was separated from the Army immediately following his arrest, according to a service spokesperson. Two sources with direct knowledge of the situation say he was kicked out due to at least two incidents of driving under the influence of alcohol, or DUI.
However, soldiers typically aren't immediately dismissed for alcohol incidents and the drunk driving was the easiest way to quickly remove Ryan, according to one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
It is unclear if the chain of command was aware of his ties to extremism ahead of his discharge. Ryan went to basic training in May 2020 and was eventually stationed at Fort Bragg in December 2021. He had no deployments.
The investigation uncovering the white nationalism ties began with Ryan's claims to have no relationship with his father, a convicted felon with a history of drug charges and auto theft. However, a probe into his social media activity found that Ryan and his father frequently talked, as well as the other posts.
The arrest comes as the Pentagon is struggling to understand scope of extremism within the ranks, especially after the Jan. 6, 2021 pro-Trump assault on the U.S. Capitol, which sought to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power to the administration of President Joe Biden. That attack included service members and veterans and brought new attention to the radicalization of troops and the use of military training by extremist groups.
There is no evidence those with a military background are more likely to become radicalized. However, experts have long warned that even the most rudimentary combat training can be attractive for extremist groups, particularly white nationalists. Veterans and service members are also seen as carrying inherent social credibility that can be force multipliers for radical causes.
Military leaders have largely kept the issue at arm's length, with some fears over tackling right-wing extremism being perceived as partisan, even as law enforcement agencies see it as one of the most prevalent domestic terrorism threats.
Military.com reported on a Montana National Guard officer who was allowed to serve, despite accusations from a major hate group of pushing white nationalist viewpoints. The Wisconsin and Virginia National Guards both had soldiers who participated in the Jan. 6 riot and took more than a year to remove them from service.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.