Army special operations center cautions soldiers about extremist imagery

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FORT BRAGG, North Carolina –  The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS), also known as “Swick,” has advised its personnel to avoid the use of certain symbols associated with extremist groups. Among those symbols are the Roman Numeral III, the Elder Futhark runes Odal (Othala) and Elhaz (Algiz).

The Elder Futhark is the oldest of the runic alphabets of Northern Europe and commonly used by some Heathen and Druid groups in ritual.

SWCS began in 1950 as the Psychological Warfare (PSYWAR) division of the army. It is now part of the United States Special Operations Command and is part of the Fort Bragg, North Carolina Garrison. SWCS is responsible for recruiting, assessing, and training US Army personnel involved in specialized operations such as special forces like the Green Berets, civil affairs, and psychological operations. It has about 3,000 students.

SWCS has advised its students and personnel they should avoid displaying these symbols. The initiative is not related to official Army logos that are vetted through a formal review process. SWCS is attempting to educate its personnel about informal logos and imagery that are adopted by different teams in the form of t-shirts and patches.

A comparison of three logos: Three Percenters (left), The original logo for Trauma 3 per SWCS (middle), mock-up of described logo (right)

Janice Burton, a spokesperson for SWCS, told American Military News that the list extremist of symbols comes from a New York Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau which it has identified as extremist imagery.

The symbols include:

  • QAnon symbols
  • The III symbol
  • Proud Boys symbols
  • Oath Keepers symbols
  • Symbols of National Social Club 131
  • The “Kek” flag
  • Boogaloo symbols
  • The Swastika
  • A Swastika and dagger symbol
  • 14
  • 88
  • The Nordic “Sunwheel”
  • “SS” lightning bolts
  • The Wheel Cross, also known as an Odin’s Cross or Celtic Cross
  • “WP” symbols, including as a hand sign
  • The Archangel Michael Cross
  • The Othala Rune
  • The Norse Algiz Rune
  • The “Totenkopf” or “Death’s Head” skull and crossbones
  • The Universal Order, skastika and scales symbol
  • The nuclear symbol
  • Triple parenthesis ((( )))
  • Pepe the frog

The move comes a week after SWCS banned the use of a long-time unofficial symbol of the Trauma 3, an 18-month medical/special operations course focused on tactical combat casualty care.

The Trauma 3 logo uses the Roman Numeral III as an element of its logo, which also features a skull, caduceus, trident, and arrow.

The Roman Numeral III has been associated with the Three Percenters militia movement. The Antidefamation League (ADL) classifies the Three Percenters under “Extremism, Terrorism, & Bigotry.” The ADL describes the organization as “anti-government extremists who are part of the militia movement. They compare their hostility to the federal government with the opposition of American patriots to the British during the American Revolution.”

Col. Matt Gomlack, chief of staff at the JFK SWCS, told the website that “Certain aspects of that logo have a striking resemblance to the symbology of an extremist organization — specifically the Roman numeral three with the Betsy Ross star circle, which was used by Trauma 3.”

Gomlack recounted that an SWCS student identified the element in the Trauma 3 logo with the Three Percenters. “A member of Trauma 3, one of the students, said, ‘Hey, do you guys know that this symbol looks a lot like the symbol of the Three Percenters? And they were like, ‘Who the hell are the Three Percenters?'” he said.

Gomlack said that they were being proactive about extremist issues and began investigation before the new order from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III. On February 3, Secretary Austin ordered a military-wide stand-down to address extremism within the ranks during the next 60-days after reports of service members and military veterans participating in the attack on the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.

“We have a culture of small unit esprit de corps, and part of that culture involves building logos that help team cohesion,” Gomlack said over the telephone Wednesday. “The fact is, those symbols are patriotic in nature and what we realized … in our informal investigation into it, is that extremist organizations are also migrating toward this ‘patriotic symbology.’”

On Feb 3, 2021, the Defense Department said in a press briefing that Secretary Austin and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with service civilian leaders and service chiefs to discuss the problem of extremism.

The Runes Algiz and Othala of the Elder Futhark

Secretary Austin said that the challenge of extremism is a leadership issue. His statements were followed by a “stand down” of 60 days which Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said was so “each service, each command and each unit can take the time out to have these needed discussions with the men and women of the force.”

Kirby added that the DOD clearly prohibits military personnel from actively advocating for and participating in supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology or causes.

“We didn’t find any direct links to extremist organizations,” Gomlack said to Army Times. “We actually interviewed and met with the creators … and, ironically, the team that collaborated to make that logo is as ethnically diverse as the population of the United States.”

Gomlack said to, “The command is doing two things: We are protecting our formation from potential misperceptions … and two, we are also sending a message that extremism is not tolerated in the Department of Defense and certainly not in our organization.”