Fort Bragg, N.C. — After neo-Nazis and other white extremists were found in the 82nd Airborne Division a dozen years ago, the Army implemented policies barring soldiers from taking part in racist hate groups.
But the recent arrests of two paratroopers that authorities say were linked to extremist groups have prompted questions as to whether those policies are working.
Joffre J. "Trey" Cross III and Jason Scott Niewoit have been charged with selling controlled substances, carrying a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime and selling U.S. property without consent.
The two members of the 82nd Airborne are accused of selling narcotics and body armor stolen from the Army to an undercover FBI agent outside a Concord motel last month. They are being held without bond in the Durham County Jail.
Army officials said both men have a history of conduct problems and were in the process of separating from the Army when they were arrested.
Photos of Cross' and Niewoit's MySpace.com pages show them flashing guns. Cross listed two Nazi officers as his heroes, and he sent a white supremacist video to Niewoit.
The incident stirs up decade-old memories of James Burmeister and Malcolm Wright, who were convicted of killing a black couple in Fayetteville. The two paratroopers were known to be white extremists, and 19 other soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg were subsequently kicked out of the Army for their involvement in neo-Nazi gangs.
"We reject extremism in any way shape or form. This is not the norm," 82nd Airborne spokesman Maj. Tom Earnhardt said of the latest arrests. "It's always a concern. We're always looking out for things like that. We don't want it to be part of what we're known for."
Earnhardt called the arrests an "isolated incident." Neither he nor the U.S. Attorney's Office would comment on whether other soldiers are under investigation.
But the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Birmingham, Ala.-based group that tracks racist groups in the U.S., released a report last year that claimed white supremacy continues to thrive in the military.
The watchdog group estimates thousands of white extremists are enlisted in the Army. According to the report, the Iraq War has created such a strain on recruiting that the military is looking the other way when it comes to neo-Nazi and skinhead activities.
"People have openly displayed their neo-Nazi leanings, and the military, for some reason, will not kick them out. It's ridiculous," said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.