Here's a question to ponder: Who poses more of a threat to the good order of the military, not to mention our national security?
A) Gay soldiers.
B) Racist, neo-Nazi soldiers who profess hatred for their commander-in-chief.
The vast majority of Americans, I suspect, would pick B. Not the Pentagon, though.
If you're a gay soldier and someone finds out, there's a very good chance military commanders will hound you out of the ranks in short order. Nearly 13,000 service members -- including fighter pilots, medics and linguists -- have been booted since 1994 in the military's campaign to rid itself of homosexuals.
Their loyalty to the United States didn't matter. Neither did their desire to defend the ideals enshrined in the Constitution. Only their sexual orientation mattered. And that was enough to end their military careers.
But a neo-Nazi skinhead who wants to obtain weapons and combat training to use in a future, domestic "race war" can most likely continue serving with impunity.
Even someone like Matt Buschbacher, who was allowed to serve as a Navy SEAL after military officials were notified that he attended a leadership conference of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group dedicated to ethnic cleansing.
Even someone like Robert Lee West, who was allowed to serve in the Air Force after he declared his neo-Nazi identity on a social networking site where he was pictured holding assault rifles in front of a swastika flag
For two decades, the Southern Poverty Law Center has repeatedly warned the Pentagon of the threats posed by extremists infiltrating the military. We've provided plenty of evidence, including specific information about individual service members. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI also have issued reports saying that extremists may try to exploit the military training of returning veterans. But despite the prospect that the armed services may be inadvertently training the next Timothy McVeigh, Pentagon officials insist that military policies are already tough enough.
Last week, we asked the chairmen of the House and Senate committees with oversight of the military and homeland security to begin an inquiry into Pentagon policies regarding extremism.
In just the last few months, we've discovered dozens of personal profiles on a popular neo-Nazi website where individuals listed "military" as an occupation. Many of them are adorned with swastikas and other Nazi and racist regalia. Here are a few samples from the website New Saxon, essentially a Facebook for white supremacists run by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement:
• A soldier serving in Afghanistan lists The Turner Diaries as his favorite book. That's the book by neo-Nazi leader William Pierce that served as the blueprint for the Oklahoma City bombing by Gulf War veteran McVeigh.
• A soldier's list of dislikes includes "Black petty officers chieffs [sic] or officers" and "MOST OF ALL!!!! OBAMA!!!!"
• A soldier who says he is deployed in Iraq lists Mein Kampf as his favorite book and writes that he "hate[s] illegal immigrants with a passion and feel[s] every true red blooded, white American should do whatever it takes to stop the foreign invasion."
• One soldier is attempting to get a discharge because he is "not liking the idea of fighting for a country that's ran [sic] by you know who."
Is a gay soldier really more of a threat and less fit to serve our nation than a racial extremist who openly despises his commander-in-chief and compares him to Chairman Mao?
The answer is obvious.
It's time to repeal the absurd "Don't ask, don't tell" policy and stop the discrimination against gays. The military has lost the expertise of thousands of skilled men and women who only want to serve the country they love.
And it's past time for the Pentagon to take seriously the threat of domestic terrorism from the relatively small number of miscreants in the ranks who hate America and the principles of equality upon which our democracy depends.
The overwhelming majority of men and women in uniform reject extremism. We owe it to them, and the American people, to ensure the ranks are as free of hatemongers and potential domestic terrorists as possible.
Follow J. Richard Cohen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/splcenter