A separation board recommended a field-grade Army officer for an other-than-honorable discharge in February, following a 2019 criminal investigation into his extensive online rhetoric supporting white supremacy and the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.
Maj. Jeff Poole, who had been on active orders with the 98th Training Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand earlier this year, followed up with an elimination board, a source familiar with the case told Military Times, asking for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the proceedings.
But Poole’s parent command, the Army Reserve, is keeping mum.
“The soldier’s unit of assignment took appropriate action in accordance with Army Regulations to address substantiated conduct,” spokesman Lt. Col. Simon Flake told Military Times on Thursday. “Due to protections under the Privacy Act 5 (U.S.C. § 552a), we are unable to provide any additional details regarding the soldier’s case.”
The issue of extremism in the ranks has been thrust to the forefront of concerns at the Pentagon since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the arrests of several veterans and current service members in the attack.
The wrapping up of Poole’s case comes as the Defense Department’s extremism working group is putting together an official department definition of extremism for commanders to consult, in addition to preparing to study and survey the prevalence of extremist views in the services.
Flake also refused to say whether Poole has been separated from the Army yet. A recent search of internal Army records by a source shows he is still on reserve status.
“Extremist ideologies and activities directly oppose our values and beliefs and those who subscribe to extremism have no place in our ranks,” Flake added.
Poole’s reddit activity caught the eye of some veterans in 2019, who compiled a 75-page PowerPoint presentation submitted to Army Criminal Investigation Command.
“Nuclear war wiping out the major cities would be a healthy reset for our nation,” Poole wrote in September 2019. “As long as Tel Aviv got a taste too. But our nation would be better off without NYC, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis, Washington DC, Seattle, etc. They’re all full of traitors and bugmen.”
In posts and comments from his defunct account, Poole referred to himself as a racist, a bigot and a national socialist ― the same political affiliation as Germany’s notorious Nazi party. He also advocated for armed insurrection against the government, to include killing his fellow service members.
Poole’s attorney declined to comment on the status of his case. Poole did not respond to requests for comment via phone and text.
Soldiers are entitled to appeal separation board decisions, and it can take several months to go through the administrative process to complete a separation.
Military Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Poole’s investigation in December. In February, that request was rerouted to the Army’s Office of the Judge Advocate General, where requests regularly take years to be completed.
The service often falls back on privacy concerns in response to public requests for information, though those decisions are made by commands with counsel from their judge advocates, and the policy is unevenly applied.
Following an investigation late last year, the XVIII Airborne Corps announced in January that it would begin separation proceedings for 2nd Lt. Nathan Freihofer, who posted a Holocaust joke to his TikTok account.
The investigation found his behavior “inconsistent with the values of Army service and inappropriate for anyone in a position of leadership over American soldiers,” Col. Joe Buccino, the corps spokesman, told the Washington Post at the time.
The difference in the messaging lies purely with the commander. Lt. Gen. Erik Kurilla, who commands the XVIII Airborne Corps, approved the release of the disposition of Freihofer’s case. The Army Reserve has taken a different tack.
When a command gets a report of misconduct, including allegations of domestic extremism, the commander has full authority for how to handle it. That might mean turning the investigation over to the FBI, pursuing an in-house criminal investigation or using non-judicial tools to handle it.
In 2018, the Marine Corps sentenced Lance Cpl. Vasillios Pistolis to nearly a month of confinement for participating in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his ties to the Neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division, a sentence publicized because criminal proceedings are not considered private.
But when a command goes the non-judicial route, it is easier to obscure the results. In the recent past, no less than the top official at DoD has called for commanders to do more to hold their troops accountable.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis in 2018 sent a memo to senior leadership imploring them to stop leaning on administrative and non-judicial punishments for misconduct.
The burden of proof is lower for those methods, thus ensuring that punishments will be carried out and cannot be preempted by a jury’s decision. But they are also limited to consequences like involuntary discharge, docked pay or extra duty. Mattis felt those consequences were too light for some of the cases they were being used to adjudicate.
“Leaders must be willing to choose the harder right over the easier wrong,” he wrote. “Administrative actions should not be the default method to address illicit conduct simply because it is less burdensome than the military justice system. Leaders cannot be so risk-adverse that they lose their focus on forging disciplined troops ready to ferociously and ethically defeat our enemies in the battlefield.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT