Crusader Image a 'Propaganda Bonanza' for Jihadists: Watchdog Group

The Fighting Knights sign.

A Christian Crusader Knight adorning the sign of an Army training center in Hawaii is fuel for jihadists' who paint American military missions in the Middle East as a continuation of ancient Christian campaigns against Islam, according to a watchdog group.

The helmeted knight, with sword and shield in hand, the red Christian cross emblazoned on a battle-torn white tunic, is the sole image beneath the words "The Fighting Knights" on the official 8th Special Troops Battalion Warrior Training Center sign at Fort Shafter Flats.

A photo of the sign was sent out from the U.S. Pacific Command's official Twitter account over the weekend, and also was used alongside a command public affairs feature.

Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said it was disappointing enough that the command uses an image that appears to endorse a particular religion, but that it's much worse "coming on the heels of [the ISIS attacks in] Paris."

Weinstein has already written to the command overseeing the center to demand the Crusader knight be removed from the sign, saying the "shocking utilization ... of this weaponized imagery representation of historic Christian sectarian warfare and brutality is just plain wrong both as a matter of law and as a practical matter.

"Your use of the Crusader imagery enrages our Islamic allies," Weinstein said in his email to Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman III. "Your use of the Crusader imagery emboldens our Islamic enemies and provides a propaganda bonanza bounty of boundless proportions. Your use of the Crusader imagery eviscerates our own U.S. military troops' good order, morale, discipline, unit cohesion, military readiness, mission accomplishment, health and safety."

In numerous statements over social media, including Twitter, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has referenced the U.S. and western allies engaged in operations across the Middle East as "Crusaders."

Following the attacks on several civilian venues in Paris on Friday night, which killed nearly 130 and left more than 300 wounded or injured, ISIS released a video threatening attacks on other Western cities, including Washington, D.C.

"We say to the states that take part in the crusader campaign that, by God, you will have a day, God willing, like France's and by God, as we struck France in the centre of its abode in Paris, then we swear that we will strike America at its centre in Washington," an ISIS spokesman said in the video, according to various media reports.

Weinstein said he wrote to Dorman after being contacted by numerous military clients who saw the image when it was Tweeted by the command this past weekend.

Most of those contacing him are Christians, he said, but they also included Muslims and members of other faiths or no faith, he said.

Weinstein's demand letter to Dorman is not the first time he has taken military leadership to task over use of the term crusader.

In 2012, he weighed in against a Marine squadron commander's decision to reinstate the Crusaders as the unit's nickname, which it has used nearly 50 years until deploying to Iraq in 2008. Officials believed the nickname would be a problem in the Muslim country. Then-Marine Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, deputy commandant for aviation, decided to reinstate the Crusaders nickname, however.

--Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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