Picture of Special Forces Soldier Wearing Nazi Patch Triggers Army Investigation

A photo posted to the official 20th Special Forces Group Instagram page shows one of its soldiers (right) wearing Nazi imagery on their helmet.
A photo posted to the official 20th Special Forces Group Instagram page shows one of its soldiers (right) wearing Nazi imagery on their helmet. (U.S. Army W.T.F! Moments Screenshot of 20th Special Forces Group Photo)

The Army is investigating a National Guard social media account posting that contained an image of a soldier wearing a patch appearing to depict Nazi symbolism.

On Sunday, the 20th Special Forces Group, headquartered in Alabama, posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, "That weekend feeling. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Don't stop training. Don't get complacent."

The photo had three soldiers, one of whom was wearing a patch that seemed to depict the Nazi SS Totenkopfverbände -- a distinct skull and crossbones, or "death's head". The imagery is common for white supremacist groups, particularly in Europe, and was first noted on social media by U.S. Army W.T.F! Moments.

Read Next: Pentagon Policy Paying Travel Costs for Abortions, Other Health Care Was Used Only 12 Times from June to December

The Army made conflicting statements about the patch Tuesday. The patch was on the soldier's helmet, and the photo, like most imagery involving special operations that public affairs officials post on social media, was edited to blur out faces. That means the photo went through some kind of vetting process before publication. It's unclear how the Nazi imagery went unnoticed. The post has since been deleted.

"The use of symbols and patches depicting historic images of hate are not tolerated and a clear violation of our values," Jacqueline Hill, a spokesperson for Army Special Operations Command, told Military.com in a statement. "We are aware of the situation and looking into the matter further."

But on Tuesday, when a commenter on Instagram asked about the Nazi imagery, the 20th Special Forces account rebuked the characterization.

"There was not one. It's a 3rd group team patch taken out of context," it said, referencing 3rd Special Forces Group, based out of Fort Liberty, North Carolina. It's unclear what was out of context. But the soldier wearing the patch was with 20th Group, according to Hill.

The Totenkopfverbände were among the three components of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler, and oversaw concentration camps. The Nazis in those units wore the skull on their collar to distinguish themselves from other SS troops. The patch worn by the soldier in the photo included a palm tree behind the so-called Death's Head, a reference to an SS division's campaign in Africa. It's a modified version of the rank-and-file Nazi insignia in the African campaign, which included the same palm tree but with a swastika in the middle.

Many of the Nazi officers and personnel who ran the early years of those concentration camps were eventually reassigned to the Waffen-SS, the Nazi ground combat force. Those troops would lead the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf, which would go on to commit a series of war crimes against soldiers and civilians in Africa and other campaigns in France, Poland and the Soviet Union.

Extremism within the American military has become a growing concern highlighted by the involvement of some veterans and service members in the Jan. 6, 2021, violence at the U.S. Capitol aimed at keeping former President Donald Trump in power after he lost the 2020 election. A Military.com investigation detailed that, while service members and veterans are not more likely to join radical groups than the general population, they are more likely to be targeted for recruitment, and can beef up a group's credibility and capabilities.

Related: What the Pentagon Has, Hasn't and Could Do to Stop Veterans and Troops from Joining Extremist Groups

Story Continues