Does it matter that a member of the Arizona Liberty Guard — the militia that patrolled the March4Trump rally at the beginning of the month — displays a fondness for fascist imagery on his Facebook page and elsewhere?
That's my dilemma in the case of Mark Wilson, a clean-cut, polite young man whom I met March 4 at the state Capitol as he and the ALG were about to leave the rally, but who, I since have discovered, has a troubling obsession with fascism and Nazi Germany.
A fascination that includes his tattoo of a Nazi slogan and posting unattributed Hitler quotes to his Facebook page.
Neither Wilson nor the ALG identified themselves to me on March 4. The Southern Poverty Law Center later identified the group by name, and I subsequently spoke with ALG's leader, Colonel Tony Roman (a.k.a. Anthony Wilk) about the group.
The colonel — a self-awarded title — did not like the word "militia," but he seemed okay with the designation "three-percenter." When I later referred to ALG as a "right-wing" organization, he wrote to me via e-mail, objecting to the term "right-wing." (Note: Please see update below.)
Roman admitted to me that three-percenters are "generally seen as being on the right," but that his group was not aligned with a political or religious ideology.
Not long after this discussion, a confidential source sent me a link to the Facebook page of "Mark Wilhelmsson," the man I now know to be Mark or Marcus Wilson, whom I chatted with on March 4. (Wilson says "Wilhelmsson" is the name of his forebears, before they changed it after coming to America.) A photo of him was featured in a New Times slideshow of the event.
Wilson's Facebook page contained a number of images that reference elements of the Third Reich, as well as the brutal dictatorship of Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet, who ruled that South American country from 1974 to 1990.
One meme in particular makes light of the free "helicopter rides" Pinochet's forces supposedly gave to political opponents, dropping them from hovering aircrafts to their deaths.
Also on Wilson's page: historical images of the German army; an illustration of a Spanish soldier fighting with the Nazis and wearing a swastika; as well as a propaganda image from a Third Reich artist showing a German soldier with his head lying on an angelic woman's lap.
In one statement from February 23, Wilson expressed support both for Donald Trump and for French nationalist politician Marine Le Pen, president of the right-wing National Front party, who currently is running for president of France.
"His Majesty Trump in the white house [sic], glorious Putin in the Kremlin, that effective but maniacal raging lunatic Netanyahu in Israel; now all we need is Le Pen to win France and the world will be on its way to a greater fascist utopia for all. This is not sarcasm. I'm genuinely excited for the direction the world is turning."
Also, in a photo from his wife's FB page, there can be seen, on Wilson's right forearm, in Gothic script, the German words, Meine Ehre heißt Treue, or, "My Honor is My Loyalty," which is the motto of the Waffen SS, the military wing of Hitler's dreaded Schutzstaffel.
On March 26, 2015, Wilson posted the following quotation, taken from Hitler's Mein Kampf:
Mankind is divided into three categories — founders of culture, bearers of culture, and destroyers of culture...If we subject the different ethnicities to a strict test from that standpoint, we shall find that scarcely any one of them has originally created a culture; but almost all have been merely the recipients of a culture created elsewhere.
Additionally, his wife's FB page shows both of them wearing what look like WWII-era German uniforms, apparently as costumes for Halloween. But another pic posted by his wife shows them in January, with Wilson wearing a green cap emblazoned with a Totenkopf, the skull and crossbones symbol adopted by the SS.
Wilson's FB page was public prior my interviewing Wilson for this article. Since then, Wilson has made private some of the content on his page.
A machinist by trade, Wilson denied having any neo-Nazi sympathies when I asked him about the content on his FB page. He also told me that he was half-Latino himself and that his wife is Latino.
"I can tell you with my whole heart that I absolutely resent the insinuation that I would even associate myself with neo-Nazis," he said. "I'm of the opinion that people who call themselves neo-Nazis don't even know history well at all."
He said that he had challenged skinheads verbally in the past, telling them that German soldiers were not allowed to have shaven heads and that, generally, the only people with shaven heads at that time were prisoners.
"I know history very well," he said. "And when we get into a debate [with neo-Nazis], I beat them. So they don't like me either."
Wilson had an explanation for every quote, every image that he had posted.
Regarding the photo and reference to Pinochet, he argued that Chile was the most prosperous country in South America, and that some historians ascribe this to the late dictator's policies.
And what of the thousands who died, were tortured, or were "disappeared" after Pinochet came to power through a coup?
"In my own personal political views, I'm very libertarian," he explained. "So I'm very skeptical about some of the things the government might do ... I don't agree with deaths caused by any kind of government at all."
As for the Pinochet meme and its mention of helicopter rides, Wilson said that it was "kind of a joke that people throw around," ever since Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that he once had thrown an alleged kidnapper out of a helicopter.
You know, a la Pinochet.
Duterte also reportedly threatened that he would do the same to corrupt officials.
What about the comment next to the Pinochet meme, the one quoted above, where Wilson welcomes a "greater fascist utopia," and says that he was not being sarcastic?
Wilson said that he was "being playful," in the comment, and meant it in a humorous vein.
The German WWII uniform pics with his wife were for Halloween, and inspired by the Nazi zombies in the videogame Call of Duty, he said. The Spanish soldier with the swastika was due to his interest in the various nationalities that fought for the Third Reich.
His use of 88 in the html address for his Facebook page was because he was born in 1988. It was not meant to be read as common white supremacist shorthand for "Heil Hitler." (The eighth letter of the alphabet being H.) Another use of 88 in a FB post referred to "flak 88," a type of artillery used by the Germans in WWII.
Although I have not been able to confirm his birthdate — Mark Wilson is a very common name — he is correct about "flak 88."
Which brings us to the tattoo of Meine Ehre heißt Treue, on his forearm, a phrase that appears on antique SS knives, SS rings, and reproductions. I have seen the motto on the arms of avowed neo-Nazis and on banners, flags and other neo-Nazi paraphernalia.
Wilson copped to having the tattoo and to knowing its SS connection.
"They did adopt that motto when they were formed in the early '30s," he explained. "It does not stick out in my mind as specific to them ... for me, I'm kind of a traditional Christian. I'm very into faithfulness and loyalty, especially to my family. It means something to me personally, irrespective of the fact that the Waffen SS use that as their motto."
Wilson conceded that the "Mankind is divided into three categories" quote was from Mein Kampf. He said he keeps a copy of the book for historical purposes, in an attempt to understand "the mind of a maniac." He said he liked the quote, not the man.
In an e-mail to me, he wrote:
"Although Hitler was what many psychologists would designate a manic [sic] ... he did make some bright observations, this I feel being one of them. The fact that Hitler said it doesn't mean that I'm glorifying the man, simply agreeing with the observation."
He added that the ALG was not racist or prejudiced in the slightest. He noted again that he was partly Latino on his mother's side, of German descent on his father's side, and that his wife is "first generation American of Mexican decent."
I asked Wilson why he had edited his FB page following our interview.
He wrote in response that:
I did not take anything down, but i did indeed change much of my profile to private. [sic] This entire situation has made me think things over a little bit and realize that some people may certainly misconstrue things that I've said or posted, especially those people that don't know me or are ignorant of history itself (remember the Flak88 cannon picture?). The last thing that i want to do is cause others to be offended and make assumptions about me based on these things.
Wilson's ALG commander, Col. Roman, told me that Wilson was a devout Christian, a "very solid, down- to-earth individual," who had participated in WWII re-enactments, a fact Wilson confirmed.
Roman believed that Wilson's German heritage and interest in history likely accounted for much of Wilson's Facebook postings.
"I know Mark very well," Roman told me. "And if Mark was a racist or an extremist of any kind, I would drop him like a hot rock."
Roman contended that it was possible to admire the Germans' tactics and military ability in WWII, but still loathe the cruelty of Hitler and condemn the Holocaust. He said he had never seen Wilson display any racism or bigotry, and ensured me that his group is multi-ethnic and does not tolerate hatred towards others.
All of which may be true, though I would personally question the wisdom of throwing up Hitler quotes on FB without attribution, much less someone tattooing a Nazi slogan on their arm, in German and Gothic script to boot.
Especially, if you plan on participating in a local militia that does not wish to be labeled as "right-wing" or a "militia."
This is not Wilson's first go-around when it comes to militias. A photo from 2013 featuring Wilson appeared on the FB page of notoriously unhinged desert rat Robert Crooks, leader of Arizona's "Mountain Minutemen," of which Crooks seems to be main member.
Crooks, who looks like he should be a bit player on the Discovery Channel's Moonshiners, is infamous for roaming the desert with his guns and his dog, hunting narco terrorists, and allegedly producing fake YouTube videos, purporting to show a vigilante shooting at migrants on the border.
Apparently, Crooks takes well-armed wannabe militia-men along for the ride, and on at least one occasion, this included Wilson.
Wilson told me that he and the others participated in a desert patrol with Crooks, but came up with nada.
"Kind of a wasted effort," Wilson said of the experience. "That's pretty much why I never went any more."'
He said that Crooks was a "cool guy," but that the grizzled old coot "didn't seem like ... the kind of person I wanted to be affiliated with that much."
Maybe one day Wilson will not want to be affiliated with SS mottos, South American dictators, and quotations from Mein Kampf, either.
Note: Although I have a copy of the photo showing Meine Ehre heißt Treue on Wilson's forearm, I've chosen not to publish it because doing so might inadvertently reveal the identity of Wilson's spouse, who is in the same photo on her FB page.
Update March 31, 9:58 a.m.:
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Roman emailed me this statement concerning his rank in the Arizona Liberty Guard:
"I held the rank of Lt. Colonel as ALG started and the council and general membership voted me in to that rank. Most groups throughout the US adopt a military style ranking system into which internal promotions are conducted. Just S.O.P for proper functioning and inter group relationship as there has to be structure"
Roman told me previously that he had obtained the "Lt. Colonel" rank through his participation in another militia group. He now refers to himself as "Colonel Roman." His last name is actually "Wilk."
In the U.S. Army, the rank of colonel is just below the rank of brigadier general. A U.S. Army colonel might have several thousand soldiers under his command.