Commandant says 'no place for hatred' in Marines after former recruiter tied to supremacist group

By Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne and Michael Callahan, CNN

(CNN) -- Following reports that a US Marine who left the service in January leads a white supremacist group called Vanguard America, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller said Tuesday there is "no place for racial hatred or extremism in the Marine Corps."

The Military Times and the Guardian reported that former Marine recruiter Dillon Ulysses Hopper is the leader of Vanguard America -- a group which helped organize the "Unite the Right" protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent over the weekend. The Anti-Defamation League identified Hopper as the leader of Vanguard America, which ADL labels a "white supremacist" group, and said Hopper began leading the organization in "early 2016."

According to Hopper's service records, he was a member of the Marine Corps from July 10, 2006 until January 30, 2017. If ADL is correct, that would mean he began leading the white nationalist group while still technically in the Marines.

Following those reports, Neller told CNN: "Our core values of honor, courage and commitment frame the way Marines live and act. Bigotry and racial extremism run contrary to these core values." The US Marine Corps could not confirm if the service branch had knowledge of Hopper's involvement with the hate group.

CNN was not able to determine whether Hopper participated in the Charlottesville protest, and attempts to reach him have been unsuccessful.

With his statement, Neller becomes the second member of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff to speak out about events in Charlottesville. Last week, Adm. John Richardson, the Chief of Naval Operations, called the events in Charlottesville "shameful" and "unacceptable."

"The Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred" Richardson said in a statement posted on Twitter and Facebook. "We want our Navy to be the safest possible place -- a team as strong and tough as we can be, saving violence only for our enemies."

Secretary of Defense James Mattis also told reporters he was saddened by what he saw in Charlottesville.

Hopper was an "average recruiter" who "was kind, attentive, humorous and had friends in the command of all races and sexes," his immediate supervisor, Staff Sgt. Kristen Chambasian, said in a statement provided by the Marine Corps. She added that "Hopper recruited students from high schools in his area of all nationalities and backgrounds," saying those recruits "were screened, interviewed and found basically qualified mentally, morally and physically."

Marine Corps recruiting procedures require perspective recruits to go through multiple levels of scrutiny from multiple people. Of those Marines recruited by Hopper, Chambasian said she did "not personally know of any of them having had any issues with racism" due to their interactions with him.

She added: "I cannot speak to when or what changed in Staff Sgt. Hopper that resulted in his recent and current life choices."

A Marine Corps official told CNN the service is attempting to determine if Hopper may have recruited like-minded individuals into the Corps, but has found no evidence of that so far.

Participation in supremacist or extremist organizations is a violation of Defense Department orders and leads to mandatory dismissal from military service following the first substantiated incident.

Hopper served in at least two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and went on to serve as a Marine recruiter from 2011-2014 before leaving the Marines on January 30, with the rank of staff sergeant. During his service in the Marine Corps, Hopper was a recipient of the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal three times.

A Marine Corps official said Hopper's status is that of a retired Marine, though he did not serve a full 20 years.


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