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Racial Slaying Prompts Military Investigation at Base

December 11, 1995 GMT

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) _ By day, they were soldiers at Fort Bragg.

By night, James Norman Burmeister II and Malcolm Wright were seen wearing skinhead garb and drinking at bars popular with white supremacists.

Now, as their fellow soldiers begin leaving the base on a peacekeeping mission to Bosnia, they and a third white soldier sit in a jail cell accused of killing a black couple for no other reason than the color of their skin.

The slayings have prompted the Army to investigate whether Burmeister and Wright were alone in their views, or if such racism was widespread at the 43,000-soldier base.

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Also, the FBI is planning to look into the slayings for possible civil rights violations, and to check whether other soldiers were involved.

An Army spokesman said today that while officials are unaware of the existence of any organized white supremacists at Fort Bragg, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division was checking ``to see if patterns exist.″

``Any time an incident like this happens, it’s a concern,″ said Maj. Rivers Johnson, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division. ``Basically, they are going and making sure they have looked into all possibilities.″

Police say Burmeister, 20, Wright, 21, both privates, and Spc. Randy Lee Meadows, 21, drove around Dec. 7 after a night of drinking looking for blacks to harass.

They settled on Michael James, 36, and Jackie Burden, 27, as they walked on a downtown street. Police say Burmeister and Wright confronted the couple briefly and then shot both of them in the head.

Burmeister, of Thompson, Pa., and Wright, of Lexington, Ky., have been charged with murder. They face the death penalty if convicted.

Meadows, of Mulkeytown, Ill., who investigators say did not share his co-defendants’ white supremacist views but went along for a ride, was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. He could face up to 80 years in prison. ``I’m sorry,″ he said as he was led to jail in handcuffs.

All three were being held without bail.

Burmeister moved out of the barracks earlier this year and rented a room in a mobile home. There, police found a Nazi flag over his bed, white supremacist pamphlets, instructions for making bombs and a semiautomatic pistol believed to be the murder weapon.

The Washington Post reported today that according to human rights advocates, racist activity has been widespread at Fort Bragg for some time, and Burmeister and Wright were part of a ``subterranean culture of white supremacist skinheads.″

``There is a large skinhead presence in this town because of the types of people stationed at Fort Bragg,″ Bob Smynter, owner of Purgatory, a popular bar with skinheads and other white supremacists, told the Post. ``This is not a normal town.″

Several club owners reportedly said Burmeister and Wright were among several skinheads _ wearing black boots with white laces, red suspenders, flight jackets and chains _ who were banned from several bars because they frequently got into fights.

``I knew these guys were hard core, but I didn’t realize just how much,″ Smynter said.

The New York Times reported today that a group on base that calls itself the ``Special Forces Underground″ publishes a newsletter called The Resister, which espouses individual rights and ``republicanism″ and denounces ``liberalism, tribalism, internationalism.″

That such racial activity could have gone on at the base infuriated James’ older sister, Sharon Smith.

``They should have known,″ she said.