Malicious Militia

An officer’s cap, an 11-inch dagger, three military medals and an armband. It is an unremarkable collection of war artifacts except that they bear the broken black cross of Hitler’s Germany, the swastika.

And the fact that they were found in the possession of the Missouri National Guard’s “ethics advisor.”

Lieutenant Colonel John Keller has served as staff judge advocate since February 2000, a period when the Guard has battled charges that it is commanded by racist white men who discriminate against minority Guard members [“Men of Dishonor,” March 14, 2002]. Keller is supposed to review disciplinary actions and dismissals to make sure that they are fair and free of racial bias. It is his job to keep the Guard honest.

But Keller allegedly wasn’t even honest about his collection. He denied that it existed during questioning by an independent investigator from Alaska, who was told about the collection by Keller’s ex-wife.

That civilian investigator, Michael McCourt, came to Missouri to evaluate an equal-opportunity complaint by Captain Giorgio Ra’Shadd, a black man who believes he was unfairly fired from the 11,000-member Guard in October 2001. His complaint named commanding officers including Keller and Adjutant General Dennis Shull, the highest-ranking officer in the Guard.

In McCourt’s executive summary, obtained by the Pitch, he recommends that Keller be disciplined for his alleged lie and that the Guard reconsider whether he should continue as staff judge advocate.

Keller said “no comment” and hung up when the Pitch called about the document. The Guard will not discuss McCourt’s allegations against Keller, but a spokeswoman acknowledges their existence.

“It’s not something that’s being ignored,” said Lieutenant Tamara Spicer, a Guard spokeswoman. “I think the Missouri National Guard is going to show they take equal opportunity and truth-telling very seriously.”

W.T. Edmonson, head of the Jefferson City NAACP, says the Guard had better do so.

“I think he definitely needs to be reprimanded and definitely removed from that particular position,” Edmonson says of Keller.

Edmonson has seen an ugly side of the Missouri National Guard as an advocate for Major James Tate, a black guardsman who was called a “fucking nigger” by a subordinate officer in April 1999. Tate, with Edmonson’s help, had to fight for a year before his superiors would punish the woman without reprimanding the men who’d reported her remark. Since then, Edmonson has been receiving quarterly updates from Shull about the efforts to make the Guard more inclusive. Tate became equal-opportunity advisor for the Guard and has helped others get fair treatment for their discrimination complaints.

Edmonson says Shull told him that a separate investigation would be done on Keller, which Edmonson feels could cast doubt on Keller’s past personnel decisions. “Any complaint that is found where he played a major role, I think it may warrant another review to see if there were any grounds for any bias that possibly could have found its way into that decision,” he says.

Keller played a major role in Ra’Shadd’s firing. Like Keller, Ra’Shadd was a staff judge advocate. He believes that he was hired in March 2001 in part to help combat the perception that the Guard was unfriendly to blacks in particular. “They needed to bring in a black guy to have on their staff to say, ‘We’ve done something,'” Ra’Shadd says.

Ra’Shadd and Keller never got along, and Ra’Shadd has accused Keller of making racially derogatory statements around him. Keller provided a legal review that allowed Ra’Shadd to be fired in November 2001, and Keller asked Shull to have Ra’Shadd escorted from the Guard headquarters to avoid an altercation between the two of them.

McCourt says Ra’Shadd’s firing should stand because Ra’Shadd answered job-application questions incorrectly. Ra’Shadd should have reported that he had a disability that dated from the time a tank hatch slammed down on his head. Ra’Shadd says the job application asked about an “existing disability,” and by the time Ra’Shadd applied for the Missouri National Guard job, he had healed from his head wound and given up his veterans’ disability benefits. But he arrived in Missouri with Texas license plates that indicated he had a disability, tipping off coworkers at the Guard’s headquarters near Jefferson City.

McCourt learned of Keller’s Nazi collection through Ra’Shadd’s attorney, Rob Russell of Sedalia, who questioned Keller’s ex-wife, Kathy Kay.

She initially thought her husband “was just interested in the Nazis for the historical viewpoint,” Kay told McCourt. “As time went on, I realized that was not true. I thought he had a pretty sick viewpoint on it, and I was angered that he had bought the items.”

Under questioning by McCourt, Keller at first denied owning the collection, then admitted during the same interview that he had bought the items in Belgium, McCourt reported.

Kay told McCourt that Keller was often critical of minorities and women, particularly those he served with in the Guard.

“When we were married, he would frequently use the terms ‘nigger’ and ‘step and fetches’ to describe black people who were, he would say, doing as they should be, like, you know, following along with what people would tell them to do,” Kay says in McCourt’s report.

Kay told McCourt that her ex-husband had a similar disdain for women. “He would frequently say that the only reason that women, No. 1, were promoted in the military was the fact of their gender, and that if you were black and a female, you probably would end up being the leader of the country someday.”

Kay did not return phone calls from the Pitch. Her accusations could be attributed to vindictiveness toward her ex-husband, but her father, Charles Kay, says she relies on Keller to help support their children and would be hurt financially if Keller lost his job.

Meanwhile, the Guard’s efforts at reforming its hostile climate have had a setback. Tate is no longer the Guard’s equal-opportunity advisor; Shull has given him the nebulous title of special projects officer and brought in a member of the old guard, Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Seiling, who was equal-employment manager from May 1992 to November 1994.

Edmonson is not pleased with the changes. He says during Tate’s tenure, Guard members felt better about coming forward with discrimination complaints.

Tate says that, despite his efforts, the Guard doesn’t always treat minorities and women fairly. “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on [Ra’Shadd’s] case specifically, but I will say I have a great deal of concern about the overall equal-opportunity climate in the Guard.”

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