MACON — A Missouri National Guardsman accused of proclaiming himself a neo-Nazi has been fired from his state job as a member of a military honor guard that appears at veterans' funerals.
Former co-workers of Nathan Wooten filed complaints nearly a year ago claiming he had a portrait of Adolf Hitler in his living room, had tried to recruit others to the cause and had named his son after a notorious leader of the German SS, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The Post-Dispatch was about to publish a story about the state's lack of action when a guard spokeswoman, Maj. Tammy Spicer, notified the newspaper Friday that Wooten had been fired from his full-time state position with the funeral program as a result of an investigation into a variety of complaints.
Wooten is not accused of having broken any laws, but the U.S. military bans participation in extremist groups and groups that "actively advocate supremacist doctrine, ideology or causes." Spicer would not elaborate about the funeral honors program firing. She said a separate investigation by the Guard is in its final stages.
Wooten, however, has denied being involved in neo-Nazi activities.
"I didn't do any of that," said Wooten, 32, at the National Guard armory in Macon last month. "I don't need to explain anything to you guys. It's been taken care of."
He didn't immediately return a phone message Saturday from The Associated Press.
"It's about time," said Republican State Sen. Bill Stouffer, of Napton, who had inquired about the case on behalf of three of the co-workers. "... I don't know why it took so long to get to where we are, but, finally, the right thing has happened."
Brandon Knott, 24, said he began working with Wooten in 2007 at the funeral honors program, which sends at least two uniformed National Guard members or retirees to funeral services. He said that around the time Wooten was promoted to team leader, Wooten told him about joining the National Socialist Movement, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as one of the largest and most prominent neo-Nazi groups in the U.S.
"He always talked about how great of an organization it is and how they hate minorities like blacks, Mexicans and Jews and how great the U.S. would be without them," Knott later wrote in a complaint to one of his superiors. Knott and two other co-workers provided copies of their complaints to the Post-Dispatch.
Knott and another worker who filed a complaint, Eddie Ratliff, said that in November 2008, Wooten drove his own vehicle to a Columbia funeral so that afterward he could attend a neo-Nazi protest in Jefferson City and a private after-party that included the burning of books by Jewish authors. Knott wrote in his complaint that Wooten showed him cellphone photographs of the book burning.
Knott also said Wooten showed him Facebook photos that he said were taken in a Jewish cemetery and that showed purported friends of his urinating on a grave and giving the Nazi salute.
Knott said he considered turning Wooten in at the time but thought he lacked proof and wouldn't be believed.
A spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, said the league had reported Wooten to the Army in 2009, saying he had created a personal profile on New Saxon, a white supremacist social networking site operated by the National Socialist Movement.
Knott said he was asked by one of the funeral program's area directors about Wooten's involvement with white supremacist groups while Wooten was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010. Knott said Wooten later told him that his superiors in Afghanistan had told him to stop any such activity but that he received no other discipline.
Co-workers said the racist comments resumed after Wooten's return to the Macon office in 2010 and that in April 2011 they complained to a superior that Wooten fostered a racist and hostile work environment. In their statements, the co-workers reported that Wooten complained when they ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant, refused to have a person temporarily assigned to the office serve on the honor guard because he was of Mexican descent and balked at presenting flags to the families of black and Jewish veterans.
Frustrated by the investigation, Ratliff resigned and now works as a security guard at Missouri Military Academy in Mexico, Mo.
"I couldn't put up with it anymore," said Ratliff, 49. "I just didn't believe I belonged in the sort of group that would support something like that."
Knott's active duty orders that had him working full time for the funeral program ended in September. In December, Knott contacted Stouffer, the state senator, who contacted the National Guard.
"On the surface, it's unforgivable," Stouffer said about the length of the National Guard investigation. "To me that's unacceptable."