PORTLAND, Maine — Kristofer Goldsmith said he noticed a problem hurting his fellow veterans.
Goldsmith was deployed in Iraq in 2005. After he got out, he noticed people he knew falling deep into far-right conspiracies, including neo-Nazi organizations such as NSC 131, which work in New England.
"I've watched a lot of friends and other veterans really go off the deep end, taking stuff they saw off social media," Goldsmith said. "They became obsessed with it, and it became their lift."
Goldsmith spent years researching and going undercover into neo-Nazi organizations himself and found recruiting tactics used on veterans.
"Extremist organizations target veterans not just because of their training but also because we are leaders, we understand how to work with teams, and these extremist organizations recognize if they get a veteran into their ranks, they can try to use that veteran credibility to justify their hatred," Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith said over the years he has recruited veterans to work with him and infiltrate neo-Nazi organizations in order to expose its members and motives.
Recently, the organization published a 300-page report into NSC 131. It's one of the longest and most comprehensive lists of the organization's actions and members to date.
"Law enforcement, instead of watching them commit assault, should treat them like violent criminal gangs on the spot," Goldsmith said.
He is referring to a brazen show of force when nearly two dozen members of NSC 131 marched through downtown Portland, gathered on the steps of city hall, and yelled racist and homophobic slurs at people.
One member was seen on video grabbing the sign of a counter-protester and punching him repeatedly.
All NSC 131 were allowed to leave without much question and no arrests.
The protocol by Portland police was criticized by community members and some city councilors.
The District Attorney for Cumberland County Jackie Sartoris said that if identification was taken from the neo-Nazi members, there could have been charges including assault and hate crimes.
Goldsmith said more should have been done to combat the neo-Nazi showing in Portland.
He and his team compiled a list of all the group's showings from Rhode Island to Lewiston and sent it off to attorneys general in the New England states.
For Maine, Attorney General Aaron Frey's office said it has reviewed the report on NSC 131 but said the incident in Portland can't lead to hate crime penalties since there were no charges to begin with.
The AGs office said a hate crime penalty can be charged if the neo-Nazis had threatened or destroyed property with racial bias, but added it's impossible to file charges without identifying them when they were at the protest.
After complaints from city councilors, then interim City Manager Danielle West said she would meet with Interim Chief Heath Gorham from the Portland Police Department to prepare for more neo-Nazi events in the future.
When asked about what steps have been taken so far between the city and the police department, a spokesperson from the city said a council workshop will be held on June 12 with Gorham.
But as local leaders continue to talk about how to handle the neo-Nazi organization, Goldsmith said eyes should continue to follow the groups next moves, as June is Pride month.
"As we come up to Pride month, we are going to see NSC 131 and organizations around the country committing violent attacks or at least try to telegraph intimidation through threats to the LGBTQ+ community," Goldsmith said.