MACON, Mo. • Former co-workers say Nathan Wooten is a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi who had a portrait of Adolf Hitler in his living room, tried to recruit others to the cause and named his son after a notorious leader of the German SS.
Until last week, Wooten also was a Missouri National Guard sergeant whose full-time state job was serving as part of a state military honor guard that pays last respects at the funerals of Missouri veterans, many of whom fought against Hitler in World War II.
On Friday, as the Post-Dispatch was about to publish a story about the state's lack of action on co-workers' complaints filed against Wooten nearly a year ago, a Missouri National Guard spokeswoman notified the newspaper that Wooten had been fired from his state job.
Maj. Tammy Spicer, spokeswoman for the Guard, said late Friday afternoon that Wooten had been terminated from his state position with the funeral program as a result of an investigation into a variety of complaints. She would not elaborate.
Although he lost his state position, Wooten is still a National Guard member. Spicer said a separate investigation by the Guard is in its final stages.
Wooten's enlistment is up in May, and he could be barred from re-enlisting.
The U.S. military bans participation in extremist groups and groups that "actively advocate supremacist doctrine, ideology or causes."
Wooten did not respond to telephone messages Friday.
At the National Guard armory in Macon last month, Wooten denied being involved in neo-Nazi activities and declined to discuss the issue with the Post-Dispatch.
"I didn't do any of that," said Wooten, 32. "I don't need to explain anything to you guys. It's been taken care of."
State Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, had inquired about the case on behalf of three of the co-workers.
"It's about time," Stouffer said Friday after hearing about the firing. "...I don't know why it took so long to get to where we are, but, finally, the right thing has happened."
Missouri began the funeral honors program in 1999. At least two uniformed National Guard members or retirees are present at services featuring a rifle salute, the sounding of taps, and the folding and presentation of the flag.
The $1.9 million annual program employs 58 people in 11 cities around the state. As of Feb. 29, the program had been involved in 104,868 funerals. The Macon unit generally covers funerals throughout northern Missouri.
"Our goal is to provide the right service, at the right time, in the right place, with the right team 100 percent of the time," the program's website proclaims.
Brandon Knott, 24, said he began working with Wooten in the Macon office in 2007. Later, Wooten was promoted to team leader. About that time, according to Knott, Wooten told him that he had joined the National Socialist Movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, characterizes the group as one of the largest and most prominent neo-Nazi groups in the United States, notable for its violent anti-Jewish rhetoric and racist views.
"It disgusts me," Knott said. "It's a real honor to do these services for these veterans without some idiot in there."
The military has struggled for decades with extremists in its ranks. After long denying a problem, the Pentagon in November 2009 toughened its stance on supremacist activity.
A policy in effect since 1996 had prohibited "active participation in supremacist organizations, including rallying, fundraising, recruiting and organizing," the Southern Poverty Law Center said. But some interpreted that policy to mean that military members still could be members of hate groups and post racist comments on social network sites and in emails, the center said. The new policy bans such activity.
While not eliminating all extremists in the military, the change made it easier for commanders to discipline troops involved in such activities, the center said.
Knott said Wooten tried to recruit other National Guard members working in the Macon office.
"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 a superior. Knott and two other co-workers provided copies of their complaints to the Post-Dispatch.
Knott said Wooten considered him a friend and acknowledged at times he also made racist comments.
James Creel, a former team member who described Wooten as a good friend, said he considered the allegations against Wooten "a witch hunt."
He said he believes the complaints were made because Wooten was difficult to work for.
"Everybody involved is hypocritical because everybody did the same thing," said Creel, who said he submitted a statement to investigators. "It was just buddies giving each other a hard time. Everything that was said was in jest."
Another former co-worker, Cody Fields, said he heard Wooten discuss the National Socialist Movement, but he ignored it. "He never said you should try this or anything," Fields said.
Both Knott and another worker who filed a complaint, Eddie Ratliff, said that in November 2008, Wooten drove his own vehicle to a Columbia, Mo., 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 had showed him cellphone photographs of the book burning.
Knott also said Wooten showed him photos on a Facebook page that he said were taken in a Jewish cemetery of several people that Wooten described as friends 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.
During the same time period, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors National Socialist Movement websites, collected several comments posted by someone who identified himself as Nathan Wooten from Missouri.
On Sept. 3, 2008, the poster commented on a newspaper story about Columbia police denying the National Socialist Movement a parade permit.
"...that place is a filled with alot (sic) of people who need to hear the truth, and filled with alot (sic) of people who are againest (sic) everything we stand for," the poster wrote, adding "...I will be there with a few other soldiers to support the NSM with their words againest (sic) illegal immigration."
A spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit civil rights/human relations 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.
In October 2009, Wooten deployed to Afghanistan for 10 months with a Missouri Guard agri-business development team.
While Wooten was deployed, Knott said he received a phone call from Bradley Dulle, one of the funeral program's area directors, asking him what he knew about Wooten's involvement with white supremacist groups.
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. Wooten's immediate supervisor in Afghanistan declined to comment.
Not long after Wooten returned from Afghanistan to work in the Macon office in 2010, his Nazi and racist rhetoric resumed, according to his co-workers.
On April 19, 2011, Knott, Ratliff and the third employee in the Macon office, who asked not to be named out of fear of retaliation by hate groups, sent complaints to Dulle claiming 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.
Ratliff wrote: "This is an issue that should not be ignored or covered up. It needs to be taken care of."
By July, Knott and his two co-workers were growing frustrated with the pace of the state investigation.
On July 22, according to an email chain provided to the Post-Dispatch, Knott wrote to Dulle saying team members felt the investigation "is being grossly mishandled."
Dulle forwarded Knott's email to Maj. William B. Smith, director of the funeral honors program.
Smith responded to Knott that same day, telling him the state investigation was being addressed at the highest level and "not being swept under the rug."
In his email, Smith wrote, Wooten's "membership into the NSM (National Socialist Movement) is noted."
Despite that, Smith said in his email that he'd been told a day earlier by Jill Delgado, a state employee who works for the Guard as director of state resources, to bring Wooten back to work the following Monday.
The three co-workers were outraged. "He just basically got the summer off with pay," Ratliff said.
The day Wooten returned, Ratliff submitted his resignation.
"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."
Ratliff now works as a security guard at Missouri Military Academy in Mexico, Mo.
Knott's active duty orders that had him working full time for the funeral program ended in September. Knott said Smith, the funeral program director, told him the state planned to eliminate Knott's full-time position. Wooten later sent out an email seeking a full-time person to fill the open position, Knott said.
Eventually, Knott said — after seven years in the National Guard where he earned about $3,800 a month on the funeral detail — he filed for unemployment.
The third co-worker said she continued to work in the office until she could find another full-time job. She said she quit the funeral detail in October.
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."
By January, Wooten was the only person permanently assigned to the Macon office.
Last month, Knott, a married father of three, moved away from his family to another state to work as a train conductor.
Just hours after a Post-Dispatch reporter sought to interview Wooten, Knott said he received two threatening phone calls from someone he couldn't identify. He recorded the phone calls and contacted police and the National Guard.