The U.S. Army is launching an investigation after a National Guard unit posted a photo to its official Instagram account this week that showed a service member with a patch that appears to depict a Nazi SS Totenkopf, a specific skull-and-crossbones image that was adopted by Adolf Hitler’s elite corps.

The 20th Special Forces Group, headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, posted the photo Sunday along with the caption, “That weekend feeling. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Don’t stop training. Don’t get complacent.”

The post was then deleted after it garnered comments criticizing the patch, which was visible on the back of one service member’s helmet.

“The use of symbols and patches depicting historic images of hate is not tolerated and a clear violation of our values,” said Maj. Russell Gordon, spokesperson for 1st Special Forces Command. “We are aware of the situation and are currently investigating the matter.”

The Alabama National Guard is assisting 1st Special Forces Command with the investigation, said Mack Muzio, a National Guard spokesperson.

Gordon confirmed the unit deleted the post. However, a screenshot of the image was shared by individuals to other social media sites in subsequent days, where hundreds of people have criticized the unit and commented on the historical significance of the image.

The Totenkopf is listed in the Anti-Defamation League’s hate symbols database, where it’s described as the symbol adopted by the SS-Totenkopfverbande, a branch of the SS that guarded concentration camps. Since World War II, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists have adopted it as a symbol of hate, the database states.

The investigation comes just one month after the Montana National Guard issued an apology for its use of photos in recruiting materials that showed Nazi soldiers marching during World War II. Those images, too, sparked outrage online.

This story was produced in partnership with Military Veterans in Journalism. Please send tips to

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

Nikki Wentling covers disinformation and extremism for Military Times. She's reported on veterans and military communities for eight years and has also covered technology, politics, health care and crime. Her work has earned multiple honors from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors and others.

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