By day, the two soldiers wore standard issue Army fatigues bearing what is known as the "All American" patch of the elite 82nd Airborne Division of Fort Bragg.

By night, they donned the black boots and white laces, red suspenders, flight jackets and chains that make up an unofficial uniform that signifies white power, and became part of a subterranean culture of white supremacist skinheads. They hung out at private underground nightclubs that catered to this fringe.

Such were the lives of Army privates James Norman Burmeister II, 20, and Malcolm Wright, 21, the two main suspects in the deadly, racially motivated shooting of a black man and woman last Thursday that has shocked this Army town and numbed police. Officers described the men as unremorseful, even smug.

A third suspect, Spec. Randy Lee Meadows Jr., 21, who is considered to be less strident in his views than his two companions, has been charged with driving the car that the killers used. He is cooperating with investigators, sources said.

Police sources said that in the hours leading up to the slaying, the threesome was drinking at a popular local strip bar, the Cue and Ale.

The discovery of a large Nazi flag, as well as a gallery of white supremacist literature and pamphlets on Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, in a room rented by Burmeister in a mobile home near the base has prompted the 82nd Airborne to begin an internal investigation into whether extremist organizations exist within its ranks, military officials said. Participation by soldiers in such groups is prohibited under Army regulations and punishable by expulsion.

Human rights watchdog groups said that there long has been evidence of widespread white supremacist activity at Fort Bragg. While probing a far-right group in North Carolina in the late 1980s, the Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, discovered that some soldiers from Fort Bragg had been recruited to be participants.

"There is a large skinhead presence in this town because of the types of people stationed at Fort Bragg," said Bob Smynter, owner of the private underground bar, Purgatory, that is the main night spot for skinheads and other white supremacists here. "This is not a normal town."

"There is nothing to indicate that we have a major race problem in the 82nd Airborne," said Maj. Rivers Johnson, a spokesman for the division. "But we'll have to reserve judgment until the chain of command has completed evaluations within their units."

Police acknowledge one recent racial incident involving members of the elite unit.

Police Lt. Richard E. Bryant said that two months ago a white soldier from the 82nd Airborne was beaten into a coma at an International House of Pancakes here by 10 black military personnel. Bryant said that five people, including three from the 82nd, were arrested in the case and charged with assault with a deadly weapon and assault with intent to kill. Last week's slayings were not related to the beating of the white serviceman, police officials said.

Law enforcement authorities said the suspects in last week's slayings are not affiliated with a larger white supremacist organization or movement, but that Burmeister and Wright appear to be deeply embedded in the informal network of skinheads and other extremists active at the base.

Most of the supremacist activity revolves around a circuit of private underground clubs where extremists drink and listen to thumping punk, ska and other music that is popular among skinheads. Burmeister and Wright, regulars at Purgatory, often were seen in skinhead garb. Acquaintances said that Burmeister sometimes wore a swastika patch on the sleeve of his black leather bomber jacket.

Smynter said the two soldiers appeared to be part of an extremely racist faction of skinheads: They would not come to the club on nights that ska was the featured music because they consider it similar to Jamaican reggae.

A bouncer at Purgatory, Kerry Dissinger, recalled a conversation he had with Burmeister at the club two weeks ago during which the soldier sneered at the head bouncer, who was Korean, and spoke in derogatory terms about Asians. "Let's just say his basic point was that he didn't like Oriental people very much," Dissinger said.

Several club owners said that Burmeister and Wright were among a large number of skinheads who were banned from certain bars in town because they frequently got into fights with people who did not agree with their views.

Members of Burmeister's unit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Wright was less vehement than Burmeister. They said that Burmeister was very public about his racist views and moved from the barracks to a mobile home seven months ago because he could not get along with fellow soldiers. Both in the barracks and at nightclubs, he had been known to rail against blacks and the "cancer" of equal employment opportunities.

"Before he moved out, he had several run-ins with other soldiers because he was quite voluble about his racism and was not shy to use the N-word,' " said a member of Burmeister's unit who asked not to be identified. "He could be quite vitriolic; it was quite ugly at times."

But while condemning the murders, some Fort Bragg soldiers said they espoused the suspects' supremacist views. "The mixing of races is dead wrong, whether it's in the Army or anywhere else," a private, who would identify himself only as Lance, said as he walked into the private Neo Nightclub, which is known as a popular venue for extremists. "Popping that black couple was wrong, but praising a Nazi flag is not."

Law enforcement sources said that Burmeister rented his room from a couple who described themselves publicly as white separatists. The couple was away on a trip when Burmeister and Wright were arrested at the home Thursday morning. While his landlords were out of town, Burmeister apparently sawed off the barrel of a shotgun belonging to the husband, who is also a soldier at Fort Bragg, the sources said. Police have seized the weapon. Authorities also found a 9mm semiautomatic weapon in the mobile home that they believe was the weapon used in the slayings.

Michael James, 36, and his friend, Jackie Burden, 27, were fatally shot as they strolled down an unlit street in their neighborhood near downtown early Thursday morning. According to police sources, Burmeister and Wright picked James and Burden at random and approached the couple on foot. Burmeister fired five shots at close range, striking both victims in the head, sources said. Meadows was around the corner, sitting in his car.

Burmeister and Wright fled on foot, but when Meadows heard shots he walked to the scene and was stopped by police in the yard of an adjacent house, owned by Virginia Gray. At first, Meadows told police that he lived in the neighborhood, but he could not provide them with an address. Police took him in for questioning.

Gray said that she "had just gotten home from work, and I heard the shots, but no ricochet, which I usually hear when there is gunfire around here. I heard five shots: two and then three fast ones. I looked out the window and saw the bodies."

Law enforcement authorities said that after several hours of questioning, Meadows gave the names of his two colleagues, who were arrested shortly thereafter on first-degree murder charges. Meadows was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit murder.

Police said Burmeister was the ringleader and that this was the third time in recent months that the trio had set out late at night to the mostly black Campbell neighborhood, where they would harass African Americans. Wright said that the group would torment drug dealers and prostitutes under the guise of trying to clean up the neighborhood, police said.

All three suspects are relatively new to the Army. Burmeister, of Thompson, Pa., entered the service in October 1993 and arrived at Fort Bragg seven months later to work as a mortarman. Wright, from Louisville, joined in February 1994. He was a field artilleryman assigned to Fort Bragg last December. Meadows, of Mulkeytown, Ill., entered in June 1992 and six months later went to Fort Bragg, where he was an infantryman. Wright and Meadows lived on base.

"Real brave soldiers," said Burden's brother, Michael. "I think they were real cowards to shoot two people in the head execution-style without giving them a chance to do anything."

Both victims had been trying to make significant changes in their lives. Michael James was salvaging a life on the verge of ruin, one that had been devastated by crazed cocaine binges and prison time for drug offenses, assault and theft.

But it had been months since his last cocaine high, acquaintances said. He had returned to church and started jogging despite a crushed knee and hip that he suffered several years ago in a construction accident. This week, James was to move back in with his estranged wife and three children, whose birthdays are all this month.

"I'm just glad he had time to get it together with the Lord before the devil decided to cut him down," said James's sister, Karen Knox.

Jackie Burden was an epileptic who worsened her condition by heavy gin drinking, relatives said. She had been fired from her last job as a supermarket clerk two years ago and often slept on the streets during her bouts with alcohol.

But recently, family members said, Burden had given up drinking, and she was planning to move to Landover, Md., next year to live with her brother and attend hairdressing school. She had been dating a brother of Michael James.

"I didn't think this world had people who could shoot down my daughter like a dog," said Burden's father, Ivory Freeman. "It's going to affect me for the rest of my life. Where I had a little trust in people, I no longer have any." CAPTION: In his sermon at the First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., the Rev. Cureton Johnson likened the city near Army base to a "slaughterhouse."