Congress demands investigation into white supremacists in the military
(USA Today) - Congress is calling on the Pentagon to police its troops for white extremism, demanding an investigation to determine the extent that white supremacist ideology has infected the ranks in light of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
Concern about extremism in the military spiked after troops and veterans were suspected of taking part in the riot. An Army Special Forces officer is under investigation for appearing on the Capitol grounds that day. Veterans have also been arrested in connection with the attack incited by President Donald Trump that left five people dead.
"It's terrifying and revolting that members of the military and veterans could be involved in an insurrection in an attempt to violently overthrow the government," Sen. Richard Blumethal, D-Conn., and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said Thursday. There are indications, he said, that members of active-duty and reserve troops and veterans took part in the attack.
Blumenthal was the lead author of a letter calling on the Pentagon's Inspector General to develop recommendations to "prevent, address, and neutralize extremist ideology within the Armed Forces."
"The issue of white supremacy and extremist ideology within the ranks of our military is not new, but the attack on the Capitol makes clear this alarming trend must be immediately addressed," Blumenthal wrote. "We urge you to launch a comprehensive investigation into instances of white supremacist and violent fringe extremist activity within the military."
The Pentagon recognizes it has a problem with extremism, especially white nationalism, a senior Defense Department official told reporters Thursday. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the allure for some troops stems from anti-government views and racism. The Pentagon has launched a review of policies on extremism and will report recommendations to the Defense Secretary on how to address the problem, the official said.
The official did not have data on the extent of the problem among its two million service members. However, the official said each member of the active and reserve force must pass a background check and is continually monitored for extremist views.
Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon's top spokesman, has said repeatedly since the Jan. 6 insurrection that the military will not tolerate extremism.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and chair of the Armed Services Committee's panel on military personnel, held a hearing in February on extremist groups and said extremist groups recruit troops and veterans for their training.
"Last week’s domestic terrorist attack at the U.S. Capitol removes all excuses and doubt of that threat," Speier said in a statement. "Congress must act to protect and defend the nation."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon's senior uniform leaders issued an unusual memo Tuesday to the active and reserve force branding the riot "sedition and insurrection." The Joint Chiefs of Staff also pointedly reminded troops that of their oaths to defend and protect the Constitution.
A particular worry for some lawmakers is whether the 20,000-member National Guard contingent in Washington to help secure the city for the inauguration Jan. 20 may have troops sympathetic to the rioters incited by Trump's baseless claims of widespread election fraud. National Guard troops have been authorized by Army Sec. Ryan McCarthy to carry weapons. McCarthy, who oversees the D.C. Guard, made the move in response to a request from federal law enforcement authorities overseeing the inauguration.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., asked McCarthy to screen Guard troops protecting Washington for extremist views. The Army is working with the Secret Service to ensure the Guard troops are suited for job.
Blumenthal said he believes they will do their jobs.
"I believe the National Guard will protect the president," Blumenthal said.