Provided with an opportunity to rein in growing politicized rhetoric which paints America’s military as riddled with white supremacists and far right extremists, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Secretary of Defense General Lloyd Austin declined, choosing to add his name to the list of those calling for purging the U.S. military of “far-right” elements.
“The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies,” Austin said, “But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
Austin’s remarks came in the wake of the Biden camp demanding intense vetting of the 25,000 National Guard troops stationed in Washington, D.C. for the Inauguration security. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee told CNN news he was suspicious of the Guard because its make-up was overwhelmingly from among classes of likely Trump voters.
“The Guard is 90 some odd percent, I believe, male,” Cohen claimed. “Only about 20% of white males voted for Biden. You have got to figure that the Guard, which is predominantly more conservative and I see that on my social media, and we know it, they are probably 25% of the people that are there protecting us who voted for Biden.”
Rep. Michael Waltz, Republican from Florida and a National Guard Colonel, called Cohen’s statement “insulting.”
The Pentagon would go on to remove a dozen of the more than 25,000 National Guardsmen from their posts, for unspecified reasons. According to one report, reasons for removal included social media which contained references to former president Trump’s slogan MAGA (Make America Great Again), displaying American revolutionary paraphernalia such as the Gadsen Flag, and membership or association with Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump organization for college students. While unconfirmed, that claim does bring to mind a June 2020 controversy where the U.S. Army Equity and Inclusion Agency included “Make America Great Again” as an example of “covert white supremacy” on an training slide deck.
The targeted media criticism of the Guard outraged Texas Governor Gregg Abbott who called the politicized vetting “offensive” and said it may impact Texas’ willingness to contribute guardsmen to future missions in the future. The Texas National Guard is the largest of the 50 states and makes up approximately 4% of the total force.
Acting DOD Secretary Chris Miller later asserted that the DOD had no intelligence pointing to an “insider threat” to the inauguration.
It seems unlikely that recent Democratic criticism of the military as somehow overrun by far-right extremists is likely to die down now that President Biden has been safely and successfully inaugurated. A Democratic-proposed domestic terrorism bill calls for ongoing surveillance and training of federal, state and local law enforcement as well as the uniformed services against the threat of “infiltration” of “far right” extremists.
The bill says nothing of the threat of infiltration posed by far-left groups, or from jihadist groups. On January 19th, the FBI arrested a U.S. Army private for seeking to join ISIS and who sought to convey U.S. military tactics to the terrorist group.
This attempt to politicize domestic security –especially of the U.S. military—is unlikely to cool tensions or advance the unity policy that Biden spoke of in his inaugural address. Austin would have better served Biden, and domestic tranquility, if he would have used the opportunity before Congress to condemn efforts to malign U.S. troops, and asserted his confidence in their loyalty to the U.S. Constitution to which they owe their allegiance.