Veterans less likely to support hate or extreme political groups: NPR
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The Pentagon continues to investigate the case of Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, who is accused of leaking sensitive information. The military apparently missed signs that Teixeira may have been stockpiling weapons and preparing for a race war.
Last week, Pentagon officials admitted they had implemented only one of six major recommendations to combat extremism in the ranks. And the recent guilty plea of an active-duty Marine who stormed into the capital on January 6, 2021, gives the impression that veterans and some service members are rounding out the ranks of extremist groups in America.
But these individual cases paint an overall poor impression, according to a new national survey of veterans by the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan think tank.
“We found that support for extremist groups as well as extremist ideologies was lower than what we find in surveys representative of the general public,” said Todd Helmus, senior behavioral researcher at RAND.
Extremist groups recruiting into the military and the veteran community have been on the Pentagon’s radar for years. Following the January 6 riots, a significant number of veterans were charged and many media outlets suggested it was a national phenomenon.
But the actual number of service members and veterans with ties to extremists turned out to be far lower than many thought, Helmus says. Yet the narrative was established.
“These initial reports have caused a great deal of fear and concern,” he said. “But no one has actually looked at the numbers.”
Below the national average
RAND conducted a nationwide survey of nearly 1,000 veterans. One percent of veterans said they support white supremacy, compared to 7% of non-veterans. Vets expressed support for the far-right Proud Boys at 4%, compared to 9% for non-veterans.
While the vast majority of deadly political violence in America comes from the far right, RAND also polled opinions on Antifa. About 10% of the general public said they supported the far-left movement, while only 5.5% of veterans said they supported Antifa.
Violent extremist groups seek to recruit veterans for their skills, Brown says.
“On average, vets seem very resilient to these efforts. And so I think some of the characteristics that drive you to serve your country will help protect you against forces that would undermine your country,” he said.
Brown and Helmus are no veterans and said they were pleasantly surprised by the findings. Former US Marine Joe Plenzler was not surprised.
“If veterans are overrepresented in the Jan. 6 crowd, it’s important to remember that they’re also overrepresented in the halls of Congress. They’re overrepresented in state legislatures, they’re overrepresented on city councils,” says Plenzler.
“I think when people raise their hands in the air and swear to support and defend the constitution, that oath doesn’t end when we leave the Ministry of Defence,” he said. “It’s something that the overwhelming majority of us carry with us until the time when, you know, we leave this planet.”
Plenzler is a board member of a group called We the Veterans. The group recruits veterinarians to fill the national shortage of election workers.
“We had a story from a Vietnam veteran in New Jersey. At his polling place, one guy walked in with a Biden hat and another guy walked in with a red Make America Great Again hat. He politely told them to take them away. and they did it without incident,” said Ellen Gustafson, who co-founded the band.
Gustafson says the Vietnam veteran who asked the men to remove their partisan hats was wearing a 101st Airborne hat — which isn’t political, and that’s the point.
“There are a lot of people in America looking at our military and veteran community as you know, ‘woke up,’” Gustafson said. “And then, in another media silo, you could easily infer that our military is full of white supremacists. As a military spouse who lives in this community, I know that’s not true.”