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Veteran Groups: Our Community Has an Extremism Problem

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Each member of the U.S. armed forces swears an oath to protect the homeland, but a concerning number of former military personnel appear to be contributing to the greatest threat to the nation: domestic extremism.

Veteran groups tell The Liberty Buzz this is a major problem, and many are calling for greater accountability both from within the community and from President Joe Biden’s administration, which has acknowledged this issue.

The inordinate number of veterans turning to radical ideology was put on display for the nation on January 6, when the deadly riots in support of then-President Donald Trump marked the first attack on the iconic Capitol Building in nearly 180 years. Rather than facing a foreign army, however, Washington found itself overrun by an internal threat, one whose ranks were swelled with veterans.

Will Fischer, senior adviser to the VoteVets progressive political action committee, said he was troubled by the role veterans played in the events of that fateful day.

“The amount that veterans and servicemembers are being bombarded with disinformation, leading to many latching on to conspiracies and the kind of radical insurrectionist act that we saw on January 6th, is disturbing,” Fischer told The Liberty Buzz.

He said that veterans organizations such as his own and the federal government both have a role to play in combating dangerous trends laced with fallacy and mistruth.

“We must do a better job at monitoring the spread of online disinformation, and nipping it in the bud, before it takes hold,” Fischer said. “We have to empower veterans who believe in the truth to spread the truth—especially to their fellow veterans and service members. We cannot afford to sit back and just think that no one will believe in these conspiracies.”

“People do, and people are,” he added.

A U.S. Army veteran aligned with the far-right Oath Keepers, a militia that draws membership from former military, law enforcement and first responder personnel, takes a photo as he protests inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, in Washington, D.C. Veterans were among those storming and defending the Capitol on January 6, and were also among those killed from both sides.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Yet hateful mindsets continue to persist and plague U.S. military communities, both active and veteran. Some worry the messaging being put forward by official channels is too broad. Neither the Pentagon nor V.A. specifically identify which extremist or radical ideology is of concern.

A number of conservative politicians and commentators have sought to capitalize on the ambiguity in official statements regarding turmoil at the Capitol to shift the blame from organizations associated with the political right to those more commonly linked to the left. Scores of Republicans named organizations such as Black Lives Matter and antifa as being behind the attack, despite the event’s overt pro-Trump tones.

Carla Hill, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said the record must be set straight to truly understand what has brought the nation to this point.

“The Capitol insurrection was a product of far-right extremism and QAnon conspiracies,” Hill told The Liberty Buzz. “We need to be clear-eyed about the nature of this threat. Blaming Antifa or Black Lives Matter for the Capitol insurrection is irresponsible and plays into false conspiracy theories.”

Naveed Shah, head of government affairs at the Common Defense political action committee, said the Biden administration must come out in no uncertain terms to identify the specific threat of white supremacy and other far-right strains.

“For them to keep saying that extremism is a problem without saying explicitly that white supremacy or Christian identity-type extremism is the issue is really missing the point,” Shah told The Liberty Buzz.

He said that federal law enforcement bodies such as the FBI have dedicated insufficient resources to tackling domestic extremism, while investing heavily in combatting Islamic extremism, an ideology that has hurt and killed considerably fewer people on U.S. soil than far-right violence since 9/11.

This blind spot, he said, has allowed the domestic threat to fester.

“The results of that were the insurrection on January 6, that was a movement that grew in large part because it was ignored, because it was not addressed directly by our leaders,” Shah said. “That’s a huge problem, and if we continue to not address it, it’s the elephant in the room that will continue to grow, and cause further conflicts like that, and next time more people might get hurt.”

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