House Democrats on Wednesday sounded alarms about White supremacist groups in the U.S. targeting military veterans for recruitment.
Democrats on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee contended that veterans are more vulnerable to recruitment by the extremist fringe and are increasingly coaxed into joining the ranks of White supremacists.
“The corrupting influence of domestic violent extremist groups that recruit veterans is a critical issue at a time where our nation remains deeply divided,” House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, California Democrat, said as he launched the first in a series of planned hearings on the topic.
Republicans on the panel countered that the Democrats were perpetuating false narratives and painting veterans in a bad light.
The committee’s top Republican, Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois, said “headline-grabbing” news reports of veterans in extremist groups don’t tell the whole story.
“There is very little data on how many veterans are actually involved in violent extremism and the actions that follow,” he said. And there is no question that the vast majority of veterans are law-abiding and peaceful. We cannot let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch.”
Democrats presented several experts who testified that the White supremacist threat was growing and infecting the veteran community.
“The pace, scope, and scale of far-right extremism have provably increased and are escalating rapidly,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University.
She described an “explosion of far-right violence” in the last five years, including White supremacists and far-right extremists responsible for two-thirds of domestic terrorism plots in 2020.
Other researchers see different patterns.
Lora Reis, a senior homeland security research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said much of the testimony from the expert panel continued a false narrative that she said is being built by the Biden administration to target Republicans.
The number of domestic terrorist attacks remains quite small despite being identified by President Biden’s Department of Homeland Security as one of the top threats facing the country, she said, adding that the threats posed by leftist extremist groups such as Antifa are often ignored.
Ms. Reis said there were roughly 48 domestic terrorism attacks between 2018 and 2019, before the wave of Black Lives Matter and Antifa riots in 2020.
“So very small numbers, and yet this is what the left is focusing on and running with and continuing this narrative of domestic violence and White supremacists, specifically being the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland,” she said in an interview. “They completely ignore what actually happened in 2020 they don’t mention Antifa or BLM. And so this is completely biased, and it’s being used to go after conservatives and in the hearing instance of this hearing to go after veterans and silenced them from free speech.”
Still, extremism in the military has been a focus of Pentagon leaders after several active duty service members were identified in the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin vowed to root out extremism within the services during his confirmation hearing just weeks after the attack. Last Spring, the Pentagon ordered a Department of Defense-wide “stand down” to discuss the scourge of extremism.