Space Force Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier, who was sacked from his command following a book he wrote and comments he made about a growing influence of what he called “neo-Marxist-based” race and diversity programs in the military, has a powerful new ally on Capitol Hill: the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma has joined a growing list of GOP lawmakers who say they are concerned they are witnessing an increasingly politicized environment developing in a Department of Defense that seems to target service members making conservative or traditional statements that would have received little attention before the Biden administration.
Col. Lohmeier’s abrupt dismissal earlier this month, which is now being investigated by the Air Force’s own inspector general, is providing Exhibit A for those with questions of whether political correctness, “critical race theory” and anti-conservative biases are finding a home at the Pentagon.
“I have many questions about how the [Air Force] has handled the case of Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier,” Mr. Inhofe said. “Members of our military should not only be able to speak out against Marxism, but they should be encouraged to do so — as long as they follow the rules and laws already in place.”
Mr. Inhofe said he will continue looking into ways for the Congress to ensure that service members, regardless of their ideologies, will have the same free speech rights as all Americans.
Rep. Mike Rogers, the ranking GOP member on the House Armed Services Committee, echoed Mr. Inhofe’s remarks.
“My Republican colleagues and I hear regularly from active-duty and retired service members that even holding conservative values is now enough to endanger a service member’s military career,” the Alabama lawmaker said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wasted little time pressing the case that extremism in the ranks is a problem and began issuing a number of memos and statements about the policies of the new administration. He backed President Biden’s direction opening up the military to transgender people; called climate change an “existential threat” to the nation; and, following the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol where one active duty Marine and a handful of reservists were later arrested, ordered a service-wide, one-day “standdown” to address the problem in the ranks.
Maj. Andrew Calvert, who has been an Army chaplain for 16 years, received a likely career-ending “memorandum of reprimand” because he opposed changing the Defense Department rules on transgender troops and made a comment about it from his personal Facebook account.
An Army investigation concluded that Maj. Calvert, currently assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, was guilty of discrimination, online misconduct and violating Defense Department rules regarding political speech. He is being represented by Mike Berry, an attorney with the religious freedom advocacy group First Liberty.
“My concern is that people of faith who are serving or want to serve in our military are being told they are no longer welcome in,” Mr. Berry said in an interview with The Washington Times.
Setting the tone
In another case, an Army public affairs officer at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is now facing a formal Army inquiry over a recent comment he made on his personal Twitter page that some people considered sexist and demeaning to women.
“We need to do everything we can to ensure our military is strong, capable and ready. Ensuring our service members have robust First Amendment protections is one of the most important things we can do to protect national security,” Mr. Berry said.
Rep. Mike Waltz, a retired Army Green Beret, said it’s not surprising to find commanders now issuing harsh actions against personnel for alleged infractions that might have gone unnoticed a year ago.
“The memos [from Mr. Austin] really set the tone,” said Mr. Waltz, a Republican from Florida.
The Pentagon is pushing back against the notion that commanders are imposing harsh penalties against conservative-minded troops in order to gain favor with senior Pentagon leadership.
“There are no ‘tea leaves to read,’ and there’s no effort by senior Defense Department leadership to purge people from the service based on their political or religious beliefs,” said chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby earlier this month. Mr. Austin “is making decisions based on his sound judgment and years of experience in the military and not through any kind of partisan or political lens.”
Pentagon officials also deny they are targeting far-right viewpoints in the ranks while ignoring the threat from violence-minded, left-wing groups as well. Soldiers sympathizing with Black Lives Matter, they say, are different from White supremacist sympathizers and those who took part in protests such as the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol assault, Ramon Colon-Lopez, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this year.
“There were people advocating [against] social injustice, racial injustice and everything else, and it is the right of citizens,” Mr. Colon-Lopez said. “If it’s an organization that is actually imposing harm, threat, destruction, criminal activity and so on, then we don’t condone that behavior.”
But some members of Congress are complaining that cadets at West Point are being indoctrinated with critical race theory lectures and seminars. Mr. Waltz said the teachings “pit cadets against one another” under “the pressure of ‘woke-ism.’”
The seminars seem to warn the future Army leaders that they should treat their fellow officers and soldiers differently based on race and on socioeconomic background, he said.
“In a combat environment, where every soldier must equally share the burden of danger, I cannot think of a notion more destructive to unit cohesion and morale,” he said.
The Lohmeier case distills almost perfectly the contrasting pressures at work.
The lieutenant colonel, commander of the 11th Space Warning Squadron at Colorado’s Buckley Air Force Base, was relieved of his post earlier this month for comments he made defending his book’s thesis on a military-themed podcast.
In an interview with “Information Operation” host L. Todd Wood, a former columnist with The Washington Times, Lt. Col Lohmeier argued that leftist ideas and practices embraced by the government, academia, the media and now the U.S. military are proving a divisive force in the ranks and that the Defense Department should take steps to return to a more “politically nonpartisan” course.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, who heads Space Operations Command, effectively fired Lt. Col. Lohmeier within days, citing a loss of confidence over his ability to carry out his command of a Space Force unit that detects ballistic missile launches.
“The decision was based on public comments made by Lt. Col. Lohmeier” in the podcast, a Space Force spokesperson told the news website Military.com, which first broke the story. “Lt. Gen. Whiting has initiated [an investigation] on whether these comments constituted prohibited partisan political activity.”
The lieutenant colonel said he did not consider his book — now a best-seller on Amazon.com’s military book list because of the controversy — a partisan political work and told Military.com he was informed by his superiors that a pre-publication review by the Pentagon was “not required.” He said on the podcast he had received a number of notes expressing gratitude and appreciation from those in the ranks for his book.
In a letter to senior officials at the Department of the Air Force and Space Force, Mr. Waltz joined more than 20 other GOP lawmakers in calling for the reinstatement of Lt. Col. Lohmeier. They point to the number of serving U.S. military officials who denounced Fox News host Tucker Carlson for comments he made on his political opinion show.
“There were no actions taken against any of these senior leaders who publicly, in uniform and from official Department of Defense accounts, lambasted a private U.S. citizen for having an opinion regarding defense policy which differed from the official [Department of Defense] policy,” they wrote.
There seems to be no material difference between public statements made by many senior serving Pentagon military leaders while on duty and those made by Lt. Col. Lohmeier in a completely unofficial capacity, the lawmakers said.
“The sole difference seems to be the ideological content of his remarks,” they wrote.