Former Trump official falsely claims ‘there is no evidence of extremism’ in the military

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Then-Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commanding general, Multi-National Corps Iraq, in Iraq. Austin became defence secretary in January. Defence Department

A commentator on a right-wing media network claimed that “there is no evidence of extremism” in the US military and that steps to address that concern was an example of a “cancel culture” against conservatives.

Christian Whiton, a former State Department official during the Trump and George W. Bush administrations, said he had reservations about the Defence Department’s 60-day stand-down for all its military forces in order to root out extremist leanings.

The US military has come under intense scrutiny following the January 6 riots on Capitol Hill, in which numerous rioters, including a woman who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer, were veterans. The incident has renewed calls by congressional lawmakers to adequately vet its recruits and service members for white nationalism and other ties to extremist groups.

“Each service, each command and each unit can take the time out to have these needed discussions with the men and women of the force,” a Pentagon official said Wednesday, adding that senior leaders were still exploring how to tackle the issue on an institutional level.

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National Guard troops at the US Capitol. Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

Conservative commentators expressed concern over the stand-down, claiming that the Jan. 6 insurrection was an isolated incident and that the military does not have white nationalists or other extremists in its ranks.

“I’m very worried that this is ‘cancel culture’ coming to the military,” Whiton said on Newsmax, adding that “there is no evidence of extremism in the military.”

Fox News opinion host Laura Ingraham in a segment on Thursday also railed against the new directive, framing it as an “ideological and un-American purge of the US military.”

“Why should we fund an organisation that Democrats plan to use not to protect us, but to restrain us in order to protect themselves and their grip on power,” Ingraham said during her program.

Removing extremists is a long-standing Defence Department prerogative, and is increasingly pressing after veterans were a substantial portion of the rioters. Of the 140 people who faced charges in connection with the January 6 riots, nearly 20% were military veterans, according to an NPR report published that same month. One man arrested is a current National Guardsman. Prosecutors accused a former Marine of being one of the most violent rioters.

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A militia member wears an Oathkeeper militia patch in the parking lot of a Hampton Inn in Louisville, Kentucky, while being confronted by protesters on September 24, 2020. Daniel Shular/Insider

Military officials have also acknowledged that extremist ideologies were a threat.

“We clearly recognise the threat from domestic extremists, particularly those who espouse white supremacist or white nationalist ideologies,” a Pentagon official said in mid-January. “We are actively involved in always trying to improve our understanding of where the threat is coming from as a means of understanding and taking action.”

Whiton, however, accused defence officials of singling out conservative service members “based on nothing.”

Whiton did not respond to a request for comment.

Senior officials have widely concurred that more attention needed to be focused on racial injustices within the services. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr., the first African-American service chief, in a poignant video message in June recounted his personal experience with racial injustice during his career.

“As the Commander of Pacific Air Forces, a senior leader in our Air Force, and an African-American, many of you may be wondering what I’m thinking about the current events surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd,” Brown said in his statement.

“I’m thinking about the Airmen who don’t have a life similar to mine and don’t have to navigate through two worlds,” Brown added. “I’m thinking about how these Airmen view racism, whether they don’t see it as a problem since it doesn’t happen to them or whether they’re empathetic.”