On Wednesday, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing on the recent rise of domestic violent extremist groups and how they're targeting active and retired military members in their recruitment efforts. Extremism within the ranks is nothing new — both the Department of Homeland Security and terror experts have for years warned of domestic violent extremists in the armed forces — but ever since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the presence of active-duty military and veterans among the rioters who carried it out, there's been renewed concern about the issue.
But while two panels of expert witnesses testified about the problem, citing data and research that show not only that the problem exists but also that it's on the rise, Republican members of the committee repeatedly tried to derail the hearing by attacking their Democratic colleagues and the witnesses who testified.
In his opening remarks, ranking member Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) falsely accused committee Chair Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) of making the hearing a partisan exercise that would harm the reputations of veterans.
"It grabs at the headlines when veterans are accused of becoming violent extremists," Bost said. "But there is very little data on how many veterans are actually involved in violent extremism. ... We cannot let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch."
Bost wasn't entirely wrong in his comment about the lack of data, but as Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University, said in her testimony, "We suffer from a significant lack of data on veteran attitudes and support for extremist movements, although we do know from repeated incidents that veterans are frequently and disproportionately engaged in violent extremist action in the U.S. Army."
Bost was far from the only Republican on the committee to attack his Democratic colleagues. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) opened his remarks with a harsh message to Takano: "I hope every veteran in America is watching this hearing today and hearing from you and the majority in control of this committee that our veterans are so stupid and susceptible to becoming domestic terrorists that you and the Democrats have to save them from it," Banks said. "It's widely offensive and dangerous."
Banks then went on to focus much of his time questioning and mocking past tweets by Miller-Idriss addressing the trend of right-wing figures boasting about their consumption of red meat as performative masculinity. "Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, you have presented numerous concerning statements that may lead people to question your credibility," Banks said. "Dr. Miller, I had a hamburger last night. Does eating red meat make me an extremist?"
Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), a freshman member of Congress who has become known for his extremist views and what some observers say are ties to white nationalism, joined in remotely from a mountain somewhere in his home district in North Carolina to slam his Democratic colleagues and the expert witnesses participating in the hearing. "The only extremism I am aware of that exists in a large manner inside of our military is an extreme level of patriotism," he said. "I do not appreciate this hearing. Veterans are being derided and spit upon."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.