After Donald Trump attacked the family of a fallen Muslim army captain, veterans’ groups from across the political spectrum are pushing back.
Paul Ethan, the managing director of the Vet Voice Foundation—a non-profit that looks to promote political activity among military veterans—said in an interview with The National Memo that Trump’s behavior was “stunning.”
Following a speech from Khizr Khan on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, the Republican candidate suggested that his wife Ghazala was not allowed to speak at the convention because of her religion and compared the family’s sacrifice to his own as a businessman.
“I’m stunned that this guy would behave so badly to a wonderful family and parents of an American hero,” said Ethan, who—having lost his father in the Vietnam War—is a Gold Star family member himself. “It’s tough to find words to describe how appalling a human being Trump is.”
Alexander McCoy, an organizer with Vets vs Hate—a grassroots network of veterans organizing rallies against the GOP candidate’s bigotry—said that Trump’s comments suggest a dangerous reality for his potential presidency.
“When I see the Khan family, I picture my own parents, and that’s what the other veterans I know do as well,” he said in an interview with The National Memo. “Should one of us have been killed overseas, the idea that the president of the United States would show disrespect or slander or attack our parents, no matter what they have to say, is fundamentally unacceptable.”
After rallies at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and in Colorado, Vets vs Hate organized a protest outside Trump Tower in New York City on Monday with Muslim leaders as well as other faith leaders from the area.
“We wanted to empower the voices of Muslims and Muslim women, who Trump has attacked and spread stereotypes about how they’re supposedly silent,” he said.
While Trump has in the past attempted to frame himself as a candidate that works for veterans specifically, both Ethan and McCoy pointed out that his record as well as his stated policy beliefs don’t show this same level of support.
Ethan said that by advocating for illegal practices—such as the use of torture or killing after the families of enemies–Trump is creating a “real problem” in which active duty members and veterans will be tested on their oath if asked to perform illegal activities.
“The military is going to obey the Constitution,” he said. “They take an oath to obey the constitution, not the president of the United States.”
And according to McCoy, many of Trump’s proposed veterans policies—such as privatizing the Department of Veterans Affairs—are opposed by a majority of even Republican veterans, while solutions such as a phone hotline are already in place.
“This is the latest in a long series of incidents of Donald Trump trying to use veterans as political props and lashing out when they refuse to be exploited,” McCoy said.
Indeed, after Trump backed out of a Republican debate in order to attend a veterans fundraiser, Vets vs Hate organized rallies to hold the GOP candidate accountable when it was revealed that he hadn’t even followed through on his promise to donate the money.
Looking forward, he said that Trump’s comments on Khan may push voters away.
“He must be so focused on himself that he lacks the fundamental empathy required to be a president,” McCoy said. “Voters are seeing his true colors in a way that is especially clear now but has been especially clear before too.”
For his part, Ethan—who has voted for candidates on either side of the aisle in the past—suggested that the outrage that Trump’s recent comments have inspired will continue to November.
“We have the emotion of the moment right now,” Ethan said. “The motion must carry forward to a real messaging effort that Mr. Trump’s statements are unacceptable, that they run counter to the values that we hold dear in the military and in the United States.”
Photo: Republican U.S. Presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer