Martin Heinrich is among 14 U.S. senators calling for an investigation into white supremacy in the military after rioters, including one waving a Confederate flag, ransacked the U.S. Capitol last week.
A number of military veterans and service members took part in the Jan. 6 insurrection, creating concern they were recruited by violent extremists, including those driven by racist motives and ideology, the senators said in a letter Thursday to Sean O’Donnell, the Defense Department’s acting inspector general.
“The issue of white supremacy and extremist ideology within the ranks of our military is not new, but the attack on the Capitol makes clear this alarming trend must be immediately addressed,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to launch a comprehensive investigation into instances of white supremacist and violent fringe extremist activity within the military.”
They asked O’Donnell to make recommendations for each of the military branches to address, prevent and neutralize extremist ideology.
Heinrich and his office couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
Several rioters linked to the military expressed on social media their affinity for far-right groups and conspiracy theories, investigators have found.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Larry Rendell Brock Jr., who was photographed wearing full combat gear and carrying plastic zip-tie handcuffs, referred on social media posts to the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters — both militant anti-government groups. At a court hearing, a prosecutor said Brock had been fired from a job for making threatening and racist comments in the workplace, according to news reports.
Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot during the riot, supported QAnon, a far-right conspiracy group that claims Democrats are part of a deep-state, Satan-worshipping cabal that engages in child sex trafficking and seeks to destroy President Donald Trump.
In 2018, Babbitt posted a video online that accused Democratic leaders of allowing immigrants to cross California’s southern border and destroy America’s economy.
Senators also pointed to Navy veteran Jacob Angeli, the self-described “QAnon shaman” who sported fur and horns and painted his face red, white and blue for the Capitol assault. Although a fierce advocate of wild conspiracy theories, Angeli hasn’t indicated he prescribes to white supremacy.
Still, white nationalism was on full display, such as a man toting a Confederate flag in a hallway and another man wearing a T-shirt that said “Camp Auschwitz,” a reference to a Nazi death camp used in the Holocaust.
A ProPublica report identified several high-profile hate groups, including the Proud Boys, which promoted the protest-turned-riot, with some leaders and members taking photos and videos of each other inside the Capitol during the onslaught.
Senators wrote that their concerns about white supremacists penetrating the military go beyond the assault on the Capitol.
“It has been widely reported that white supremacists are joining the military and permeating the ranks,” they wrote. “Although some recruits with extremist views attempt to join the military, it is also common for this destructive ideology to take hold during military service.”
In February 2020, a Southern Poverty Law Center leader testified to the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel about the growing problem of hate groups infiltrating the military and reeling in service members.
“Because service members often possess unique training and capabilities, those who are indoctrinated into white supremacist ideology may represent a significant threat to national security and the safety of our communities,” Lecia Brooks, the center’s chief of staff, told the subcommittee.
Brooks noted the center has tracked white supremacy in the military since 1986 and urged officials to take systematic action. But this issue has not been taken as seriously as it should at the highest levels of our government, she said.
A 2019 poll by the Military Times showed 36 percent of service members surveyed reported seeing signs of white nationalism or racist ideology in the military, up from 22 percent the year before, Brooks said.
And more than half of service members of color said they experienced racist incidents, compared with 42 percent in 2017, Brooks said, adding it didn’t help that in 2019 the Senate changed the military spending bill to remove “white nationalists” as part of the required screening for enlistees.
In their letter, senators wrote that is changing. The 2021 defense spending bill creates a deputy inspector general to oversee diversity and inclusion as well as ferret out white supremacist, extremist and criminal activity within the military.
Senators say they’re also pressing defense officials to work with personnel as they transition out of the military so they’re less prone to misinformation, conspiracy theories and extremist groups trying to recruit them — “the perpetuation of which the FBI has deemed a domestic terrorism threat,” the senators wrote.