Lawmakers Challenge DOD Head To Confront Left-Wing Extremism

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin | Image by Chad J. McNeeley/Wikimedia Commons

A group of House Republicans confronted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin over whether he was taking left-wing extremism as seriously as he has professed to do when it comes to the right, citing the self-immolation protest in February by a U.S. Air Force airman who identified himself an anarchist.

A letter was sent to Austin, a retired Army general, spearheaded by Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-WI), a former Navy SEAL, and signed by seven other members of Congress, including Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and Morgan Luttrell (R-TX), both of whom served in the Navy.

The letter claimed the airman, Aaron Bushnell, was a self-professed anarchist whose ideology was “wholly incompatible with that of our constitutional republic and entirely inappropriate for a member of the United States Military who had taken an oath to defend it at all costs.”

Bushnell died when he set himself on fire in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. on February 25 to protest Israel’s ongoing military campaign against terrorists in Gaza.

The letter referenced the much-publicized campaign of the Department of Defense to rid the armed forces of “extremists,” which many on the right claimed to be aimed at those who held traditional or right-wing values or who were supporters of former President Donald Trump.

“Given your prior work in confronting extremism within the ranks, we are confident that you recognize the importance of a comprehensive approach to this challenge,” the Congress members wrote.

Austin spoke about ridding the military of “racists and extremists” during his confirmation hearing, and in 2021, Austin ordered military-wide stand-downs to address extremism, reported Reuters. Austin commissioned panels and studies to investigate potential “white nationalism” and neo-Nazi sentiments within the military’s ranks, reported The Intercept.

The stepped-up effort to find and expel racists in the ranks turned up fewer than 100 alleged instances of extremist activity in 2021, per Fox News.

The finding of so few instances did not come as a surprise to some.

“I noticed zero extremism during my time in the military,” said Matthew Griffin, a former Army Ranger, per Fox News. “None. Didn’t witness it at all.”

However, the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism stated that at least 188 people with military backgrounds were involved in the protests at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, lending more ammunition to those who want to see the military do more to combat purported right-wing extremism, per USA Today.

In contrast, a 2023 RAND Corporation Study found that support for extremism was lower among veterans than in the general population, Breitbart reported.

Nonetheless, some lawmakers have expressed skepticism when it comes to expecting the Biden administration to pursue left-wing extremism with the same fervor it has reserved for the right.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) expressed this sentiment when he confronted FBI Director Christopher Wray in a 2021 hearing.

“Former Attorney General Barr stated that the FBI has robust programs for white supremacy and militia extremism, but a significantly weaker anarchist extremism program,” Grassley said to Wray, per The Intercept.

“How do you plan to make your left-wing anarchist extremism program as robust as your white supremacy and malicious extremism program?” Grassley asked.

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