Republicans claim it's offensive to vet National Guard troops for potential security threats following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
Republicans are becoming increasingly upset over reports this week that federal authorities are vetting military members tasked with securing President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, to screen for any security threats amid fallout from the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller stated Monday that officials were "leaving no stone unturned in securing the capital" and that "this type of vetting often takes place by law enforcement for significant security events."
According to the Associated Press, 12 members of the U.S. Army National Guard in total have already been taken off security detail for the inauguration due to their connections to fringe far-right extremist militia groups. Several other service members were also allegedly involved in the attack on the Capitol, carried out by right-wing extremists bent on stopping Biden from taking office, acting at the behest of Donald Trump himself, who incited the riots with repeated lies about widespread election fraud.
In a report Friday, the Associated Press noted that at least 22 current or former members of the military or police had some level of involvement in the riots at the Capitol. Twelve more, the report added, who were as yet unnamed, were also under investigation.
Despite this, a number of Republicans have expressed anger over the decision to screen National Guard members ahead of the inauguration, claiming that doing so is offensive and disrespectful to the military.
Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen suggested on Monday that guard members required extra scrutiny given the demographics of Trump's base and the mob of extremists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
"The Guard is 90-some-odd percent male, and only about 20% of white males voted for Biden," Cohen said in a CNN interview. "There are probably not more than 25% of the people there protecting us who voted for Biden."
Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) claimed on Fox News Tuesday that he found the remarks "shocking."
"Shocking. I think every veteran, every guardsmen is offended by those comments," he said. "It is not about the person, it is about the oath, they take the same oath as every member of Congress, those guards, men and women, to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies."
"It's just offensive all around, and it’s insulting," he added. "At the end of the day, that’s why we need more veterans in Congress."
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott also expressed his disapproval Monday of any further "vetting" of Texas National Guard members — 1,000 of whom are slated to protect the inauguration — to expose any far-right extremist or white supremacist ties.
"This is the most offensive thing I've ever heard," Abbott tweeted on Monday. "No one should ever question the loyalty or professionalism of the Texas National Guard ... I authorized more than 1,000 to go to DC. I'll never do it again if they are disrespected like this."
Intelligence and law enforcement officials, however, are doggedly pursuing potential threats regardless of those criticisms.
A Monday briefing indicated that the FBI had identified adherents of QAnon — a baseless, far-right conspiracy theory that claims a secret cabal of high-ranking celebrities and political elites engage in sex-trafficking children and cannibalism, which Justice Department officials have deemed a domestic terror threat — discussing the possibility of posing as members of the National Guard to infiltrate the inauguration.
It's not the first time violence committed by military or former military members has been linked to far-right extremist groups: A far-right Army reservist and two other vets were arrested in 2020 for planning to commit acts of violence at a Las Vegas Black Lives Matter protest; and in June that same year, an Air Force sergeant who shot a sheriff's deputy in California was found to have ties to the right-wing extremist "boogaloo" movement.
In January 2020, Coast Guard officer Christopher Hasson was sentenced to 13 years in prison for allegedly planning a killing spree fueled by his white supremacist ideology.
Approximately 22% of U.S. service members in a 2019 Military Times survey said they had seen evidence of white nationalist ideology in their ranks.
As far back as 2008, an FBI assessment noted that numerous military personnel were being targeted for recruitment by far-right extremist and white supremacist groups.
The assessment warned: "Military experience is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement as a result of recruitment campaigns by extremist groups and self-recruitment by veterans sympathetic to white supremacist causes. Extremist leaders seek to recruit members with military experience in order to exploit their discipline, knowledge of firearms, explosives and tactical skills as well as [in the case of active duty soldiers] their access to weapons and intelligence."
A 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security similarly warned of a resurgence of right-wing extremism and vulnerability among veterans and service members to far-right recruitment, but an uproar by Republicans caused it to later be rescinded.
The report had specifically warned of common recruitment practices targeting military and former military members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, noting that white supremacist groups might use former President Barack Obama's election to gather new members to their cause.
"I know that some veterans groups were offended by the fact that veterans were mentioned in this assessment, so I apologize for that offense. It was certainly not intended," then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at the time.
However, Napolitano added that the report had been defended by one of the country's largest veterans groups, Veterans of Foreign Wars, as vital and necessary.
"[The DHS report] should have been worded differently," then-VFW chief Glen M. Gardner Jr. stated at the time. Still, he said, "A government that does not assess internal and external security threats would be negligent of a critical public responsibility."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.