A large number of the pro-Trump rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol had ties to the military.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on Wednesday attacked the Pentagon's efforts to root out extremists within the U.S. military and minimized concerns about the proliferation of antisemitic materials among members of the armed forces.
The military is in the midst of a review of extremism in the ranks in all services in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump, who numbered among them a high percentage of current and former service members.
Gaetz used his time during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on "Extremism in the Armed Forces" to lambaste the ongoing review, calling it "total nonsense."
"Today the House Armed Services Committee is engaged in a review of constitutionally protected expression by our troops — how utterly weak of us," said Gaetz.
He said the hearing's purpose was to "gaslight the targeting of U.S. military patriots who do not share preapproved politics" to advance the cause of "woke supremacy." Gaetz said the review of military extremism is a ploy to convert the military "from an able institution to an institution controlled by the political left."
On Feb. 5, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the armed forces to conduct a one-day "stand down," a day to be set aside to address the issue of extremism within the ranks, within 60 days. In a memo ordering the review, Austin said,
We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies. Service members, DoD civilian employees, and all those who support our mission, deserve an environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment. It is incumbent upon each of us to ensure that actions associated with these corrosive behaviors are prevented.
Leaders have the discretion to tailor discussions with their personnel as appropriate, but such discussions should include the importance of our oath of office; a description of impermissible behaviors; and procedures for reporting suspected, or actual, extremist behaviors in accordance with the DoDI. You should use this opportunity to listen as well to the concerns, experiences, and possible solutions that the men and women of the workforce may proffer in these stand-down sessions.
An analysis by NPR of the individuals facing charges related to the insurrection on Jan. 6 found that 20% of participants had served or were serving in the U.S. military, compared with 7% of the entire U.S. population.
Notably, Gaetz was among the Republican members of Congress who challenged the certification of the results of voting in the Electoral College in the 2020 presidential election showing that Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump after the insurrection had occurred.
Gaetz has been a prominent supporter of Trump, frequently traveling alongside and rallying support for him.
Far-right extremists have specifically targeted military ranks for recruitment, according to Pentagon officials. Researchers who track the activities of extremist groups say they seek to incorporate people with military training into their ranks as part of a strategy to increase their lethality.
Gaetz's incendiary rhetoric echoes conservative criticism of a 2009 warning from the Department of Homeland Security about the threat of right-wing extremism.
The report, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," was derided by conservative pundits as a "hit job" and slammed by then-House Minority Leader John Boehner as "offensive and unacceptable." Bowing to criticism, then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano withdrew the report.
During the hearing on Wednesday, Gaetz also defended the "Pepe the Frog" cartoon that has been associated with the Trump movement and antisemitism.
"Does having a Pepe the Frog meme somewhere on your phone make you a dangerous extremist? Is it now included in the list of hate symbols distributed right alongside neo-Nazi symbols?" Gaetz asked. "How ludicrous."
"It was inevitable that, as the meme proliferated in on-line venues such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, which have many users who delight in creating racist memes and imagery, a subset of Pepe memes would come into existence that centered on racist, anti-Semitic or other bigoted themes," the Anti-Defamation League has said of the use of the cartoon.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.