Editor’s note: This commentary is by Chuck DeVore, vice president of national initiatives for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Are the ranks of the U.S. military riddled with white supremacists? CNN thinks so, and won’t let the facts get in the way of this compelling narrative.
CNN makes its case in a story headlined, “Disproportionate number of current and former military personnel arrested in Capitol attack, CNN analysis shows.” This is both factually untrue and downright libelous. It dishonors the brave men and women who serve in our armed forces.
More broadly, fears over extremists secretly serving in the military were made official policy when new Secretary of Defense and former U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, III called for a military-wide “stand-down” to root out white supremacy and extremism.
A month earlier, Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, publicly accused the 25,000 National Guard soldiers who were deployed from across the nation to protect the U.S. Capitol and the inauguration of President Joe Biden of being “…predominantly more conservative” than the general population.
While being conservative doesn’t yet rise to the level of criminal behavior, Cohen elaborated, “You draw a circle first, and the first circle is people who voted for Trump and not for Biden, as far as … the zone of people who you’d be suspect of. The suspect group is large.”
Numerous polls and my own experience of serving for 24 years in the U.S. Army’s reserve components, the last few as a lieutenant colonel and deputy J-1 (personnel) of the California National Guard, confirms that, yes, the ranks of the military lean conservative. That is true of law enforcement as well.
Similarly, academics and journalists skew to the left. But the American military, an all-volunteer force since 1973, is peopled in proportions that closely hew to the national population (contrary to widespread misconception)—unlike the bubble-encased members of the new clerisy in media and the academe.
Having witnessed a version of what is to come during my Clinton-era service, I expect that soon, leftwing inquisitors, eager to make up for their four Lost Years under Trump, will be assigned to lead mass struggle sessions to expunge extremism. There will be auditoriums full of service-members who will be subjected to guilt-by-association harangues from the Woke.
The effect on morale, retention, recruiting and warfighting (you know, the reason why we have a military in the first place) will be caustic. Our national security will suffer—perhaps fatally.
Let’s return to CNN’s initial claim—that the knuckleheads at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot were disproportionately veterans and active-duty military. Per CNN, of those arrested, “21 of the 150, or 14%, are current or former members of the U.S. military. That is more than double the proportion of servicemen and women and veterans in the adult U.S. population…”
CNN reaches this conclusion with a little statistical slight-of-hand. Among the federal prison population, 93.3% of inmates are male. This is due, by and large, to the greater propensity among men to engage in risky—in this case, illegal—behavior. Similarly, 93.4% of truck drivers are men and 97.4% of loggers are men.
Of the 181 Capitol Hill Siege arrestees as of Feb. 4, 158, or 87.3% were men. It’s not a shock that men were disproportionately over-represented at the Capitol riot—after all, it was a knuckleheaded, high-risk activity. Men are also over-represented in the U.S. military. When the draft ended in 1973, women were less than 3% of military personnel. Today, they make up about 17% of the total force. By 2018, 9.2% of veterans were women, with 14% of all American adult men having served compared to 1.5% of women.
Returning to CNN’s claim, “14%, are current or former members of the U.S. military.” Now it starts to make sense; that 14% is what you would expect out of any random sample of men in America. So when CNN says the military-connected Capitol rioters represent “more than double the proportion of servicemen and women and veterans in the adult U.S. population,” understand that they achieve this trick by ignoring the fact that men comprise 87.3% of those arrested for Capitol rioting while making up 90% of veterans and 14% of the adult male population.
CNN further compounds its “analytical” error by noting, “In 2018, there were 1.3 million active-duty members of the services and 18 million veterans. Together, they comprised just 5.9% of the overall 327 million U.S. population at the end of 2018.” All well and good, but U.S. law and custom frowns upon recruiting child soldiers. Per the Census Bureau, the adult population of America was 255.2 million of 328.2 million in 2019, or 77%.
CNN also failed to include any of the 1.1 million members of the reserve components (only a portion of whom are counted as veterans), even as they helpfully note in the piece updated on Feb. 4 that, “Two of the people arrested are in the Army Reserve, and one is an Army National Guardsman.”
Thus, the relevant math isn’t CNN’s 19.3 million veterans and active service members for 5.9% of the total population, it’s 20.4 million veterans and currently serving members who comprise 8% of the adult population. Put another way, 18.3 million men served or are serving, comprising about 14.4% of the 127 million adult men.
CNN needs to immediately retract its fatally flawed “analysis” and attendant false headline.
In the swampy gloom of CNN’s math-challenged smear, we get the new secretary of defense pledging during his confirmation hearings to “rid our ranks of racists and extremists.” Yet there are mechanisms already in place to do just that from the very beginning of a would-be recruit’s contact with a branch of the U.S. military. Extremists, such as the neo-Nazis arrested for the Capitol riot, would have been turned away had they ever tried to join.
The broader question is whether there is actually a culture of white supremacy within the U.S. military. That’s what Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was darkly alluding to when he said, “There may be cultural issues we have to deal with here.”
Austin’s stated motivations come from his service with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in 1995, when three soldiers were arrested for the murder of a black couple. They styled themselves as skinheads, and the crime was racially motivated, according to law enforcement.
Fort Bragg, at about 57,000 soldiers, is one of the world’s largest military installations. The soldiers there are disproportionately young and male—the prime crime-committing cohort.
Nationwide, in 2019, men aged 18 to 24 committed 1.4 million criminal offenses of which 3,230 were murders (the murder rate was about double that in 1995) and 75,110 were violent crimes. If Fort Bragg were a city, statistics suggest that eight to 12 homicides would be committed by the base’s male soldiers every year, along with a total of about 225 violent felonies. Yet according to the U.S. Army Public Affairs office, Fort Bragg averaged 90 violent felonies per year from 2015 to 2019.
Naturally, we expect more from our soldiers than we do of the general population. They all swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution”—with their very lives, if required. They’re people we should honor and cherish. In short, patriots. Indeed, the military remains deserving of the high level of public trust it enjoys. In a 2020 Gallup poll on institutional trust, 72% of Americans placed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in the military. Congress scored 13%. Television news, 18%.
Instead of an unproductive and morale-destroying “stand down” over a phantom problem, Austin should simply instruct the officers and NCOs of the U.S. military to do their jobs—to foster a professional and respectful environment in the nation’s most critically-important and often-deadly calling.
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