Don't throw the honorable out with the bathwater
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: February 19, 2021
Recently, the reputation of the military has been tarnished by Capitol riot reports indicating that a significant number of those arrested have served. Although extremism in the ranks is not a new problem, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin saw the riot as a “wake-up call.” On Feb. 3, Austin ordered a 60-day stand-down for all military commanders to meet with troops to discuss racism and extremism.
Even though "DOD policy expressly prohibits military personnel from actively advocating supremacist, extremist or criminal gang doctrine, ideology or causes,” the mandatory stand-down is an aggressive step in figuring out why one in three active service members reported evidence of white supremacy and/or extremism within their units in a 2019 poll, up from the previous year.
I applaud the aggressive stance being taken by DoD leadership. Racism and violence has no place in our military. Regardless of statistics, even one bigot or extremist in our incredibly diverse and talented service is one too many.
However, while reading reports on the Capitol attack, I’ve been disheartened that the idiocy of a few has damaged the reputation of 1.3 million active duty and 18 million veterans. As a Navy spouse whose husband served proudly for 28 years, I know that “guilt by association” affects the morale of military family members, too.
It doesn’t take a military strategist to figure out that an all-volunteer force is only effective if — in a country where less than one-half of one percent of the population is willing to serve — the risk-reward proposition offers positive recognition. However, some reporting on the military-connected Capital rioters have failed to mention that the vast majority of men and women who serve do so honorably.
In fact, a few have implied that military folks are not to be trusted at all.
As a military-connected person, I consume news with a filter — I know that these implications play into an uninformed public perception of military as Rambo-type nationalists waving rebel flags. The military families I’ve known over three decades are overwhelmingly decent, diverse, law-abiding, thoughtful people.
But on Jan. 18, 2021, as 25,000 National Guard troops were assembling to protect the Capitol Building, the President-elect, Congress and all those gathering for Inauguration Day; U.S. Representative Steve Cohen said in a CNN interview, “The [National] Guard is 90-some-odd percent male … they’re probably not more than 25 percent of the people that are protecting us who voted for Biden. The other 75 percent … might want to do something.” When CNN reporter Jim Scutto asked if Cohen had seen any evidence of insider threats in the military, he said, “Actually not, Jim, but you draw a circle … the people who were for Trump and not for Biden, … the zone of folks who you’d be suspect of. The suspect group is large.”
Although Cohen was immediately hit with widespread criticism for his inaccurate statements, I wondered, “How many watched that CNN morning show and believed what they heard?”
Then, on the Jan. 21 episode of “All Things Considered,” NPR reported that 20 percent of defendants in Capitol riots cases served in the military.
My heart sank. Can this be true?
On the Feb. 10 episode of “Morning Edition,” NPR claimed that 31 of 212 defendants are “military veterans [who] account for about 15% of those criminally charged in the Capitol riot.” However, NPR’s searchable database indicates that they skewed their own statistics to fit the insider-threat narrative.
NPR lumped two law enforcement defendants with no military service into the pool of 31 “military” defendants and included three veterans who were only arrested for violating the 6 p.m. city curfew. One veteran was not at the Capitol building, but was charged for allegedly threatening statements he made on social media afterwards. Another “veteran” had enlisted in the Marines but separated during basic training. Only two defendants are serving currently, both in the Army Reserves.
Details are important when the morale of millions who serve our country honorably is at stake. Reckless statements by pundits, politicians and the media may play into the fears of the misinformed, but they do nothing to serve truth and justice.