The US Military Is an Extremism Incubator

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It was around noon and I was texting a friend about who-knows-what when I added, almost afterwards, “But they seem to be invading the Capitol on Monday.” I wasn’t as smug as it might sound on January 6th, especially as it became increasingly clear who “they” were and what they were doing. Five people would die in the attack on the Capitol, including a police officer, and two more would commit suicide after the incident. One hundred and forty cops would be wounded (lost eye, heart attack, broken ribs, broken discs, concussions), and the collateral damage itself would be difficult to take.

I’m not particularly sentimental about someone who can grow up to be president and all of that – in 2017, someone did – but damn it! This was democracy under actual, not rhetorical, attack.

As the list of people charged in connection with this riot grew, the methods of analyzing their possible motivations became increasingly creative: at least nine of the rioters who broke into the Capitol had a story of Violence against women;; Almost 60 percent had had Money problems;; and most importantly, 50 or 14.5 percent of the 356 people arrested most recently had military ties, as did the woman who was killed by a police officer that day. (Veterans and active-duty personnel make up 7.5 percent of the US population.) More than a fifth of veterans arrested have been charged with “conspiracy”.

The need to understand why an estimated 800 people raided the Capitol, attacked the police, and threatened elected officials, journalists, and the very functioning of American democracy is both practical and emotional. The thought that we know what motivated the rioters makes their rebellion a little more manageable (at least for me) and could only help prevent something like that from happening again.

Given my background – I’ve been writing about soldiers and veterans for years – my management technique has been to examine the military links to this attack.

I am hardly alone. At one of the few times this century, other than Veterans Day, when American journalists seem to have remembered that our military was vital to our national experience, some of them began cover this link. A regularly updated NPR list shows that almost everyone with military connections in the Capitol that day were veterans. Some had previously been stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan; one had worked on the President’s helicopters and would therefore have received a top-secret security clearance (like another of the rioters); One person who wasn’t actually at the Capitol but the FBI is looking for conspiracy allegations was an employee of former Congressman Ron Paul. and one had even been in the Peace Corps. Almost all of them were men and almost all of them were white. Two were citadel cadets, but only two were on active service. ((One of these had come to work in a New Jersey Navy yard adorned with a Hitler mustache and hairstyle in the past and reportedly made anti-Semitic comments on a daily basis. He was admonished about the mustache; the comments continued.)

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