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When Matt Gaetz tried to inject the hot-button topic of critical race theory into a congressional hearing with military leaders on Wednesday, he got straightened right out by defense chief Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley.
During a House Armed Services Committee hearing focusing on the services’ budgets, the Florida congressman claimed to have talked to military members about the recently ordered “stand down” to address extremism in the ranks—after many ex-military people were arrested for the January 6 insurrection.
“They say that your stand-down regarding extremism did not help the military, it hurt the military,” Gaetz said in initial remarks to Austin. “It caused service members to ‘otherize’ one another. It impaired group cohesion. And interesting to me is, I’ve heard those sentiments most frequently from units that are majority minority.”
“How should the Department of Defense think about critical race theory?” Gaetz finally asked Austin.
Austin shut down the question by clarifying that the U.S. military doesn’t even apply critical race theory, a decades-old academic concept that says racism can be found and upheld in political policy and institutions, in its training and teachings. And then, Gen. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, got a chance to unleash his thoughts on the matter when Democrat Rep. Chrissy Houlahan yielded some of her time to him.
“I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned and non-commissioned officers, of being quote ‘woke’ or something because we’re studying some theories that are out there,” Gen. Milley said.
The near two-minute rant went viral on social media.
“I want to understand white rage, and I’m white,” Milley said. “What is it that caused thousands of people to assault [the Capitol] building and try and overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? It’s important that we understand that, because our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Guardians, they come from the American people. So it is important that the leaders, now and in the future, try to understand it.”
The general’s rebuke comes after months of critical takes from conservatives who say the recognition of the country’s racist policies of the past actually hurts the country more than helps it. Many conservatives have used it as an opportunity to criticize the U.S.’ recent adoption of policies meant to be more inclusive and understanding, including President Biden scrapping the military ban on transgender soldiers, and states that hope to include lessons on slavery and institutional racism in their curriculum.
The topic of critical race theory has been a battleground for weeks, and it’s only getting worse. On Tuesday, for example, two people were arrested during a Virginia school board meeting after heated arguments broke out during discussions about adopting critical race theory into the curriculum.
Just last month, conservatives rallied around Lt. Colonel Matthew Lohmeier after he was dismissed from the U.S. Space Force for calling the New York Times’ 1619 Project about American slavery, “un-American” during an appearance on a conservative podcast.
“I’ve read Karl Marx, I’ve read Lenin. It doesn’t make me a communist,” Milley continued. “So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?”
Gaetz stared back and shook his head in disagreement as the general concluded his rant.
Milley wasn’t the only one who seemed fed up with Gaetz.
“I don’t know what the issue of critical race theory is and what the relevance [is] here with the Department,” Austin said. “I think that’s a spurious conversation.”