Blake Masters, the Republican nominee for Senate in Arizona, has repeatedly said the U.S. should clean house on the senior ranks of the military, pushing the claim that all the generals and admirals are “woke” and “left-wing” losers who’ve never won a war.
His solution? Fire them all, and promote “the most conservative colonels.”
“Your entire general class, they're left-wing politicians at this point. It's very hard to become a general without being some kind of left-of-center politician,” he said at an Apache Junction Ladies for President Trump event in August 2021, according to audio obtained by VICE News. “I would love to see all the generals get fired. You take the most conservative colonels, you promote them to general. Not because the ideology is important, but because the conservative colonels will be able to leave the ideology aside. They just care about an effective fighting force.”
This is far from an isolated comment. Masters, who won his primary with major financial help from his former employer and friend Peter Thiel and a key endorsement from former President Donald Trump, has repeatedly suggested that only conservatives can be trusted to set aside ideology and maintain an effective military—and that they’re the ones who should be in charge.
“I would love to see all the generals get fired. You take the most conservative colonels, you promote them to general.”
Masters explicitly called for a wholesale firing of the generals at least seven times between August 2021 and March 2022, according to a VICE News review of his remarks, and harshly criticized military leadership numerous other times.
“I think you probably want to fire most or all the generals and replace them with apolitical colonels, who will probably have conservative politics,” he said during a September 2021 Twitter Spaces event hosted by Josiah Lippincott, whose Twitter account has since been suspended, according to a recording of the event obtained by VICE News.
In November, Masters put out a tweet calling the top generals “woke corporate bozos” and released an accompanying video where he proclaimed “our military leadership is totally incompetent.”
Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, Masters’ opponent and a retired U.S. Navy captain and astronaut, featured that clip in his latest ad that looks to paint Masters, who has not served in the military, as an extremist.
It’s clear that Masters’ campaign video dissing the military’s top brass wasn’t a one-off.
“We just have to get serious again. And it means purging the military of the left-wing generals,” Masters said on the right-wing podcast Steak for Breakfast in February. “There's a lot of center-right or apolitical colonels that we can promote.”
“Basically every general above a two-star at this point is some kind of left-wing politician, and they need to be fired and retired, and you need to promote the apolitical colonels who actually want to be serious about, again, projecting lethality when called upon,” he said in March to Arizona conservative radio host Garret Lewis.
“We just have to get serious again. And it means purging the military of the left-wing generals.”
Peter Feaver, a former Navy lieutenant commander who served on the National Security Council during both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush’s administrations and the author of multiple books on civil-military relations, said Masters and other conservatives were misunderstanding military leadership with their criticism of “woke” leadership.
“The military has to recruit from a diverse society and retain a diverse workforce. What he's calling 'woke' is primarily the military trying to manage a diverse workforce," he told VICE News.
And he said Masters’ solution—replace supposedly liberal generals with a core of conservatives—would be disastrous, comparing it to the ideological purges of military brass in Russia that weakened the Red Army before WWII as well as before the current debacle in Ukraine.
“That's close to what Stalin and Putin did. And that didn't work out well for them. Master’s cure is far worse than the disease.”
“If you want to do something that would politicize the force and undermine lethality you could hardly design a more effective tool than to fire all the senior military leaders and then replace them with people chosen solely for their political views and not their professional merit. That is what Masters seems to be proposing,” he said. “That's close to what Stalin and Putin did. And that didn't work out well for them. Master’s cure is far worse than the disease.”
Masters and his campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
Much of Masters’ specific ire has been directed at Gen. Mark Milley, who Trump appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in late 2018. Masters and other conservatives were enraged by Milley’s defense of a course at the U.S. Military Academy that included study of critical race theory last summer.
“I want to understand white rage, and I’m white,” Milley said during congressional testimony. “So, what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out.”
Masters has mocked the general as “General ‘White Rage’ Milley.”
And it would be incorrect for Masters to assume that a random draw of colonels would necessarily yield a group that’s nearly exclusively conservative. While military veterans broke for Trump by a 10-point margin in 2020, according to national exit polls, active-duty military personnel actually leaned slightly toward Biden heading into the election, according to a pre-election survey conducted by Military Times and Syracuse University’ Institute for Veterans and Military Families. And the military is roughly as diverse racially as the broader U.S. society.
Masters’ harsh criticism of the military leadership is the latest in a long history of attacks from the right on ostensibly apolitical institutions; the impetus from some corners of the right is to imagine that the administrative state in all its facets must be biased against them. Trump’s long-running (and largely imagined) war against the “deep state” had similar tones. The idea that government bureaucrats are inherently liberal—and an effort to weed that out during Republican administrations—goes back to at least President Richard Nixon’s administration, if not Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt for communists in the State Department in the 1950s.
But Masters goes a step further. First, conservatives usually spare the military from these attacks on government officials, both because it’s a historically conservative institution and because the idea of an apolitical military under civilian control is such a fundamental cornerstone of American democracy. And second, while Masters says he wants to ensure an apolitical leadership, it’s hard to square that with his repeated suggestions to promote conservatives.
And Masters seems to have no issues with Trump’s own overt moves to politicize the military during his presidency, from his attempts to have a massive military parade as a show of force on the 4th of July to his plan to declare martial law and use the military to seize voting machines in the wake of the 2020 election, a plan he only backed off of when top White House attorneys threatened to resign in protest.
And the military isn’t the only national security organization where Masters wants to clean house. He has suggested similar purges should be made in the Justice Department and FBI so that they “aren’t weaponized against us” the next time the GOP wins back the White House.
“I’m really worried about this sort of ‘wokification’ of our military,” he said in a November Twitter Spaces event hosted by former Trump administration official Adam Korzeniewski, a recording of which was obtained by VICE News.
“The general core is rotten. You have to be like a left-wing politician to get promoted above a two-star general now. It’s not going to be an effective lethal fighting force if we’re teaching soldiers about social justice and diversity and inclusion and critical race theory, and we’re naming war ships after gay rights heroes instead of, you know, World War II admirals and stuff,” he continued. “So I think cleaning house in the military, cleaning house in the DOJ, FBI, making sure those institutions aren’t weaponized against us, that’s a huge project.”