Why Republicans Are Ignoring Extremism in the Military

Hint: It might offend a swath of their voters.
Men in military gear were among the thousands who flocked to the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, for a rally in support of gun rights, Jan. 20, 2020. (Still from VICE News’ “American Terror" video)

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The vast majority of U.S. service members have nothing to do with political extremism. But more than 160 people charged so far in the Jan. 6 insurrection had military training. And that’s just a slice of the universe of military vets involved in extremist activity. According to the VA, up to 20,000 veterans are associated with right-wing militias. VICE just released a new film documenting extremism in the U.S. military. It’s a stellar and shocking piece of journalism from correspondent Ben Makuch and my D.C. colleagues Jesse Seidman and Brian Wheeler. Watch it here:


I sat down with Ben to ask him about one piece of his film: Why Republicans in Washington blocked the Pentagon from studying extremism in the ranks, and what they have to gain by politicizing the problem. 

Your film makes it pretty clear that the problem of extremism in the military is not small and not rare. But how did it happen that alarm bells are going off, extremists are coming out of the military armed and trained, and elected officials say shut down the investigation?

Service people and veterans are being arrested at a much higher rate than they have been in the last decade for extremist activities. But nobody wants to actually deal with this at a political level. Republicans are saying this isn’t a big issue. The reality is, not only is it an identifiable problem, but it’s also something that they won’t even provide more money to investigate. It’s becoming sort of a plot point, fodder for Fox News and OANN, where they say the Democrats are calling our service men and women extremists and the woke mobs are after them.

Former President Donald Trump said during a presidential debate, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” These are his voters. Is it the case that Republicans paying too much attention to extremists offends the base?

That’s exactly what it is. Even more, if you malign Democrats for questioning this supposed extremism problem, it’ll look good for your voters. You’re seen as standing by the troops (against the left). We were in Congress for a vote to shut down any more investigation of extremism in the military. That vote was to make a political point. It’s getting politically weaponized. 


That’s a savvy political play—until people get hurt or killed.

And I think people forget: Historically we know that extremism and criminal acts to do with extremism have shot up after every single major American war. This goes back to the Civil War. And if you look at something like Operation Desert Storm, Timothy McVeigh was a decorated veteran. And he was responsible for the bombing of the Oklahoma City building that killed 168 people. There were 163 people with military backgrounds that were involved in Jan. 6. The numbers don’t lie, you know? There is an issue. 

Is there a line running from extremism in the military to Republicans’ refusal to deal with the problem and what we saw on Jan. 6?

I think this is what happens when you cynically weaponize something without thinking about the repercussions. Republicans are kicking people into a frenzy about vilifying the military, when nobody is trying to do that. And I make it very clear that the great majority of servicemen and women and veterans are not engaged in extremism. But we know when they do, they’re incredibly effective. There’s a reason why 15,000 to 20,000 veterans have joined right-wing militia groups. It’s not fiction. 

I think to some extent the Republicans know that. The fact that they’re refusing to look at Jan. 6, they’re still pushing Stop the Steal, all while ignoring the extremism coming out of the military, shows you that they’re really not too bothered by politicizing it and ignoring dangerous facts.

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 T.W.I.S.™ Notes

Trumpism is full employment for the American judiciary. This Week in Subpoenas… MAGA! (Man, Are Gavels Audible!)

- Bueller?

The January 6 committee still hasn’t served former President Donald Trump with his subpoena because… they can’t find a lawyer to accept it on his behalf. 

- War room on cell block D 

By the time this newsletter hits your inbox, Trump adviser and three-shirts-to-the-wind democracy-undoer Steve Bannon should be before a federal judge in D.C. hearing his sentence for two counts of contempt. Bannon blew off two January 6 committee subpoenas and hoped to turn his trial into a circus, but was blocked by a judge from doing that. He’s now facing a prosecutor-recommended six-month prison term and a $200,000 fine. We’ll see what the judge says. 

No one is hoping JFK returns to reinstateTrump as president by Thanksgiving more than Steve Bannon. No matter what happens here, Bannon is in WAY more trouble in New York, where he’s been charged with five counts of money laundering, conspiracy, and fraud around the alleged We Build the Wall scam. Trump already pardoned Bannon on federal charges, but if he’s convicted in New York, even Trump can’t help him.


- Do you really want to send that?

Coup lawyer John Eastman’s “sent” box continues to be a deep well of coup evidence. A federal judge in California found that four more of Eastman’s emails contain evidence of probable federal crimes, this time by Donald Trump himself. Eastman’s been trying to shield these emails from the January 6 committee by claiming attorney-client privilege. But you can’t do that if your conversations contain evidence of crimes. 

This ruling isn’t a guilty verdict, just a finding that the emails can’t stay hidden. But the bottom line from Judge David O. Carter: They show that Trump knew several statements he filed in Georgia court alleging voter fraud was false, but he signed them anyway.

- Fraud guarantee

Meanwhile, who has other coup lawyer Cleta Mitchell tapped to train her army of poll watchers on election integrity? Why, it’s John Eastman! More on this election subversion stuff in Arizona below.

- Key Lago

A modest proposal: Watergate is tired, and “-gates” are dead. All presidential scandals are “-Lagos” now. Stay tuned for a future “laptop-Lago,” probably.


On the matter of the O.G. “Lago,” it looks like the feds have the goods they need to charge Trump with obstruction. No decisions, or recommendations to AG Merrick Garland, have been made, apparently.

–This week in sedition

The first Oath Keeper to plead guilty and flip in the federal seditious conspiracy case testified in court this week. Jason Dolan, an Oath Keeper from Florida, told the jury that when he stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, the Oath Keepers were prepared to fight the United States. Dolan testified he believed the militia was working to stop Joe Biden’s election and to “take up arms if we had to.” Asked by prosecutors if he was being figurative in messages where he discussed fighting the U.S. government, Dolan said, “No. I meant it literally.”

– It’s about ethics

Remember Jeffrey Clark, the guy who offered to take over the DOJ for Donald Trump’s coup plot? Leave Jeffrey Clark alone, says Jeffrey Clark


– Tiny stickers for everyone

We have a long way to go before it’s clear how, or if, Georgia Republicans’ post-2020  suppression laws making it harder to vote will affect the midterms. For now, early turnout is going gangbusters. The first week of early voting smashed 2018 midterm numbers by 84 percent and nearly reached early turnout for the 2020 presidential election. Get it, Georgia!

– Prepping for chaos

It looks like conspiracy uncle and Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is already preparing for a possible recount in his tight reelection race against Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. But guess who he’s paying to rep him in that fight? The same guy who compiled the list of fake electors Johnson tried to have passed to Veep Mike Pence on Jan. 6. Such a small world!

Poison early, poison often

Donald Trump is already hard at work trying to soil the 2022 midterms. VICE’s David Gilbert has the story on Trump boosting conspiracy posts from Melody Jennings, founder of the conspiracy group Clean Elections USA. It’s just one of the groups already staking out ballot drop boxes and making wild allegations of fraud. She’s appeared on multiple QAnon shows, and Trump is right there to amplify the signal. 


Meanwhile the Arizona secretary of state’s office referred a poll watcher in Maricopa County to the state attorney general and DOJ for possible voter intimidation. The voter complained they were approached and followed while trying to drop off a ballot. It’s going great so far!

Thou shalt have no fraud before me

Police bodycam video has blown open the story of how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sicced police on convicted felons he accuses of voter fraud, even after his government gave them clearance to vote. The people in this video are the first targets of DeSantis’ new Office of Election Crimes, which he conjured after declaring the 2020 election clean and well-run. They’re also the latest example of DeSantis using state power to intimidate his enemies and fuel his national political rise. For other recent examples, see Disney and migrants

It’s notable that DeSantis’ Office of Election Crimes started with mostly Black felons and not, say, these people at the Villages or these ones coercing old folks. Watch out for coverage of this issue from VICE News.


“If I lose in November, I don’t know if it’s safe for me to stay in this state.” - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, explaining the extremist threat in her state to VICE’s Ben Makuch. 

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A day that could live in infamy — Mark your democracy calendar for Dec. 7. That’s when the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in Moore v Harper, the case bringing infamous “independent state legislature” theory to the brink. I’ll have more to say about this case soon. But it threatens to give Trumpist-aligned state legislatures unilateral say over elections. That could push governors and even the courts out of disputes on everything from redistricting to recounts. The opportunities for anti-democratic malfeasance from Trumpist-controlled legislatures become irresistible.

Mule-er she wrote — Who would have guessed that the conspiracy group behind the blockbuster BS documentary 2000 Mules could potentially be shady? The Arizona attorney general’s office told the feds to take a close look at True the Vote after a bunch of “questionable interactions” by the group. Seems TTV assured AZ authorities they would hand over geolocation evidence of massive voter fraud and then… never did. The AG’s office also said the group went public with claims of evidence they’d never handed over, and even urged the IRS to take a look at the nonprofit’s finances.  

Pod couple — Check out VICE producer Madeleine May on the “Election Insider” podcast, hosted by Richard Barron. Barron ran elections in Fulton County, Georgia, up until 2021 and was featured in Madeleine’s Emmy-nominated coverage of threats on election workers. 


How election lies took over the GOP. NEW YORK TIMES

Michael Flynn’s holy war. FRONTLINE

Here are all of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Jan. 6 messages with Mark Meadows. HUNTER WALKER’S SUBSTACK