The Pentagon and the VA Need to Do More to Battle Veteran Extremism, Congressional Report Finds

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (John Minchillo/AP Photo File)

The House of Representatives' Veterans' Affairs committee says that veterans play a key role in domestic violent extremism and charges two key agencies to do more in addressing the problem.

In a report released Thursday, the congressional committee says that "empirical evidence suggests that individuals with military backgrounds have become increasingly involved with violent extremist plots and attacks in recent years." The report says data shows veterans were overrepresented in all domestic terror plots and attacks since 2015, as well as the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.

Although some of the findings -- especially data about the number of veterans who took part in Jan. 6 -- have been discussed in reports before, the committee also calls on both the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to develop more intervention programs to help both active-duty service members and veterans avoid being lured by violent extremism.

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The committee says that, in the last 30 years, extremists with military backgrounds have killed 314 people and injured another 1,978. More alarmingly, the report says that the average number of people with military backgrounds who commit crimes of extremism "more than quadrupled" between 2010 and 2022.

Although a large portion of that jump can be attributed to the mayhem and destruction on Jan. 6, even if that attack is excluded, the last decade has seen more than a doubling of extremist crime.

The congressional report also echoes what many advocates and experts have previously said on the issue to committees in Congress as well as media outlets: While the number of veterans who join these groups is small, when they do, it gives "groups an air of credibility, aids in further recruitment, and has a force-multiplier effect."

To deal with the issue, the committee says that "the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs ... should infuse early prevention and intervention programs, as well as civics education, into the training that active duty service servicemembers and veterans receive before, during, and after their separation from the military."

The report also recommends the VA train staff to identify and assist veterans who are at risk while suggesting Congress better fund programs that help struggling vets with meeting their basic needs since they are "related to veterans' risk of becoming involved with violent extremism."

The National Defense Strategy, a Pentagon-wide document released Thursday that explains the president's national security priorities, also emphasized that the department "will seek to eradicate all forms of extremism in our ranks," although that was the entirety of the topic's mention in the 23-page document.

However, it is not likely that Congress will act swiftly or decisively on this issue. The topic has long exposed partisan divides, with Republicans frequently arguing that the issue is either too small to need addressing or too offensive to veterans to merit discussion.

Meanwhile, as the annual National Defense Authorization Act legislation makes its way through Congress, every single House Republican voted against an amendment that would have called for the heads of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and DoD to produce a report that looks at how much white supremacist or neo-Nazi activity is going on in the military.

Ultimately, despite the goals the Veterans' Affairs Committee is setting for its fellow lawmakers and leaders in the Pentagon and the halls of the VA, it's possible dealing with extremists in the ranks will fall to those outside of government.

The report optimistically notes that "Peer support, including support from other veterans, military families, and veterans service organizations, is vital to countering the threat of domestic violent extremism."

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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