The Republican-dominated Senate quietly removed a prohibition against “white nationalists” serving in the U.S. military after the House of Representatives approved the language earlier this year.
The change occurred in a recently-passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which allocated President Donald Trump the largest military budget in U.S. history. Democrats and Republicans allocated some $738 billion for fiscal year 2020–against the protests of some left-wing and libertarian-influenced members of Congress.
In July of this year, the House approved the following language:
SEC. 530. STUDY REGARDING SCREENING INDIVIDUALS WHO SEEK TO ENLIST IN THE ARMED FORCES.
(a) STUDY.—The Secretary of Defense shall study the feasibility of, in background investigations and security and suitability screenings of individuals who seek to enlist in the Armed Forces—
(1) screening for white nationalists and individuals with ties to white nationalist organizations…
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his GOP colleagues, however, stripped the “white nationalists” and “white nationalist organizations” language from the final NDAA–which is currently awaiting the president’s signature–during a recent reconciliation meeting between House and Senate negotiators in favor of a more general reference to “extremist and gang-related activity.”
The above-cited amendment was authored and introduced by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) in an explicit bid to study the possibility of screening and keeping white nationalists from joining the armed forces after several high-profile incidents from the past year revealed that white nationalists had made efforts to infiltrate the military.
In February, self-described white nationalist Christopher Hasson was arrested for allegedly planning a massive terrorist attack against several high-profile liberal and left-wing politicians and college professors–as well as various media figures. The U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant was later indicted on various firearms and drug charges.
In March and April, HuffPost reporter Christopher Mathias discovered that 11 servicemembers spread throughout every branch of the military–except for the Navy–had been allowed to join up and serve. Those 11 individuals were found to be members of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa. The hate group is best known for planning the 2017 “Unite The Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia which resulted in the death of 32-year-old socialist Heather Heyer.
Aguilar harshly criticized the Senate GOP’s successful efforts to remove specific language targeting white nationalists–noting that such racially-biased ideologues had “successfully enlisted in our military in order to gain access to combat training and weaponry.”
“[W]e cannot turn a blind eye to this growing problem which puts our national security and the safety of the brave men and women serving our country in jeopardy,” Aguilar told HuffPost and Mathias on Thursday. “It’s disappointing that Senate Republicans disagree.”
Aguilar again criticized McConnell and Co. in a statement to CNN:
I introduced my amendment because keeping this hateful ideology out of our military is crucial to our national security and to the safety of our service members. We can’t address the problem if we won’t acknowledge there is one, which is why I was disappointed by the Senate Republicans’ decision to strike this language.
As of now, it’s unclear which Republican senator or senators was directly responsible for the marked linguistic shift.
In response to media coverage, a Senate Armed Services Committee spokesperson told CNN that Aguilar’s complaint was “absurd” because: What about other extremists?
“The language from the amendment, which was agreed to in a bipartisan vote by both House and Senate, was expanded beyond Rep. Aguilar’s amendment to include extremist organizations of all kinds: white nationalists, radical Muslims, gang members and others who aren’t suitable to join the military,” they said.
The alarming presence and curious uptick in white nationalist activity in the United States in recent years has led to something of a cultural panic. The military recently agreed to investigate the use of “OK” symbol hand gestures by recruits at this year’s storied Army-Navy football game–a symbol which has been appropriated by white supremacists and alt-right-affiliated media figures as of late.
That initial investigation wrapped up recently and determined that cadets’ use of the symbol was not intended to reference the hand symbol’s recent white nationalist pedigree.
Many online, however, were not convinced:
Yea, I’m calling bullshit on this, these college kids knew exactly what they were doing. West Point just doesn’t want a national story that white supremacy is among their ranks https://t.co/8tRN54zZE2
— 29 U.S.C. § 157 (@OrganizingPower) December 20, 2019
The Senate, yesterday: we’re okay with white nationalists joining the military!
West Point, today: a bunch of young white men who should know that the “ok” hand symbol has been adopted by white nationalists didn’t actually display a white nationalist symbol.
— Pé Resists (@4everNeverTrump) December 20, 2019
So now we have to understand that the US Naval Academy at West Point is giving protection to white nationalists ideology. https://t.co/wXGMR7Bxr2
— Tariq Nasheed 🇺🇸 (@tariqnasheed) December 20, 2019
Pay attention. https://t.co/Al7AAT68Dg
— Leah McElrath 🏳️🌈 (@leahmcelrath) December 20, 2019
So we’ve devolved to the level of a six-year-old claiming they said “dam” instead of “damn.”https://t.co/Xia2MTMish
— JRehling (@JRehling) December 20, 2019
[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]