The Democrat-controlled House Veterans’ Affairs Committee announced an investigation Friday into the recruitment of military veterans by “extremist groups,” explicitly naming the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters.
Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) said in a statement:
Since last fall, our Committee has been working to understand who groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and others are, where they fit into the broader landscape of extremist and hate groups, and why they specifically seek to recruit veterans into their ranks.
In addition, the committee’s Twitter account announced the investigation with a graphic that included logos from the three aforementioned groups.
Exploiting veterans is unacceptable, and it’s our job to identify potential means to identify, intercept, and assist veterans that have been ensnared in such recruitment efforts.
— House Veterans' Affairs (@VetAffairsDems) March 4, 2021
Some members of the groups participated in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, prompting Democrats and progressives to label the organizations as far-right, anti-government extremist, and white supremacist. Some leaders of the groups reject those characterizations.
Tom Kampert, a veteran and member of the Oath Keepers, denied such claims in a Friday op-ed for the Daily Independent:
The Oath Keepers is an association of like-minded people who, at some point in their life, took an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. Veterans, police officers, active-duty military are what makes up their membership. They are not a militia. They are not white supremacist. Their membership is made up of all races. They are not anti-government. Their message is that there is no expiration date on their oath. That they will always honor it. They expect the same from government officials, both appointed and elected.
The Three Percenter is an individual who has stated that he will take up arms, if required, to uphold and protect our Constitution. That, I would argue, is the duty of any American patriot. The Constitution is the law of the land so how can defending it be called subversive or anti-American?
The leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, is a Cuban-American and former FBI informant who has recently said he is contemplating running for office. He has also denied accusations the Proud Boys is a racist or extremist group.
“I denounce white supremacy,” Tarrio (pictured, left) said in an interview with WSVN-TV. “I denounce anti-Semitism. I denounce racism. I denounce fascism. I denounce communism and any other -ism that is prejudiced toward people because of their race, religion, culture, tone of skin.”
Tarrio also told CNN in a February 25 interview he did not think the 2020 presidential election was stolen and condemned the actions of Proud Boys who engaged in violence at the Capitol on January 6.
While Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has stated he wants to “stamp out” extremism in the military, and the Pentagon has cited the January 6 riot as an impetus for launching an internal investigation, the department has not explicitly identified those three groups as “extremist.”
Further, the Pentagon does not prohibit membership in extremist groups but rather prohibits active participation in them.
The FBI to date has also refrained from referring to the three organizations as “extremist groups.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in testimony to the Senate last week that the U.S. government does not keep a list of domestic terrorist groups comparable to the one kept of foreign terrorist organizations.
“Under federal law, under U.S. law there is no list of domestic terrorism organizations the same way there is for foreign terrorist organizations,” Wray said.
When asked if the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers were domestic terrorist groups, Wray said the FBI did not treat them as such, but there were individuals who associated themselves with the groups who are considered domestic terrorists or violent extremists.
Takano said in his statement the Veterans’ Affairs Committee will continue to investigate how the groups recruit veterans and “what role we can play in stopping it.”
“Exploiting veterans is unacceptable, and it’s our job to identify potential means to identify, intercept, and assist veterans who have been ensnared in such recruitment efforts. That’s why my committee is continuing to investigate how these groups continue to recruit veterans with extremist ideology and what role we can play in stopping it,” he said.