Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) on Thursday slammed the Pentagon’s hunt for extremists in the military without having any data to back up how many there actually are.
The issue came up at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider the nomination of Christine Wormuth as Army secretary.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said to Wormuth, “Based on our conversations, I know you share my concern about the unacceptable rise of white nationalism and other extremist ideologies in the military,” and asked her what policies she would pursue to detect and prevent the spread of extremist ideologies within the Defense Department if she is confirmed.
Wormuth responded she believed the number of extremists in the military “is likely small,” but said she does think soldiers can be better educated against disinformation.
Sullivan, a Marine reservist colonel who has criticized his colleagues before for suggesting the military is filled with extremists, spoke up.
“Of course we don’t want [extremism] in the ranks at all,” he said. “There are wild claims — wild claims, just pick up the Washington Post everyday, they seem to make them — through anecdotes that somehow our U.S. military is hotbed of extremists, racists, at very high levels.”
Sullivan focused particularly on Colin Kahl, the top Pentagon policy official:
The number three guy for the DOD came here for his confirmation hearing and said he was going to stamp out systemic racism in the ranks… Then I asked him did he ‘have any data to back that up, you’re kind of besmirching a lot of people.’ [The military is an] organization that throughout American history hasn’t been perfect, but has probably been on the forefront of bringing the races together.
… When I pressed him on it, ‘No, senator I don’t have any data.’ Well then why are you making that claim? … That’s just baloney. … So can I get your commitment to protect these troops from these kind of wild claims until you look at the data? … The key is data. Let’s get data, before we make these giant, sweeping claims like the under secretary of defense did. I don’t know how the hell he’s going to lead the Pentagon… Trust me, the average soldier is watching and they want someone to defend them, not besmirch them.
Wormuth conceded, “I don’t think that this is a case where there are large numbers of extremists,” and agreed it would be useful to have data.
Sullivan last criticized Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) after he speculated as many as 10 percent of the military could be extremist. He also asked two generals testifying if they believed the military, and they agreed the numbers were likely small.
The Biden administration made rooting out extremists a top priority at the Pentagon after the January 6 protest at the Capitol in which some military veterans participated.