A year after the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot, a destructive narrative persists that members of the U.S. military and veterans were overrepresented among those arrested. Based on this falsehood, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered a service-wide stand-down in order “to show progress in combating extremism.”
Of 2.4 million active-duty and actively serving reservists, about 100 were found to have taken part in “extremist activities” last year, according to Pentagon officials. But their label of extremist participation could have included “liking” a social media post of a group deemed extremist or a post that expressed “extremist” sentiments.
True, extremists in military ranks harm military readiness. They can corrode morale in organizations based on merit and trust — two essential battlefield assets. Further, they can present security risks if they act on their hateful and often paranoid beliefs — for instance, stealing military equipment for use in violent schemes. But that’s vanishingly rare in a force of millions. Entire bases go on lockdown when a single weapon goes missing.
My experience as an officer in the Army taught me to see talent, motivation, and drive in my troops. Anyone, for whatever reason, who sought to sow hatred among his fellow soldiers was a liability and would be removed for the benefit of the Army. I was confident that my fellow officers and sergeants would do the same.
Corporate Media’s Faulty Math
There is no place in America’s military for hateful extremists. That’s a given. But let’s review two of the claims in the popular press that seem to have forced Austin’s hand.
CNN reported on Jan. 31, 2021, that “Active military personnel and veterans are over-represented among the first 150 people to be arrested” with “Analysis by CNN of Pentagon records and court proceedings show 21 of the 150, or 14%, are current or former members of the U.S. military. That is more than double the proportion of servicemen and women and veterans in the adult U.S. population.”
NPR said much the same 10 days earlier, claiming that, “nearly 20%, have served or are currently serving in the U.S. military. To put that number in perspective, only about 7% of all American adults are military veterans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.” The NPR article was headlined “Nearly 1 In 5 Defendants In Capitol Riot Cases Served In The Military.”
This encouraged retired four-star general Austin to tell Congress during his confirmation hearings that he would fight hard “to rid our ranks of racists,” noting that “The Defense Department’s job is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
Feeding into this, Austin’s spokesman, John Kirby, darkly implied a culture of white supremacy in the military when he warned, “There may be cultural issues we have to deal with here” at a press conference last February. CNN, NPR, and even Military.com reportage and others created a false narrative that saw Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, accusing the thousands of National Guard soldiers deployed to the U.S. Capitol in the wake of Jan. 6 as being “predominantly more conservative” than Americans — repulsively insinuating U.S. citizen-soldiers were a threat to President Biden’s inauguration.
Here’s Some Accurate Math
But these claims were based on faulty math in pursuit of a truthy narrative. As I wrote last March, the charge that the military was overrepresented at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot rested on three math errors: comparing military and veterans arrested to the general population rather than those 18 and older; comparing those arrested to the general adult population rather than adjusting for male and female arrestees (about 14 percent of male adults serve or are veterans vs. 1.7 percents of women); and failing to account for members of the reserve forces in their calculation of Americans with military experience.
After making those adjustments, I concluded last March that CNN’s claim about those arrested—“14%, are current or former members of the U.S. military” — made sense because “14% is what you would expect out of any random sample of men in America.” I called for a retraction. But CNN’s article is still up.
It’s also not just me. The Anti-Defamation League cited an April 2021 paper from researchers with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism and West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center that found “the 12% veteran participation rate among Capitol stormers was higher than the approximately 7% of Americans with some military experience. …When gender is taken into account and only male veterans are analyzed, the POE/CTC study concluded that male veterans make up about 14% of the general population but male Capitol stormers with veteran status made up only 13.6% of all male Capitol stormers. The authors suggest that ‘if anything…there actually is a very slight underrepresentation of veterans among the January 6 attackers’”(emphasis added).
But this report came out too late to stop the headlong rush for a stand-down that started last March.
The number of those arrested for participating in the Jan. 6 riot has now grown to 725, with another 350 being sought in connection with the violence. Of those, 81 have ties to the military, or 11 percent.
Again, this would appear to suggest that the military is overrepresented — remember, they are only 6.3 percent of the U.S. population (counting reservists, which CNN failed to do). But we don’t allow five-year-olds to join the Army, so, discounting those under 18 leaves 8.1 percent of adults as veterans or currently serving in some status.
Yet, only 90 of those arrested were women — men, in general, having a near-monopoly on violent knuckle-headedness. Looking at the breakdown of those arrested by sex and applying the percentage of those who are serving or veterans by sex suggests that there should be 93 veterans or currently serving members among the arrested, and there’s 81 — a 13 percent underrepresentation of the military vs. CNN’s libelous claim of “more than double” overrepresentation.
False Accusations Harm Our Military
I’m not pleased that any veterans saw fit to rush the U.S. Capitol in response to concerns that the 2020 election was marred by cheating. I share those concerns insofar as they relate to Marc Elias’ lawfare campaign to overturn or disregard the election code in multiple states to make it easier to engage in ballot trafficking via mail-in ballots. But the way to fight that is in the courts and state legislatures, not in an ill-conceived, poorly coordinated, and small riot.
The bottom line is that falsely accusing our military and veterans of being more likely, rather than less likely, to take part in what the left and much of the corporate media have called an attempted insurrection is bad enough. But then seeing our highest-ranking Defense Department officials act upon that scurrilous falsehood is even worse because it’s highly injurious to our warfighting capacity, our ability to recruit and retain high-quality military personnel, and grossly offensive to the millions of veterans who continue to honorably support and defend the Constitution.
Chuck DeVore is vice president of national initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a former California legislator, special assistant for foreign affairs in the Reagan-era Pentagon, and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army (retired) Reserve. He’s the author of two books, “The Texas Model: Prosperity in the Lone Star State and Lessons for America,” and “China Attacks,” a novel.