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Veterans slam New York Times piece linking vets to hate groups

Apr. 16, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Frazier Glenn Cross, also known as Frazier Glenn Miller, appears at his arraignment April 15 in New Century, Kan. Cross is being charged for shootings that left three people dead at two Jewish community sites in suburban Kansas City on April 13. Veterans advocates are denouncing an opinion piece in the New York Times that draws links between veterans and white supremacist groups in attempting to explain the actions of the suspected gunman.
Frazier Glenn Cross, also known as Frazier Glenn Miller, appears at his arraignment April 15 in New Century, Kan. Cross is being charged for shootings that left three people dead at two Jewish community sites in suburban Kansas City on April 13. Veterans advocates are denouncing an opinion piece in the New York Times that draws links between veterans and white supremacist groups in attempting to explain the actions of the suspected gunman. (David Eulitt / AP)
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Veterans advocates are denouncing an opinion piece in the New York Times that draws links between veterans and white supremacist groups in attempting to explain the actions of the suspected gunman in a recent and deadly shooting outside a Kansas Jewish center.

Frazier Glenn Cross, also known as Frazier Glenn Miller, is accused of killing three people outside a Jewish community center and Jewish retirement community on April 13, according to media reports. The Fayetteville Observer reported that Miller is a former Ku Klux Klan leader as well as a retired master sergeant who served in Army Special Forces. He was forced to retire in 1979 for distributing racist materials.

In the opinion piece published in the New York Times, Kathleen Belew wrote that while the majority of veterans are neither violent nor mentally ill, veterans have a history of joining right-wing extremist groups. She cites a 2009 Department of Homeland Security Report linking the return of combat veterans to Ku Klux Klan membership.

“During Mr. Miller’s long membership in the white power movement, its leaders have robbed armored cars, engaged in counterfeiting and the large-scale theft of military weapons, and carried out or planned killings,” wrote Belew, a postdoctoral fellow in history at Northwestern University.

“The bombing by Timothy J. McVeigh, an Army veteran, of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, which killed 168 people, was only the most dramatic of these crimes. When we interpret shootings like the one on Sunday as acts of mad, lone-wolf gunmen, we fail to see white power as an organized — and deadly — social movement.”

Paul Rieckhoff, director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was outraged by Belew’s piece, which he called “sensational, slanderous and incredibly offensive to veterans.”

“Both the title — ‘Veterans and White Supremacy’ — and an accompanying graphic joining service members with KKK members are shameful,” Rieckhoff said in a statement to Military Times on Wednesday. “And the piece relies on weak research and sweeping generalizations about veterans. Especially coming right after so much irresponsible journalism that surrounded the [April 2] Fort Hood shooting, this is stunning and sad to see.

“How could the New York Times publish such a hurtful piece?” Rieckhoff said. “Veterans deserve answers from the Times — and an apology. After more than a decade of sacrifice, no veteran should have to open the newspaper and read an op-ed linking them to hate groups. In contrast to this op-ed, we should focus on telling the story of veterans doing amazing, inspiring work across the country and addressing the real challenges veterans face, including high rates of suicide and unemployment.”

Belew could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Phillip Carter, who directs the veterans research program at the Center for a New American Security, calls Belew’s argument “sloppy” and “unsupported by the evidence.” Carter is a former Army captain who has deployed to Iraq.

“Belew’s piece also omits lots of important facts, like the U.S. military’s success in promoting diversity and racial integration within its ranks, so much so that it’s considered the leading large organization in the country in this regard,” Carter wrote in an email Wednesday to Military Times. “Belew also fails to mention the massive effort in the late 1990s to root out extremism from the U.S. military — an effort which took place after the time window (1975-1995) that is the basis for her research.”

Kerry Patton, a former Air Force staff sergeant who writes for Ranger Up’s blog “The Rhino Den,” said stories like Belew’s opinion piece are typical of how the media and academia view veterans.

“As veterans, we need to be concerned that this is unfolding, that people are talking like this, in this nature, about us when the great majority of us are the epitome of upstanding citizens,” he said on Wednesday.

After the most recent shooting at Fort Hood, the Huffington Post ran a map showing where veterans had committed violent crimes in the U.S., but it took the graphic down and issued an apology after being lambasted by critics who argued the data was out of context.

“A previously published article featuring a graphic that depicted data on violent crimes by veterans has been removed,” a message on the Huffington Post’s website says. “The article was intended to call attention to the lack of evidence correlating post-traumatic stress disorder to violent behavior among veterans, and to highlight the insufficient mental health services available to them. It failed in these regards, and we regret that the data as presented in our graphic was incomplete and misleading.”

Marine veteran Paul Szoldra, who writes for Business Insider, said he feels veterans are the last group in the U.S. that can be stereotyped.

“I think a lot of it has to do with misunderstanding,” said Szoldra, who left the Marine Corps as a sergeant. “What’s happening in these recent pieces is basically you have some journalists who aren’t covering the beat; they don’t really know what’s going on in the military; they just see a statistic and they are kind of like, ‘Oh, there’s something here; here’s a story; it’s a really interesting story.’ They don’t even realize just how terrible a story like that Huffington Post [story] looks.”

Veterans have complained the news media portrays all veterans as damaged human beings who have become unhinged as a result of their combat experiences. Marine veteran Thomas Gibbons-Neff slammed the media for assigning a motive to Army Spc. Ivan Lopez, the alleged gunman at Fort Hood on April 2.

“Even in the absence of any evidence that the shooter, Ivan Lopez, suffered from PTSD, news networks let it dribble out from the beginnings and ends of their sentences,” Gibbons-Neff wrote for a story Wednesday in The Daily Beast. “The Huffington Post, awarded a Pulitzer for its work on veterans in 2012, used PTSD-related violence to build a horribly inaccurate map that portrayed veterans as an inherently violent population, when it isn’t ... and McClatchy gave its million-plus subscribers a PTSD hot-zone locator by ZIP Code, likening veterans to criminals.”

In 2009, Penn State University was forced to apologize after producing an educational video showing how instructors should respond to students who are veterans who are combative and threatening. In the video, a nervous professor tells her supervisor that a veteran in her class is confrontational and “always on the verge of losing his temper.”

“If he ever threatens you, you call the police right away,” her supervisor responds. “And if you ever do really get worried, get out quickly and call someone.”

Such stereotypes about veterans have provided endless fodder for the satirical “Duffel Blog,” which has pilloried media coverage of the most recent Fort Hood shooting and other violent incidents. An April 15 story joked that one lawmaker proposed that veterans should be required to go door-to-door “to notify people nearby that they are a powder keg of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, murder, and hate just waiting to blow.”

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