Nearly one in four troops polled say they have seen examples of white nationalism among their fellow service members, and troops rate it as a larger national security threat than Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new Military Times poll.
The troops were surveyed about one month after white supremacist groups and counter-protesters clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Critics of Trump have accused him of emboldening groups who wish to discriminate against minorities, through both his public comments and policies.
Trump has said he opposes racism in all forms.
In the wake of the Charlottesville riot, senior military leaders repeatedly emphasized that threats or discrimination against minorities is against service values. The Military Times poll findings show that the armed forces aren’t exempt from the debate.
Concerns about white nationalist groups were more pronounced among minorities in the ranks. Nearly 42 percent of non-white troops who responded to the survey said they have personally experienced examples of white nationalism in the military, versus about 18 percent of white service members.
When asked whether white nationalists pose a threat to national security, 30 percent of respondents labeled it a significant danger, more than many international hot spots, like Syria (27 percent), Pakistan (25 percent), Afghanistan (22 percent) and Iraq (17 percent).
But a notable number of poll participants also bristled at the assertion that white power ideology is a real problem.
Nearly five percent of those polled left comments complaining that groups like Black Lives Matter — whose stated goal is to raise awareness of violence and discrimination towards black people — weren’t included among the options for threats to national security.
The poll did include unspecified “U.S. protest movements” and “civil disobedience” among the potential threats to America. But respondents’ concerns about those issues fell well short of the perceived white nationalist threat.
Singling out white supremacist groups irritated some of the troops surveyed.
“White nationalism is not a terrorist organization,” wrote one Navy commander, who declined to give his name.
“You do realize white nationalists and racists are two totally different types of people?” wrote another anonymous Air Force staff sergeant.
More than 60 percent of troops who took the survey said they would support activating the National Guard or reserves to handle civil unrest arising from white nationalist activities like the Charlottesville event. In Charlottesville in August, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and activated the Virginia National Guard to help with crowd control and to deter violence.
Between Sept. 7 and 25, Military Times and conducted a voluntary, confidential online survey of U.S. service members. The questions focused on President Trump’s time in the White House and national security issues facing American leaders.
The survey received 1,131 responses from active-duty troops. A standard methodology was used to estimate the weights for each individual observation of the survey sample. The margin of error for the questions was roughly 3 percent.
The survey audience was 86 percent male and 14 percent female, and had a mean age of 30 years old. The respondents identified themselves as 76 percent white, 8 percent Hispanic, 9 percent African American, 2 percent Asian and 5 percent other ethnicities. Respondents were able to select more than one race.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.