The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday launched an new investigation into the targeted recruitment of veterans by extremist organizations in the wake of the deadly attack on Congress earlier this year.
The announcement came the same day that Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough promised his own inquiry into the radicalization of veterans by hate groups during a briefing with reporters at the White House, and follows a similar ongoing investigation into the problem by Defense Department leaders.
In a statement, committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the move is designed to understand why veterans are being singled out by the groups and determine what can be done to stop it.
“The harm from this particular issue transcends veterans, and taken to the extreme, can threaten the very core of our democracy and national security,” he said. “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.”
Outside advocates have warned for years that active-duty troops and veterans may be particularly attractive recruits for extremist groups because of their combat and organizational skills.
Last month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a 60-day stand-down to review the issue of extremism in the military, prompted in part by the large number of veterans and military-linked individuals involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
A review of arrest records by the New York Times found that nearly one in five individuals arrested in the Capitol violence were veterans, even though less than 7 percent of the country are veterans or current troops.
When asked about veterans’ oversized role in the attempted insurrection, McDonough noted that “I also saw veterans on that day, including members of Congress who were veterans and members of [local police] who were veterans, doing remarkable things … people taking concrete action and supporting democracy on the ground that day, they were vets too.”
But McDonough said VA leaders would look into the link between veterans and extremist ideology in coming weeks.
Takano did not specify exactly what his committee’s investigation will entail, but said it would be modeled on past work on social media manipulation and exploitation of veterans by political and anti-American agitators.
A Military Times poll of active-duty troops conducted last summer found that about 31 percent said they have seen signs of extremist or white supremacist behavior in the ranks.
Those surveyed also identified white nationalism as a national security threat on par with al-Qaida and the Islamic State Group, and more worrisome than the danger posed by North Korea, Afghanistan or Iraq.
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.