Federal officials need to find new ways to study and prevent extremism among veterans before the problem becomes widespread, according to a new report released by Democratic lawmakers on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday.
“Acknowledging the unfortunate reality that violent extremism is a small but growing threat among the U.S. veteran population does not impugn all veterans,” the report states. “Rather, ignoring the threat of veteran-involved violent extremism does a disservice to those who continue to support and defend the Constitution … following their military service.”
The report follows a series of hearings and inquiries by the committee over the last year into the issue of extremism and radicalization.
According to their findings, veterans have been involved in about 10% of all domestic terrorist plots and attacks in the last seven years. Over the last 30 years, individuals with military backgrounds killed 314 individuals and injured nearly 2,000 others in violence rooted in extremist ideology.
They include incidents such as the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, the 1996 Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, and the 2012 Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin.
“The vast majority of the nation’s approximately 18 million living veterans remain law-abiding citizens following their military service, and the vast majority of domestic violent extremist crimes are not committed by veterans,” the report states,
“Nevertheless, empirical evidence suggests that individuals with military backgrounds have become increasingly involved with violent extremist plots and attacks in recent years.”
The issue of extremism in the military community gained public attention after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The report notes that 15% of individuals charged with crimes that day have military backgrounds. Veterans and current service members make up about 7% of the U.S. population.
But the inclusion of that event — carried out by supporters of former President Donald Trump in an attempt to stop the certification of his 2020 election loss — has prompted accusations from Republican committee members in recent months that the extremism investigation is politically motivated.
The final report includes a quote from committee ranking member Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill: “Free speech must be protected, but violence cannot be tolerated. Violence has no place in our society, our politics on either side of the aisle.” However, the report was released by the committee majority only.
The report findings call for federal agencies — including the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense — and outside groups to fund research “to better understand how, why, and how often domestic violent extremism occurs within the veteran community.”
Officials also said that Veterans Affairs officials should train clinical and benefits staff to recognize signs of extremism or signs that an individual may be susceptible to recruiting efforts by problematic groups.
In a statement accompanying the report, committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said ignoring the issue of extremists recruiting and targeting veterans could “jeopardize the strength of our democracy” in the future.
“Ideologically motivated violence must be rejected by everyone in public office and it must be a bipartisan concern,” he said.
The full report is available at the committee’s web site.
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.