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Racial, political divides in military grow as services try to weed out extremists

Racial, political divides in military grow as services try to weed out extremists
The Virginia Military Institute marches former President Donald J. trump during the presidential inaugural parade on January 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. File Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo

March 9 (UPI) -- A new report found ongoing problems with racism at Virginia Military Institute, while another said the military needs to work to bridge a growing political and racial divide in members' attitudes about service.

The reports come as the Pentagon releases more information about how it is screening out recruits with extremist views.

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The reports surfaced amid increased scrutiny of extremism among veterans and members of the military following the Jan. 6 insurgent attack on the Capitol, as well as an ongoing racial reckoning in military and civil society.

The law firm Barnes & Thornburg released a report Monday saying both VMI alumni and current cadets have told investigators "it is and was a common experience to hear racial slurs among VMI cadets, including use of the n-word" over the past 25 years.

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Investigators also found more than a dozen "substantiated" accounts of allegations involving a "racial component" since 2015, and that a disproportionate number of Black cadets are prosecuted by VMI's student-run Honor Court system and expelled for violations, according to the Washington Post.

Investigators, who have received $1 million for the state-ordered investigation of race relations at the school, have spoken to 46 VMI graduates but just five current cadets, though 12 others have agreed to talk.

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Last fall, VMI's Board of Visitors voted to move the Stonewall Jackson statue on the school's campus -- a move that followed the resignation of the college's superintendent, Ret. Gen. J.H. Bindford Peay III, after the Washington Post reported that Black cadets endure racism that includes lynching threats.

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Another recently published report found a growing divide among military officers, with white conservative men more likely to report feeling pride in military culture, Stars & Stripes reported.

The Texas National Security Review published a paper reporting the results of a survey of 1,281 U.S. Military Academy cadets and active-duty military officers who were polled between December 2017 and March 2020.

According to the survey, just under a quarter of those polled said they felt military culture was superior to civil society, while 43% said they didn't and the rest had no opinion.

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Self-described Republicans were far more likely to say military culture was superior -- with 31% reporting the culture was exceptional and 15% of Democrats saying the same thing.

The study also found that 27% of white cadets and officers felt military culture was superior, where just 14% of Black officers and cadets polled did.

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Researchers closed with two recommendations to address the gap: first, the military should aim to get a better understanding of who does not choose to serve and why.

Second, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should lead an effort to study civil-military relations and "the norm of non-partisanship into professional military education."

"Each branch of the military has a rich tradition of inculcating the concept of servant leadership, but it is largely taught with an eye toward being a servant leader with regard to one's own subordinates," researchers wrote.

"Fostering a similar focus on the values of humility and selfless service toward the country and its citizens may help to combat the growing sense of superiority among those who serve today," the researchers wrote.

Last week the Pentagon published a report it compiled last June regarding the military's recruit background check process, including ways it can better screen out those with extremist beliefs.

The department said it has already implemented several of the report's recommendations, including include running questionable recruit tattoos through the FBI's database and creating a consistent definition of domestic extremism for reference across the services.

DoD is also giving an unclassified version of the FBI's in-house domestic extremism training, as well as consulting other agencies about updating Standard Form 86, which the federal government uses to build background checks.

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The only recommendation not yet in process, according to Military Times, is the suggestion to create a separation code that would indicate domestic extremism was a cause for discharge, allowing the Pentagon to track how many service members have been kicked out for extremist behavior and flagging the problem for future employers.

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