Fact Check: Did the U.S. Military Deny Teaching Critical Race Theory?

Critical race theory (CRT) has become one of the latest battle lines drawn up in the ongoing culture wars that are tearing at the seams of U.S. society, with conservatives lining up to fiercely oppose it being taught while liberals passionately defend it.

Race relations became a central issue in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and led to many institutions debating CRT, which argues racism is embedded in systems and policies.

On June 23, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) took to Twitter, where he accused the country's military of denying teaching critical race theory.

The Claim

Gaetz posted: "Our military leadership denied teaching critical race theory. Right before admitting to teaching critical race theory. And then defending critical race theory.

"Now, we must legislatively prohibit CRT to protect our service members from this hate."

He also shared an article titled: "[General Mark] Milley defends U.S. military teaching of critical race theory."

The firebrand Republican is one of many conservatives who have taken aim at CRT as it continues to occupy the center stage in the culture wars.

Conservatives have been critical of introducing CRT into lessons and discussions in U.S. institutions and argue it destroys group cohesion and alleges the country is institutionally racist.

Our military leadership denied teaching Critical Race Theory…

…right before admitting to teaching Critical Race Theory…

…and then defending Critical Race Theory.

Now, we must legislatively prohibit CRT to protect our service members from this hate.https://t.co/L3OFGITIIQ

— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) June 23, 2021

The Facts

During a House Armed Services hearing on Wednesday, a tense exchange between top defense leadership and Republicans emerged and resulted in Gaetz asking Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the first Black person to occupy the office, about his concerns with CRT.

While referring to unnamed officers, Gaetz said: "The number one concern, often unable to speak publicly for fear of the type of retribution the Colonel (Matthew) Lohmeier faced, they say that your 'stand down' regarding extremism did not help our military, it hurt the military.

"And I want to share with you that perspective that it caused service members to 'otherize' one another. It impaired group cohesion and, interestingly to me, I've heard those sentiments most frequently from units that are majority minority."

He later added: "How should the Department (of Defense) think about critical race theory."

In response, Austin dismissed concerns raised by Gaetz and said: "We do not teach critical race theory. We don't embrace critical race theory, and I think that's a spurious conversation.

"We are focused on extremist behaviors and not ideology—not people's thoughts, not people's political orientation. Behaviors is what we're focused on."

Austin's denial of the military teaching critical race theory was later contradicted by Milley, who said: "First of all, on the issue of critical race theory, etc. I'll obviously have to get much smarter on whatever the theory is, but I do think it's important actually for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read.

"And the United States Military Academy is a university and it is important that we train and we understand."

Milley later added: "And I want to understand white rage and I'm white, and I want to understand it. So what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out."

"I want to maintain an open mind here, and I do want to analyze it. It's important that we understand that because our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardians, they come from the American people. So it is important that the leaders now and in the future do understand it."

Milley later said that he "found it offensive" that officers and the military were being "woke for studying theories that are out there."

His statements prompted by Representative Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) who, according to military.com, pressed Austin about a course at West Point where students talked about CRT and another seminar on "understanding whiteness and White rage."

The Ruling

True.

During the hearing, Austin did deny that CRT was being taught in its institutions.

Since this denial, Gen, Milley has come out and defended CRT, saying students should discuss different ideas, including ones they disagree with.

Milley added he wanted to understand what led people to storm the Capitol on January 6 and to understand "white rage," referring to the seminar.

Newsweek has contacted the DoD and West Point for comment.

Lloyd Austin Matt Gaetz Critical Race Theory
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sparred with Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) over critical race theory during a hearing of the House Committee on Armed Services on Wednesday. Austin is pictured during the hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2021. Alex Wong/Getty