U.S. Military Has 'White Supremacy' Problem Says House Armed Services Chair

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith has warned that the U.S. military has a "white supremacy" problem that needs to be addressed, alongside a wider effort to ensure diversity and equality within the American armed forces.

Smith, who is the current chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said during an interview Monday that the Pentagon must take "many steps" to ensure "truly equal treatment in the military."

Smith's appeal came as President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin took their first steps in reforming Pentagon culture by ordering a review of sexual assault prevention programs, repealing the ban on transgender service members, and as the military Inspector General launched a probe of law of war violation procedures.

"Honoring diversity and getting rid of bigotry and being inclusive is a challenge within the military," Smith said Monday. "We had the ban on lesbian and gay service members serving that we had to get rid of."

"There continues to be a problem with white supremacy within the military, bias, and bigotry, and white nationalism that needs to be addressed," he added.

White nationalism and white supremacy in the military have long been concerns for Pentagon and civilian leaders. A 2019 Military Times survey showed that more than 36 percent of active-duty troops said they had personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological racism in recent months. This represented a 14 percent increase from another survey conducted one year before.

A September 2020 Military Times survey found concerns among service members about the national security threat posed by white nationalism and extremists. Some 48 percent of troops listed white nationalism as a significant security threat, around the same percentage as those concerned about foreign Islamic extremism.

Troops were more concerned about white nationalism in the U.S. than they were about North Korea, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Almost two-thirds of minority service members called white nationalists a notable threat.

The combination of extremism plus training with, and access to, weapons is a dangerous one. Former Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Hasson is an example of such danger. Hasson spent five years in the Marine Corps and two years in the Army National Guard before joining the Coast Guard.

In 2019 he was arrested in Washington, D.C. on drug and firearm charges. Hasson was later revealed to be a self-described white nationalist who had been hoarding guns and ammunition.

An admirer of Norwegian far-right terrorist and mass murderer Anders Brevik, Hasson had penned his own manifesto calling for "focused violence" to "establish a white homeland" and created a list of "traitors" to kill.

White nationalism was one of the concerns that prompted Pentagon leaders to vet National Guard troops sent to guard Biden's inauguration earlier this month. A dozen troops were removed from their inauguration duties after screening, which included but was not limited to possible ties to right-wing extremism.

Smith said Monday that right-wing extremism is one of several challenges facing the Pentagon in becoming more diverse and more equal. "We have many steps to go to make sure there's truly equal treatment in the military," he said.

"Not only is that a matter of fairness it's a matter of strength. We need to honor diversity so that we can get the best talent this country has to offer serving our country and serving it with respect. This is one step, there are many more that need to be taken."

National Guard at Capitol Biden inauguration day
This file photo shows National Guard troops patroling the vicinity of the Capitol hours before the Inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2021. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images/Getty