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Violent Extremists Among American Veterans

Cover image for podcast episode

PHOTO BY KPBS STAFF

Above: A graphic that reads, "Violent Extremists Among American Veterans, A KPBS News Event," Feb. 24, 2021.

The role of military veterans in extremist groups has surfaced in disturbing ways recently. It’s not only the public that’s been caught off-guard by these events. Veterans groups have been slow to grasp the impact of extremist and hateful ideology on their fellow vets. KPBS Midday Edition brings you a special program on the issue of violent extremism among America’s veterans with expert panelists who offer suggestions for confronting the problem.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The connection between the military and extremism

Speaker 2: 00:04 The visuals join the military who are not extremists, but during their time in the military, they become indoctrinated. Okay.

Speaker 1: 00:10 I'm Jade, Hindman Maureen Kavanaugh is off. This is KPBS midday. That connection between military and extremism is there, but pinpointing why can be

Speaker 2: 00:29 Difficult? I think that we have to be somewhat careful with connecting, you know, trauma and the experience that the person has in the military with the tendency to engage and, you know, radical extreme

Speaker 1: 00:43 Today. We hear from a panel of military experts to discuss this disturbing trend, why they think it's happening and what's working to fix it. That's ahead on midday.

Speaker 3: 00:52 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 01:00 The role of military veterans and extremist groups has surfaced in disturbing ways. Recently, first veterans were accused in a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. Then we discovered that military veterans were involved in the insurrection at the Capitol in January. It's not only the public that's been caught off guard by these events. Veterans groups have been slow to grasp the impact of extremist and hateful ideology on their fellow vets. Today, we bring you a virtual forum on the issue of violent extremism among America's veterans and suggest some way to confront the problem. The guest include Richard Brookshire co-founder and executive director of black veterans project. Pete Simmie, a professor of sociology specializing in right-wing extremism, the social psychology of hate and domestic terrorism at Chapman university and Tony McAleer, founder of life after hate and author of the cure for hate along with Akilah Templeton, who is CEO of veterans village of San Diego and John Clark, the third, a retired Navy commander and author and principal consultant for the PI group KPBS, military reporter, Steve Walsh, moderated the event and began the conversation with Richard Brookshire asking about Brookshires experiences in the military.

Speaker 2: 02:22 So you're, you were, uh, a former army Medicare. You were in Afghanistan in 2009. I think it's really important. We, we were talking a lot about the Capitol season and the, and the, the veterans that were involved in that, but these issues don't begin or end with, with the seizure and the Capitol. Um, w what was your experience? What did you see as a medic in 2009? Yeah, I was in Afghanistan in 2011, but I joined in 2009. Um, no worries. And what did I see? I mean, I saw, um, I was stationed in Germany. I saw deep fascination with Hitler with, uh, Nazi-ism just kind of a PR a pervasive kind of just undertone.

Speaker 4: 03:00 Right. Um, we know that, you know, it says, or at least in the doctrine that like, you should be in a political somewhat in the military, but that's not true. Right. Like people bring their full selves to bear. Um, but there's much more room for like provocative conservative rhetoric. Um, I was rife with conspiracy theories. I very rare that I went to work where there wasn't one inappropriate dialogue sometimes crossing the border into full-out racism. Um, but you know, there was also this kind of this deep distrust of government, um, which was odd because you're serving said government. Um, I was serving under Obama at the time. Um, and so there was, you could just kind of get a sense of this racial adamants, but even amongst the, you know, on my fellow troops, um, I felt that when I recognized that, uh, that the majority of, uh, folk that black folk, that I was serving, uh, uh, among war in service oriented roles, understanding that that's a legacy right.

Speaker 4: 03:53 Of, of, of, uh, before the military was even integrated, um, seeing a dearth of representation in the high, um, higher enlisted ranks, um, certainly in the officer Corps, um, you know, just anecdotal conversations, um, from, from those that I worked alongside feeling as though they were being marginalized in their careers and not really feeling that they had, uh, a voice and, and, and certainly feeling like they didn't want to, you know, raise any red flags for fear of repercussions, um, for fear of kind of tainting themselves essentially as like a problem soldier. Um, so that's, that's some of what I experienced.

Speaker 2: 04:27 So when you got back after serving in Afghanistan, um, you, you, you saw a story in the newspaper, right. Someone had gone in and they had stabbed, uh, an African-American. Uh, tell me about that story.

Speaker 4: 04:41 Yes. Um, I think his name was Dylan and I haven't committed it to memory to be Frank, but, um, our careers mirrored each other in very, just uncomfortable ways, like, right. So we were, we'd never been stationed specifically in the same unit. Um, but we went to, uh, Fort Leonard wood for basic training at the same time had been stationed in bondholder at the same time. Bond holder is a very small standalone brigade infantry brigade at the time, uh, deploy to Afghanistan at the same time, got out of the military at the same time. We're the same age as well. Um, and so, you know, I was just riding the train to work one day, um, just in a, in a many ways, you know, when I think it's important to stay, like I joined on the heels of the first black president and transitioned out of the military on the heels of Trump.

Speaker 4: 05:21 Right. So I think that was traumatic for, for most people, but for me, it's kind of like young, idealistic, um, soldier that was a traumatic kind of transition. Um, and then also transitioning into the state that the country was in at the time where the state of racial justice would just so, um, bad, uh, essentially, and, and really trying to figure out how I fit in how to make sense of it. Um, so I was reading the paper one day and I read his story and I just broke down because I think for me, um, why I got so emotional was cause it all kinda came together, right? Um, yeah,

Speaker 2: 05:55 Somebody you knew personally, and he had, uh, what he had grabbed a sword or a knife and he had,

Speaker 4: 06:04 He had been radicalized. I did not know him personally. I think I want to make a correction there. Um, but we were stationed on a very small base. So it's very likely that we at eight child next to each other, but I think that's beside the point, whether I knew him personally, I think it was just an example right. Of how radicalization can kind of fester. Um, and he, you know, after he got out, um, and you know, to a certain degree, he may have been radicalized while he was in service. Right. I mean, many of that kind of come in with their predis. They're predisposed to being racist, racist in some, in some respects for being racially biased. But he came out, he got involved in like the Neo Nazi movement and he decided that he wanted to come to New York at the time with the explicit intent of killing a black person. I was just like his intent. He had a sword and he instead went stabbed a homeless black, uh, I believe the man was a former, uh, veteran as well. Um, but he was homeless, um, and stabbed to death.

Speaker 2: 06:53 It was not somebody he knew no prior connection to him, randomly

Speaker 4: 06:59 Random stranger, which is not, uh, not as, um, I guess infrequent as we would hope. Right? Like there, there have been black vets that have been killed, um, by white nationalists, by racists over the course of the last few years, let alone the last few decades. Um, and that's something that we just have to start to reckon with in an honest way,

Speaker 2: 07:16 But these are some of these sort of semi-anonymous things that happen that don't grab front page headlines, but, um, but they do happen. So you, you worked with the black veterans project. Do you work with other veterans groups? Did you try to get involved with other veterans groups once you came home?

Speaker 4: 07:34 I mean, like so many vets, I couldn't wait to get out or I like, I wanted to get my bed and run for the Hills. Um, and so I actually never thought I'd be working in the vet space at all. Um, but when I started the black veteran project, I had the opportunity to go work at IVA, Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans of America. And it was really where I think I got my chops, right. Like I learned to, you know, not only just how the vet space was laid out. Um, and even just before that saying that like, you know, even as someone who was a little bit proactive about trying to find community, it was very difficult to find community. There is such a wide Chaz and like, you know, Chaz and, you know, a Y a widening actually civilian military divide. So there's so many, few people that really understand my experience.

Speaker 4: 08:15 Um, but even trying to connect to vets writ large, there was no hub. Right. And then the hubs that did exist, they leaned toward the kinds of people that I just kind of tolerated while I was in the military, but didn't necessarily want to foster community with post-service right. Those are kind of the conspiracy Laden, um, conservatives to kind of fratty, um, you know, the frat boys essentially of the military. And so, and they're kind of predominate in, in the vet space. Um, so anyways, I was involved at IVA, um, and learned a lot there. Um, and in the last few years have been really, uh, building out cultivating relationships with more story black, that organization. So one thing I just wanted to mention quickly is there's been an organization just understanding that as black vets, we have to lead the conversation. Um, but we also have to get organized. Um, last summer, the house veteran affairs committee convened a round table of a local state and national level of black veteran organizations and born out of that was the black veteran empowerment council, um, of which DVP now sits under. Um, and it's really, like I said, a way for us to start to convene in a way that's never really happened before, uh, resource share resources, share information, and create a centralized kind of.

Speaker 2: 09:28 I see. And what's some of the, the stories out here that just have not come to light in the past. What's it like, is this, is the veteran community, a welcoming community overall for African-Americans? Is this, uh, when we're talking about these kinds of, uh, issues like, like dealing with extremism, are, are people excited to hear about this? Do they want to get involved?

Speaker 4: 09:51 Well, I certainly think there is a, there is, I think there's a misconception, right? That everybody that serves in the military might lean conservative that like there, that though we know that minorities dominate not true, definitely not true. And so it's about like cultivating community. And so I, I mean, I get emails every single day from people that are excited that even the prospect of my work and we're just beginning has zero resources donated if you can, but like, you know, and then just kind of just getting it off the ground. Right. Um, so that's exciting. Um, as far as the more stories that organizations, you know, even, you know, for instance, something like the American Legion, black vets have always had to kind of create their own lanes in these institutions whilst also being marginalized within, um, there's a long legacy of racism that even dates back to last year when, you know, a senior leader had to step down, um, because she felt agreed racially agreed and felt like, you know, the, the work that she was wanting to kind of raise up in the American Legion was being marginalized. Right. Um, and you also have, um, folk who help lead some of these better organizations that very much are in support of the insurrectionist kind of Trump movement. Right. Um, so that's, that's an uncomfortable truth, but it's a fact. Um, and we certainly can't just wait for them to catch up to speed. We have to force it,

Speaker 2: 10:59 But do you feel the newer groups are a little more opening, a little more open, a little more accepting, a little more welcoming.

Speaker 4: 11:05 I would think the younger groups are welcoming. Um, they are they're there and they're also ambitious, right? I mean, I think that just goes with being young and kind of wanting to see the world in new lights and, and embracing possibility, um, in certain respects. So yeah, I mean, I definitely think there is an organization it's funny, cause I read a piece by Newt Gingrich, uh, today, um, in fact on Fox news and he was talking about, um, the danger of these like young woke veterans. Um, and I thought it was, I thought it was funny and telling, and it's just like, okay, we're doing something right. If we're a Newt Gingrich rock and we're just getting started, we're doing something right.

Speaker 2: 11:38 I'm going to move on here right now to, uh, to Pizzey me, he's a professor of sociology at Chapman university. Uh, you're an expert on, uh, racial extremism and you've looked at these groups and why they target people with the military black Brown specifically. I know I just, the raw data, at least 36 people of the 250 people who have been charged in the Capitol siege had a military or law enforcement background that doesn't include Ashley Babbitt, who is the, uh, air force veteran who was shot climbing through an interior window in the Capitol building. So, so Pete, tell me, so why, why, why do they target veterans? Why is that important? And is it just a coincidence that we're seeing so many people that were involved in the Capitol siege?

Speaker 5: 12:23 Well, first thanks for having me. And, um, it's definitely not a coincidence. Uh, this is a longstanding pattern that we're seeing play out in terms of the January 6th incident. Um, so this is really not new news and shouldn't be any surprise really. Um, we can, we can really look at this kind of in terms of three pathways, as far as how this all plays out, as far as the relationship between military experience and right wing extremism one, we have a really old strategy that's been used by right wing extremist groups to essentially encourage their members to join the military as part of what they call an infiltration strategy. So that is people who are already adopted extremist ideology or going and seeking out military experience. And that's a part of this larger strategy of infiltrating in society that also includes law enforcement includes education and essentially society as a whole.

Speaker 5: 13:17 So that that's one, one facet of, of the relationship. Another facet is that you have some individuals and I've seen this firsthand. Some of my field work, uh, in particular with the person by the name of Wade page where individuals join the military, who are not extremists, but during their time in the military, they become indoctrinated. So for example, with Paige, he joined the U S army in 1992, not long after high school. Eventually he ends up at Fort Bragg around 95. And at that point he meets somebody on base. Who's already a neo-Nazi that introduces him to Neo Nazi propaganda and music. And at that point it clicked. And in fact, what he told me was that if you don't go in, uh, uh, in the military as a racist, you're sure to come out as one. And I, I specifically recall that because I'd heard that same, I'd heard that same before.

Speaker 2: 14:11 What does that mean? I mean, well, why would that be true? Because it's certainly not true of everyone that, or even a majority.

Speaker 5: 14:18 Yeah. So part of that is his justification rationalization for adopting those beliefs. But what he was trying to say was that there's an anti white agenda, that's prominent in the military. And he started experiencing that and seeing reverse discrimination. And, uh, it was after his time in the military that he really goes head first and become so, you know, really immersed in neo-Nazi, uh, networks after the military. And he's really embraced by folks across, across the U S and actually in Europe, eventually he becomes heavily involved in the music scene. I him around 2000 and spend a couple of years doing interviews with them and observing his, his life. Uh, and then in 2012, um, he walks into a sick temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, armed with a nine millimeter handgun and opens fire and kills murder, six people, uh, who were, who were at temple that day and, uh, leaves the temple gets into a firefight with law enforcement. And that eventually takes his own life shoots himself in the head.

Speaker 1: 15:37 I am Jade Hindman, you're listening to KPBS midday edition. Maureen Kavanaugh has the day off. We continue our special broadcast of the KPBS forum on violent extremists among America's veterans, host KPBS, military reporter, Steve Walsh continues his conversation with professor Pete Simi and expert in extremism and domestic terrorism from Chapman university.

Speaker 5: 16:01 Tell me about some of the groups that were active at the Capitol. We we've, we've, we've done, we've looked at extremism in the military sort of in general and things like, uh, you know, Boogaloo boys and things like that. But, um, there were some specific groups that were very active January 6th, like the oath keepers, right? Yeah. So the, you know, the oath keepers definitely had a pretty substantial presence, uh, January 6th. And they've been around for quite a while. They were founded in 2009. Um, they, um, you know, have a very strong military and law enforcement association. And so that's a major part of their focus in terms of recruitment, uh, not, not exclusively, but that, but that certainly is a major kind of focus for them. Uh, you also had three percenters, um, uh, with, uh, president January six and that's another of them from the militia movement, another group from the militia movement.

Speaker 5: 16:54 Yeah, exactly, exactly. It, based on the idea that 3% of the revenue, you know, 3% of the population during revolutionary America, where the Patriots who basically, you know, helped, helped found the, you know, the country that fought the revolution. Uh, but so they see themselves as very wrapped up in the notion of upholding the constitution, but there's a much more darker, uh, kind of layer to this. Once you start peeling away, the, the outer surface part about, you know, the, the pro America patriotism and so forth, there's a lot of other things going on in, in groups like the oath keepers and three percenters, but both of those groups that you just mentioned, they tend to have a strong, um, military pension, the, they, they either, they either covet people who are veterans or have been military experience, or they, they present themselves as military, you know, with body armor and things

Speaker 2: 17:50 Like that.

Speaker 5: 17:51 Yeah, exactly. And there, you know, for some veterans there's, and again, we're talking about, you know, a segment and it's not clear what, what size that segment is, but, uh, certainly not entirely. Um, so we want to be careful in terms of that, but, but a segment find some kind of familiarity and comfort in the fact that a lot of these right-wing extremist groups are essentially paramilitary in their structure and organization and the language that they use and because they are really confirming and, um, uh, really kind of reinforcing a certain kind of identity, uh, in terms of, you know, really valuing military experience in saying how important, and we really want to welcome that.

Speaker 2: 18:32 So I want to get into a little bit more into Q Anon and how this fact has factored in it. And I will tell you when I was first doing stories about Ashley Babbitt, who was the San Diego air force veteran, who was killed at the Capitol, uh, climbing in a window, she was an adherent of Q1 on, I think we might even have a picture of her with a Q shirt on this, grew up in the, in the, in the Trump administration. Um, but the Q Anon really has some, some really long in very dark roots. There's a, there's a real anti-Semitic route to this isn't there.

Speaker 5: 19:08 Yeah, absolutely. In many respects on kind of recycling, various tropes that have been around in the kind of universe of right-wing extremism for a long time and more broadly. And certainly antisemitism is one of them. You see a lot of references to the Rothschild family, which is essentially code word for the international Jew quote unquote, which is this idea that there's essentially a small international Jewish conspiracy that controls world affairs. Um, so you see also things related to sovereign citizenship and posse Comitatus ideas about the County sheriff being the highest law of the land. And they talk about America's actually not, uh, a Republic anymore. It's actually a corporation. These are ideas that have been around a long, long before we ever heard about Q,

Speaker 2: 19:57 Right. But this whole idea that there's this deep state that's made up from everyone, from Hillary Clinton to the intelligence community, to Tom Hanks, to the media, and we're at worst, there were supposed to be arrests here. We, um, they, they were going to happen maybe at the inauguration, if you were looking at some of the chatter that was going on, and then,

Speaker 5: 20:17 Well, and they're still talking about now, early March, March 5th, uh, Trump 2021 is going to be his new term, we'll start.

Speaker 2: 20:25 So, right. So that's the thing, this, I, you know, it struck me as like after the, after the inauguration, this would go away that nothing happens, no, no one intervened. Nobody made Donald Trump president and that this would start to fade away, but that's, it doesn't look like that, that some people look at that and, and, and feel they were duped just looking at the chatter, but then others seem to have down and they're, they're still going. And this, this is really not going away. Is this okay?

Speaker 5: 20:51 No. And, you know, even if Q were to disappear tomorrow, which it's not going to, but if that were to miraculously happen, the ideas are still circulating widely and broadly. And so, um, you know, that's, we get focused sometimes too much on specific groups. We're dealing with a worldview here that's deeply penetrated, um, you know, American society, but, but actually globally, as well as cause this is a global problem. Um, so, so a lot of times I think we focus too much on the groups and not recognize that this is a broad worldview that this represents,

Speaker 2: 21:26 Right. But though, in the case of Q was it made in 2019, the FBI put out a bulletin from the Phoenix office describing this conspiracy theory as a domestic terror threat. And that, um, I know in Southern poverty law center, they, there have been several cases where this has turned violent. So I mean, it's very detailed and it goes in all sorts of different directions. Am I right?

Speaker 5: 21:48 Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's quite, um, you know, involved in detailed and there's an aspect to it. I think for some of the folks who get into it, that it's almost like they're playing some kind of social mediated video game where, you know, cube puts out these little codes and they try and break the codes. And for those that are really heavily invested in it, I think there is a real kind of, um, uh, might be the wrong word, but entertainment value to it in terms of, they, they really find it pleasurable to be invested in these kinds of things. And of course they also see themselves as, you know, helping save children and, and really, you know, having this special insight about the evils that are all around us

Speaker 2: 22:32 And I, from what some of the things I've been reading, it's, uh, um, it's gotten involved in also thing. You could go on a self-help groups, you can go into groups that are dealing with like yoga classes and like, and start picking up on some of these theories. So it's quite fungible. It goes off in all of these different directions and it's, and it's, um, not really showing signs of dying out.

Speaker 5: 22:55 Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the more frightening aspects of Q is how much it really did spread essentially like wildfire. And we are, it appears that we're talking about millions of adherence in some form or another, again, not all the folks, you know, there's some folks that are kind of on the fringes, you might call them cute, curious. And then there are those that are deeply invested in, so it's a full range of, of involvement, but, uh, we are talking about not a few folks, you know, we're talking about a very large number here.

Speaker 2: 23:23 Not only are they not going away, but this has changed so much even in the last year.

Speaker 5: 23:30 Well, I think, you know, there's, there's a lot of aspects to it, but as far as the violence, what I'm most concerned about, uh, kind of post January six are two things that, that was a major kind of mass mobilization that, uh, you know, turned violent and that will have a radicalizing impact for some of those that were either directly involved or were vicariously involved in that they watched it on live stream, or they watch the various, you know, video clips that are readily available. And for some individuals, either in small cells or single actors, they're going to want to further what we saw on January six and continue to strike out violently as a kind of representative of the cause. And of course they have a long history of doing that. So Jan and we've seen that happen with similar types of kind of events like January six, where it radicalizes the individuals who directly participated and they commit even more violence after the fact,

Speaker 2: 24:25 Okay, I'm going to go on here to a Tony McAleer. He's the author of the cure for hate. He was once a Neo Nazi. He now helps others leave white extremest groups. You were in the military yourself, Tony. Um, what is the appeal of, of, of this, this kind of extremism and, you know, are people really, you know, there, people are being targeted, but what is the appeal if you're someone who's, who has been a veteran?

Speaker 6: 24:53 Well, I think the appeal of, of people that have been in, in the military or who are in the military or encouraged to go into the military obviously is, is the weapons training. Um, I was involved in, in a reserve unit in, in Canada. Um, and I did it strictly for the weapons training. I didn't talk to anybody about my beliefs when I was, when I was in there, just did it strictly for the weapons training. And I think that there's a sense of, um, patriotism, a sense of nationalism, um, which is not problematic that that many veterans have, uh, and that sense of that sense of duty and, and patriotism can often be manipulated, you know, and to take it to another, another step at, you know, at what point does nationalism become ultra nationalism? You know, at what point does, does, um, sort of the healthy view of wanting to get involved in serve the community, um, at what point does that actually become something much more sinister?

Speaker 2: 26:01 Hmm. I certainly don't want to paint with a broad brush or de demonize, um, in everyone whose politics might be to the right of center as somehow being, uh, an extremist, um, or even somebody who might've come across this stuff on Twitter. And the like, and may, may have talked about it somewhat and just sort of picked up at the outer edge, but where did these, these beliefs become a real problem? Where is that line where, you know, where you really have to take this seriously, if your, your friends or family, or, you know, maybe your buddy has, he starts talking about this stuff, where's that line where, you know, this really becomes a problem.

Speaker 6: 26:46 There's some nuances to that, but I think that the obvious place to start is the mobilization to violence and that's violence against property or, or individuals, um, that are expressed through, through these views. And, and we, you know, let's not lose sight of the fact that, um, you know, the young men and women who've served in the armed forces overseas, um, we've put them in extreme situations to do extreme things. And, and there isn't always the resources, um, sort of helped put that back together. Um, once they, once they come home, one of the very first people that we helped at life life after hate, uh, was indeed a veteran who reached out to us. Um, and he was starting to have ideations of, I think he'd seen friends blown up and, and really, um, hated Muslims that that was his motivation. And he was starting to have ideations of, of going to the local Muslim center and, and, and doing something.

Speaker 6: 27:52 And, um, it was kind of really touching, go with, uh, duty, duty to report. And, uh, two of our team went out there to, to, to see him. And, you know, we actually introduced them to the Emma at that Muslim center and they became the, uh, the best of friends, but his experience overseas, it really set him up, um, to fall into this, this ideology. And, uh, and on the hopeful side, it, it can be fixed. Um, you know, the man told us, you know, um, told our guys I've got 15 minutes for them. You can, you know, bring them down two hours later, they're crying and hugging and it really emotional, emotional, um, events. So there's, let's not lose lose fact of sight of the fact that, that, um, you know, we need to help the veterans when they, when they come back because they've been through pretty extreme.

Speaker 2: 28:48 Yeah. And, and, uh, it sounds like you work seriously, one-on-one with people and you really put in the time to really sort of hear them out and, and bring them through this process. Um, but if we were going to do this on a larger scale and really look at, uh, ways that you might, you know, be able to reach out to a number of people and kind of replicate that experience, do you think it can be done? Can this be done at a scale?

Speaker 6: 29:17 Absolutely. Absolutely. And I left life after hate a year ago. Um, but I think what life after hate did a great job of was providing proof of concept. And I think that the, the solution isn't to make life after hate or an organization like that bigger. And, you know, with thousands of counselors, let's look at the resources that are already in place in different communities, whether it be at the County level or the state level, and with some training, you know, sometimes they don't even know they've got the tools to deal with with traumas and dehumanization and, and, um, PTSD and stuff like that. They just often need, um, they need the subject demystified, you know, they, the slide, you know, in Neo Nazi, they sort of freak out and don't know how to, how to deal with it. But what if we give them a bit of training, um, and demystify it then, uh, the nose they can be skilled up.

Speaker 6: 30:16 And that's, I think that's how we, we, we scale it and there's, there's tons of resources out there. They just need to be marshaled towards this. I I'm trying to go through some of the questions here to see if we can get some of these in here. And, uh, is anyone going to discuss accountability and solutions? So I guess we're doing a little bit of that right now, but when we talk about accountability though, it's not always a matter of sort of holding people's hands when you're talking about, like, what happened on January 6th, uh, law enforcement is part of that simply holding people accountable. Right? Absolutely. Um, I think, you know, as a, we have to hold people accountable for the things that they, that they've done, but at the same time, we, we can't lose our sense of compassion in that. So I, um, I may despise the ideology. I may despise the activity, but I never despise the human being. And I think compassion when it's paired up with healthy boundaries and healthy boundaries and consequences, and that's where the accountability piece comes in. When you put those two together, they're, they're very powerful. It's a very powerful combination. And it just really key that we, through the process of grappling with these, you know, extreme political issues that we don't lose our sense of compassion in society at the same time,

Speaker 1: 31:48 I'm Jade, Hindman, you're listening to KPBS midday edition. Maureen Kavanaugh has the day off our veterans organizations addressing extremism among their ranks and the conclusion to the KPBS forum on violent extremist, among America's veterans host, Steve Walsh asks Akilah Templeton CEO of veterans village of San Diego. If her group has confronted that issue,

Speaker 6: 32:11 Uh, typically organizations like ours are concerned about a very specific set of problems. So, uh, we are typically working with veterans, uh, to ensure a successful reintegration back into society. And so we're concerned with things like improving the quality of life overall for the veteran and the veterans family. Um, we're looking at housing employment, uh, physical

Speaker 7: 32:40 Health, mental health, trauma, suicide prevention. Uh, we teach life skills and coping strategies. And so while we may not come out and say directly that we teach people not to hate, or that we teach people not to be racist, we might on any given day, uh, witness how these beliefs manifest in the veteran's life. And so what we see are our symptoms like isolation and, uh, difficulty engaging and, uh, difficulty resolving conflict, difficulty, managing anger, uh, problems with family and with, uh, relationships and maybe even, uh, involvement in the criminal justice system. And so, uh, the problem becomes that, um, many of the interventions that are currently in use my require looking at, or challenging the core belief, and I know that, uh, Tony was talking about this a little bit earlier, uh, but how do you do that if it's rooted in the person's politics or in their religious beliefs.

Speaker 7: 33:50 And so that's what makes this problem, uh, slightly different, you know, uh, extreme as firmly believe in the morality of the cause that they, they are supporting, you know, they believe that their intentions are good and that, that in and of itself justifies the behavior. And so, uh, when people believe that the end justifies the means, you're dealing with a different challenge entirely it's, uh, consequentialism where morality is sort of measure, you know, strictly by the consequences. And so it's the belief, um, that if the act itself produces a good outcome, then the act is moral. And so for the, the violent, uh, extremist, you know, something like storming, the Capitol is a moral act. Uh, it's something that will, uh, ultimately produce a good outcome until it's not wrong. Uh, and so, you know, I guess your question is, you know, how do we tackle that, or is it our responsibility to tackle that, you know, I, I don't know, because in some ways, you know, it might be viewed as, as unAmerican, uh, to suggest that we need to treat political affiliation or affiliation or belonging to a particular group. And so, uh, our focus, you know, now is really, uh, to consider how the belief is showing up in the veteran's life and to assess the level of risk, you know, um, when we think about that, person's ability to move, you know, successfully through life, uh, and to be, uh, a member of a community at large. So I guess I should have backed up and asked you the, the, the simple question.

Speaker 2: 35:38 Do you see this in your everyday practice, you're working with veterans, um, when you're trying to place people in, in, you know, get them off the streets or trying to deal with drug addiction, do you, do you hear these beliefs among, among your clients?

Speaker 7: 35:53 You know, I, I don't know that they show up in the way that you're describing, you know, we haven't necessarily seen an up or, you know, this type of violence and, you know, I'm, I'm assuming that that is likely because the veterans in our programs have the ability to form connection, you know, once they enter into our programs. And that was something that Richard, I think, touched on earlier, you know, just the importance of, of connection. So, um,

Speaker 2: 36:19 I'm going to tell you a story. This was, I did it, I think it was 2019. I did this story. It was a VA story. Uh, it was about the role that shame played in the treatment of PTSD. I talked with a veteran who had a terrible story, and he was really struggling with it. He, uh, he had been in Iraq, a car was coming toward his checkpoint. He had to make a split-second decision, open fire on the car. It turned out it was a grandfather and grandkids in the car. And he, you know, he was incredibly traumatized by this. Um, and we did a whole story about it and, you know, and talk to researchers and the like, and then the folks at the VA that were treating him. And then this last summer during the black lives matter movement, he was driving around East County with a full Nazi flag on the, on the back of his SUV was showing up at grocery stores and the, like another news crew caught up with him and asked him why. And he said it was the protest because of that. He was protesting black lives matter. And I just, I just went like, wow, I did not, I did not hear any of those beliefs when I talked to him and interviewed him at length about this very traumatic situation and his treatment. So is this a situation where in many ways, people just may not know that these, these views are out here where we're just not going there?

Speaker 7: 37:35 Uh, you know, I, I maybe, you know, I think that we have to be somewhat careful with connecting, you know, trauma and the experience that the person has in the military with the tendency, you know, to be more violent or to engage and, you know, radical extremism. I think that, you know, there are certain things that happen that might make a veteran more vulnerable. Um, but certainly the issue that, you know, I, I know that there's a focus on veterans because many of the people involved in the, uh, uh, events on January six were veterans. You know, it's, it's difficult because I think that many people are vulnerable. You know, it's not just the veteran veteran community. This is something that we see, you know, happening in, in many circles, among many groups of people, people who are just feeling hopeless and helpless.

Speaker 2: 38:30 So is this a conversation that the veteran community and people who and care about Fetzer are, are, are people having this conversation now, have they been having this conversation up until this point?

Speaker 7: 38:43 Uh, you know, this is a very new topic. Uh, it's not one that's really being, uh, discussed in provider circles at all. You know, as I was preparing for, uh, this evening, I, I talked with lots of folks. I, I even, you know, uh, sought the counsel of our, our local VA and, you know, uh, they confirmed that this is not really a subject that is coming up a lot, uh, in, uh, in our circle, you know, veterans service organizations. I know that there has been, you know, some attention, uh, with, you know, active duty, uh, personnel, military personnel, but in veterans circles, you know, no, I don't know that we've, uh, sounded the alarm, uh, just yet.

Speaker 2: 39:33 And when we're talking about the, uh, the new secretary of defense, uh, he has called for a 60 day stand down to look at extremism within the ranks. Um, and they've already been upfront that they believe they'll probably find more than they already know, uh, exists right now. So it's not something certainly that could be happening, uh, just among active duty, but not impacting the veteran community. These are two intertwined communities. So is the veteran community kind of behind the curve

Speaker 7: 40:01 Now at this point? Uh, you know, no, I don't think so. I think that it's taboo. I do also think that, uh, you know, since we tend to focus on, you know, the symptoms, right, uh, we deal with that. And then you think about, you know, mission the state admission of the VA, which is to care for the veteran. And so we're, we're in the business of providing care. And so I, I don't know that, um, we're at a place where we've taken, you know, accepted this as, as one of those areas that we need to tackle. I don't know that, you know, any of us were, uh, prepared for this, and this is a lot of work, but we certainly weren't holding groups on these topics specifically. Uh, but you know, I think that now, uh, existing interventions, uh, to new and unforeseen problems that are now happening,

Speaker 2: 40:59 It would be my next question. And if you did start tackling this, what would you do? And what would that look like? Um, I I'm thinking in terms of maybe even the, the buddy system that is used for like veterans suicide, where you have somebody who just checks on a friend to see if they're okay. Um, could things like that be adapted to looking at whether or not somebody is gone down a rabbit hole and they're, they're isolating themselves from friends and families and concentrating more on the conspiracy then than the people around them.

Speaker 7: 41:32 Well know, I think if you had asked me that a year ago or two years ago, I'd say, you know, yeah, absolutely. We should be, you know, really, uh, focusing in on how to solve those problems. But I think that it's difficult to talk about this problem specifically, um, in a vacuum, you know, uh, there are several crises sort of happening simultaneously, uh, right now, you know, we have the pandemic and then the political turmoil and all of those things, and those things sort of contribute to this problem. And so I don't know that we're tackling that problem specifically. Um, I think that we may be just really in crisis mode. Um, and, and, and, you know, I add also that, uh, what makes this more complicated is the fact that practitioners and providers, and those of us that are, are charged with caring for, uh, veterans, uh, are experiencing the crisis as well.

Speaker 7: 42:38 Right. And so, uh, we're trying to keep our staff saying, keep the veterans, uh, you know, on the right path at the same time. And so, uh, it's a very difficult and, uh, very difficult endeavor that requires a lot of strategy. Uh, the focus right now, uh, probably needs to be more on prevention. I mean, most of the people that come into our pro our programs are, you know, pretty much already in the fight of their, their lives. And so we know that they are more vulnerable. And so maybe, you know, taking more of a move towards preventing, you know, uh, the engagement with some of these groups might be the way to go John Clark. I want to give you a chance to chime in here and, um, you know, take us through some as some final thoughts here. I mean, if you were to help solve the situation, what would you do?

Speaker 8: 43:33 I started with the candid conversation, Steve, uh, you know, I, I read task force one, the report that came out and, uh, they've already added the word respect, and I think this is the wrong move. We, we, we continue to use these euphemisms when we really need to have the conversation about racism. We need to have a conversation about race, you know, the word, black, white, Mexican. When these words come up, people start to get uncomfortable. We need to have these uncomfortable types of conversations. If we're going to move the ball further down the down the field,

Speaker 7: 44:06 John, I'm going to have to. You're good. You're getting the last word on this. I'm gonna have to thank my guests, Richard Brookshire, with the black veterans project, John Clark, the third recently retired Naval commander, Tony McAleer. He, his book, his book is a cure for hate. Pizzey me, professor of sociology at the Chapman university and tequila Templeton CEO of veterans village. I'm Steve Walsh. Thanks for joining.

Speaker 3: 44:27 Yes.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.