Military veterans are joining extremist groups whose members stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — such as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and the Boogaloo Bois — in part because they "miss the camaraderie" of the Armed Services, according to one expert who's set to testify before a House panel on Wednesday.
The House veterans affairs committee hearing will examine concerns about a rising number of veterans and active-duty service members joining "dangerous and potentially violent" right-wing groups, which comes amid a widespread government review of domestic extremism following the Jan. 6 insurrection, UPI reports.
"In February, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a military-wide stand down for 60 days to deal with extremism in military ranks, and a Pentagon report in March warned that service members are highly prized recruiting targets by White supremacists and other extremist groups as a means to 'bring legitimacy to their causes and enhance their ability to carry out attacks,'" according to UPI.
Jeremy Butler, CEO of Afghanistan Veterans of America, plans to tell the committee in his opening remarks that his group is "extremely concerned" about the number of veterans who participated in the insurrection.
"It is clear that while veterans transition they often miss the camaraderie that military service brings them," Butler says. "Unfortunately, it can also be a time when extremist groups could target them for recruitment and seek to fill a void that the veterans feel they are missing."
According to retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Joe Plenzler, who will also testify, "These terrorist organizations use sophisticated recruiting, communication and indoctrination methods to attract followers, provide them a sense of community and purpose and incite them to violence."
Seth Jones, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will note that some of the best-known domestic terrorists — such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Atlanta Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph and Ruby Ridge extremist Randy Weaver -- were military veterans.
"In October 2020, the FBI arrested Adam Fox, Barry Croft and several other accomplices in a plot to kidnap and potentially execute Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer," according to Jones. "Violent far-right and far-left networks have solicited military personnel because of their skill sets."
Another witness, Anti-Defamation League vice president Oren Segal, plans to tell the committee at least four people charged in the insurrection were active-duty military service members, while 39 were veterans.
Heidi Beirich, co-founder and chief strategy officer at the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, says in her testimony that veterans and active-duty service members make up roughly one-quarter of the membership of extremist groups.
"This is not an accident," Beirich says. "These groups spend considerable time reaching out to the community."
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab at American University, plans to draw attention to the recent "explosion of far-right violence and the normalization of the extremist ideas that drive it."
"Unlike in prior generations, the vast majority of extremist content and radicalization today is experienced online," according to Miller-Idriss. "One of the most worrying trends is the increasing number of Americans who were not previously affiliated with any [extremist] groups but are now increasingly drawn into the large tent of the networked extreme far right."