Why some members of Congress are concerned about ‘racial extremism’ in the military

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress are calling on the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to do more to address “racial extremism” in the military in the wake of the arrest of a Coast Guard officer accused of plotting terror attacks from a home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Maryland Reps. Elijah Cummings, Anthony Brown and Jamie Raskin are among the Democratic lawmakers who have signed a letter sent Monday to the Defense Department and DHS in the wake of last week’s arrest of Lt. Christopher Hasson, 49, who served in the Marine Corps before joining the Coast Guard. He also served in the Virginia Army National Guard.

Prosecutors said Hasson, a self-described white nationalist, plotted to kill prominent Democrats and members of the media and closely followed the writings of a Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people.

Hasson was ordered to be held without bail during a hearing last week in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Lawmakers, while praising the quick action of federal authorities in making Hasson’s arrest, also said they are concerned that “an individual that espouses these views could repeatedly serve in the military across multiple services.”

In their letter, written to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the lawmakers noted that “at least six active duty members or veterans” were present at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. They also noted that two Marines were arrested in 2017 at a Confederate Memorial Day rally “brandishing white nationalist regalia.”

“The involvement of service members in these activities is cause for significant concern, particularly given their combat and weapons training,” the lawmakers said in their letter, which was also signed by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-NY, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee on Military Personnel.

Brown is the vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and Cummings is the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“While the vast majority of our service members continue to serve honorably, with distinction … it appears that some service members are still able to actively associate with extremist organizations,” the lawmakers said.

Among the questions they want answered:

  • What policies are in place in each service to prohibit the participation or association with organizations with extremist, supremacist or hate-based views?
  • What actions have the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security taken to unify these policies across all five services?
  • What steps are the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security undertaking in each service to screen recruits for extremist ties?
  • How were Hasson and other military service members with ties to extremist groups able to circumvent these checks?

The lawmakers have also asked for any information about Hasson’s service history that indicated he was unfit for service.

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