On Tuesday, an op-ed at the New York Times attempted to link veterans to white supremacist groups, citing the recent Overland Park, Kansas, shootings in which Frazier Glenn Miller -- a veteran with a long history of white supremacist activity -- allegedly shot and killed three people. The op-ed sparked outrage from veterans and prompted a stinging rebuke from the Military Times on Wednesday.
In her piece, Kathleen Belew conceded that the majority of veterans are neither violent nor mentally ill. But she went on to claim that veterans have a history of joining so-called right-wing extremist groups, citing a 2009 Department of Homeland Security Report linking the return of combat veterans to membership in the Ku Klux Klan.
“Military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists carrying out violent attacks,” said the nine-page report. The document, she stipulates, outlined no specific threats, but said a number of factors, including economic conditions and the election of a black president, could drive veterans to white supremacist groups.
Paul Rieckhoff, director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was outraged by the op-ed, which he called “sensational, slanderous and incredibly offensive to veterans.” He also called on the Times to issue an apology
“Both the title — ‘Veterans and White Supremacy’ — and an accompanying graphic joining service members with KKK members are shameful,” Rieckhoff told the Military Times on Wednesday. “And the piece relies on weak research and sweeping generalizations about veterans. Especially coming right after so much irresponsible journalism that surrounded the [April 2] Fort Hood shooting, this is stunning and sad to see."
“How could the New York Times publish such a hurtful piece?” he asked. “Veterans deserve answers from the Times — and an apology. After more than a decade of sacrifice, no veteran should have to open the newspaper and read an op-ed linking them to hate groups. In contrast to this op-ed, we should focus on telling the story of veterans doing amazing, inspiring work across the country and addressing the real challenges veterans face, including high rates of suicide and unemployment.”
Phillip Carter, a former Army captain who served in Iraq, now directs the veterans research program at the Center for a New American Security, the Military Times said. Carter blasted Belew's piece as "sloppy" and said the evidence does not support her claims.
“Belew’s piece also omits lots of important facts, like the U.S. military’s success in promoting diversity and racial integration within its ranks, so much so that it’s considered the leading large organization in the country in this regard,” he told the Times in an email. “Belew also fails to mention the massive effort in the late 1990s to root out extremism from the U.S. military — an effort which took place after the time window (1975-1995) that is the basis for her research.”
Former Air Force staff sergeant Kerry Patton told the Times that articles like Belew's op-ed are typical of how the so-called mainstream media and academia view veterans. Patton also told the Times that most veterans are not the monsters Belew apparently thinks they are.
“As veterans, we need to be concerned that this is unfolding, that people are talking like this, in this nature, about us when the great majority of us are the epitome of upstanding citizens,” Patton said on Wednesday.
The Times noted that after the recent Fort Hood shooting, the Huffington Post featured a map showing where veterans had committed violent crimes. The map was later pulled after an outcry from critics and the Huffington Post apologized.
“A previously published article featuring a graphic that depicted data on violent crimes by veterans has been removed,” the Huffington Post said. “The article was intended to call attention to the lack of evidence correlating post-traumatic stress disorder to violent behavior among veterans, and to highlight the insufficient mental health services available to them. It failed in these regards, and we regret that the data as presented in our graphic was incomplete and misleading.”
Paul Szoldra, a Marine veteran who writes for Business Insider, said veterans are the last group in the country that can be stereotyped. Much of that, he says, is attributed to a misunderstanding by journalists who only see statistics but have no real understanding of veterans.
“What’s happening in these recent pieces is basically you have some journalists who aren’t covering the beat; they don’t really know what’s going on in the military; they just see a statistic and they are kind of like, ‘Oh, there’s something here; here’s a story; it’s a really interesting story.’ They don’t even realize just how terrible a story like that Huffington Post [story] looks,” he said.
One case the Times cited was a 2009 incident in which Penn State University was forced to apologize for an educational video showing how instructors should respond to veteran students who become combative and threatening. According to the Times, a nervous professor tells her supervisor that a veteran in her class is confrontational and “always on the verge of losing his temper.”
“If he ever threatens you, you call the police right away,” the supervisor says in response. “And if you ever do really get worried, get out quickly and call someone.”
The satirical website Duffel Blog responded to media stereotypes with an article that said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va, introduced a bill requiring veterans "notify people nearby that they are a powder keg of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, murder, and hate just waiting to blow.”
A number of people took the article seriously, the Washington Times said. As a result, Moran was forced to issue a statement to ward off furious voters.
"The satirical website Duffelblog.com' recently posted an article detailing fake legislation that portrayed our nation's veterans suffering from PTSD in a negative, hurtful, and deliberately provocative light," he said. "My office has received a number of calls and emails regarding the posting, and given the speed with which false information can spread virally, I wanted to make clear that the article is false and the website is a spoof."
But Belew's article is no spoof. And neither are the calls and demands for an apology.