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Home/Rod Dreher/Is The US Military Being Purged Of Rightists?

Is The US Military Being Purged Of Rightists?

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered an intense examination of 'extremism' in the US military (NBC News)
This came into my inbox today from an Army lawyer (judge advocate). The reader gave me permission to post it if I left off his name and the names of mutual friends who urged him to reach out to me:
I just read your piece, “Witness Against Wokeness” which reverberated strongly with me — not because I have any experience with Eastern European Communism, but because it is happening here and now and I am on the receiving end. I’ve already spoken with our mutual friends [names] about this matter and had hesitated to bring it to your attention. However, given the tenor of your latest article I have to warn you, the soft totalitarianism you’ve been trying to draw attention to is right in your own backyard. The great purge of Conservatives from the US military has begun; once the ranks are sufficiently cleansed then the overarching work to remake our country can begin in earnest.
I am a part-time Army Reservist who has drilled for the past 4 years at the [unit] in [Louisiana city] and had recently transferred to the [unit near a different Louisiana city]. A week ago, I received my “Notice of Purge” in the form of a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (“GOMOR”) personally signed by Lt. Gen. Charles Pede, The Judge Advocate General of the Army (the guy who advises the Joint Chiefs of Staff and briefs at the White House). This is akin to Zeus looking down from Mt. Olympus and hurling a thunderbolt from on high to obliterate some unsuspecting peasant plowing in his field. Although I never suspected something of this magnitude, I did have a suspicion that something was up.
A month or so ago, I went back to the unit in [Louisiana city] to turn in some gear, etc. and noticed that everyone was avoiding me — office doors were literally closing and whispering was echoing in the halls as I passed. Finally, a friend, an old Master Sergeant, approached me to subtly let me know a Special Agent from Army CID had been asking questions about me. I texted my Colonel to see if he wanted to go to lunch and he told me to meet him in the parking lot. Normally, I’d be the one to drive (as a rank thing) so I got my car and came to pick him up; however, as he walked up he immediately barked, “No, you’re riding with me.” So I went ahead and parked my vehicle and climbed into his.
Immediately he demanded, “Did you bring your phone?” “Sure, Sir,” I responded, handing it over, thinking he wanted to borrow it. He recoiled from it like it was a snake and told me, “Turn that off!” Then he continued, “Better yet — sit on it! My confused reply was, “What, Sir?” He said, “Cover that with your butt! The microphone can still work when it’s off.” At this point I was starting to feel sick.
“They’ve been listening to your phone, you know” was his next utterance. He then proceeded to tell me how he’d been questioned for half an hour by his General as to how well he knew me, what he knew about me, etc; and this was not occurring in 1960s Yugoslavia but on a bright sunny day in Louisiana, on our way to lunch.
As you may know, Christian Conservatives are now being targeted for elimination from the military — myself included. By painting in broad brush strokes and labeling everyone they disagree with (or, more aptly, who disagree with them) as “Extremists,” the new powers-that-be at DoD are moving swiftly to appease their political masters. The pretext for my removal is based on the extreme vetting of Facebook accounts of military members in the wake of the January 6th Capitol protests and Biden’s inauguration (and, specifically, a post I made on Jan. 6th). Because of the irregular bypassing of my chain-of-command and unnecessarily high-profile nature of the action against me, it is clear that this censuring is being directed at the highest echelons of the Defense Department.
The free-speech implications of these actions against me and others are chilling.  I am the guy who gives the briefs on what is and is not permissible online conduct and I can assure you nothing I ever posted “crossed the line” (unlike many of my fellow Soldiers over the past year+ who have overtly disparaged the former Commander-in-Chief, et al.). The post at issue was made on my own time, not in a duty status and not on a government device or computer, in my role as a private citizen. There is no nexus to the military and no precedent for this level of overreach. Although my post was not a political statement, the reaction to it has been undoubtedly politically motivated and ideologically driven.  If this GOMOR is allowed to go forward, separation from the Army will automatically be initiated against me. Because of these proceedings, I have a suspension of favorable personnel action placed upon me, so that I cannot be promoted, transferred, or even receive an award. This is more than being “nibbled to death by ducks,” it is how they kill you softly and avoid the due process rights which a court-martial would trigger.
I wish more Americans really knew what was happening. The military I came up in was overtly apolitical; that military is gone. Still, my fellow service members and I deserve better than to be constantly jerked around in the never ending social-engineering experiments of the radical Left, and drummed out when we don’t tow the Party line. However, the writing is on the wall. God-fearing men and women in the Armed Forces are about to suffer; I fear it is only a precursor of what is to come for society in general. I served in Iraq and Afghanistan and my family has fought in every war this country ever fought, since before there was a United States. But none of that matters anymore in the new Amerika. I feel like the old Roman, still manning the frontier as Rome burns behind me.
If there is any way you can help my situation and/or call attention to the plight of thousands of other Christian Conservatives who are similarly in the line of fire, it would be deeply appreciated. Please do not hesitate to contact me and/or let me know anyone to reach out to who might be able to help defend those who defend others.  I pray that the Lord of Battles will deliver us.  If not, then I pray that I may be counted worthy to suffer for His name. God bless you and God bless America.  Thank you for what you do, Rod, and keep fighting the good fight.
I asked the reader to send me a copy of the Facebook post that got him into trouble. He did. I reproduce it below with names blacked out:
Here is the GOMOR that that facetious post earned (again, I’ve taken his name and identifying details out):
The reader adds:

Obviously, I didn’t mean to paint a target on my back but, admittedly, made it easy for them (yet who knew at the time that the ensuing witch-hunt was coming?). In this day and age where anti-racism is the ascendant tenant of the state religion, anything with a Confederate flag is immediately suspect. Never mind that I am a bonafide Military History Nerd and Civil War Reenactor who wears blue as much as gray; the irony of Calhoun, et al was lost on my unintended audience (although my actual “friends” understood perfectly well). But the way my words were lifted out of context and their meaning twisted is what is so especially galling (see the emoji, General? This is what is called “satire.”).

However, the post was just a convenient excuse to help the DoD Kommissars accommodate their political masters’ mandate to remove Conservatives from the ranks. That has always been the experience of those living under both soft and hard totalitarianism — the oppressors can always find a justification. In order to accomplish their aims they have to have an enemy — and the enemy of these times is, of course, white supremacists. Once they’re able to portray you as the enemy, then the next leap (towards elimination) is a much easier one to make (just ask Bonhoeffer and the Jews).
I wish I had not deleted the post now, although I did after only a few days. The tenor of the comments was in much the same vein as the author’s intended meaning — “What Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia couldn’t accomplish in four years, this clown just did in 4 minutes… lol.” And, keep in mind, my post was made contemporaneously with the events as they were happening — I actually lifted the photo from NBC News. In legal terms, the post was equivalent to an “excited utterance” — I was struck by the sheer historical immensity of the occasion; at that point in the day, no one had died, etc. and I didn’t know the depths to which the Alinskyites would exploit the situation (“never let a crisis go to waste”).
If I had received a counseling statement (a military slap on the wrist) I would’ve admitted with chagrin a lapse in judgment and apologized for my jest made in poor taste. But this is so over the top, it requires an equal and opposite reaction. Regardless, at the end of the day, free speech is free speech — or at least it used to be. Take a look at the attachments and then let me know what you (really) think!
What I really think is that this military judge advocate exercised poor judgment by joking in poor taste. But it was clearly a joke — it had a smiley-face emoji — and not an endorsement of sedition. He deserved at most a slap on the wrist. Maybe the Army knows something more about this man and his views than is evident here, and that information justifies its harshness — that is, maybe the Army was listening in on his phone (in which case, did it have a warrant)? But based on what we see here — and acknowledging that we only have this man’s side of the story — this really does seem like an extraordinarily rash punitive action. They have basically ended this man’s military career, it sounds like. This, over a single jokey comment. Is this really what the military means by attacking extremism in the ranks? Absolutely, go after closet neo-Nazis and Ku Kluckers. Get them out of the military at once. But to destroy the career of an Army lawyer because of that? Because of a joke?
I would love to know what other soldiers reading this case think of it. And I would like to know what other military personnel are facing on this front.
Again, it seems to me that nobody can object to actual neo-Nazis and similar extremists being unmasked and forced out of the military. But if soldiers, sailors, and airmen are facing the end of their careers for piddly social media postings like what got my reader into trouble — if that’s what it means to be an “extremist” in the new woke military — then that feels like a political purge. I received an e-mail today from another reader in the military who said that the wokeness is coming so strong that they are now expected to accept that it is just to keep white males from promotion simply because they are white males at a time when the senior leadership wants to see women and people of color moved up. My correspondent said that the woke consciousness is “poison” for the armed services, and that this is not what he signed up for.
If we really are at the outset of a political purge in the armed services, what does the Biden administration think they are creating in this country? A different reader sent me this meme today:
UPDATE: A reader with a military background writes:
Your recently reprimanded reader has a genuine complaint about the injustice done to him. At the same time, there’s a certain naiveté. He’s not being reprimanded for being Christian, conservative, or Republican. He’s being reprimanded for posting a picture with a Confederate flag, an approving comment, and a smiley face. He says it’s an ironic history joke. But it is easily construed as approving the action depicted in the picture, and the “2021 is just getting started” comment could be an expression of hope that more things like that happen this year. In a more just world, this would be a teaching moment, not a career killer. But if you’re a major, you really should know better. The tolerance for questionable judgment goes down as rank goes up. I’ve seen officers’ careers ruined for less. Stalin only stopped purging the Red Army after Hitler invaded.
When a bureaucracy is threatened from the outside, it will do whatever it has to in order to handle the threat with the minimal loss of autonomy. If the Army didn’t show sufficient motivation to appease the civilian political leadership, it would lose autonomy. Being able to show how a hapless major was a closet extremist rooted out of the service by diligent investigation is the sort of thing that preserves bureaucratic autonomy. It’s not personal… it’s just the nature of the machine.
To prevent this sort of thing from happening to any of your other readers, here are the pertinent lessons we can all learn:
1. Revolutions eat their own. If the Woke offer up someone else’s scalp, it prolongs the time until the revolution eats them. Avoid making yourself the entree.
2. If you know nothing else about the Woke, remember that they are congenitally humorless. If you have to explain how to comment you made on social media was sarcastic, just don’t make it. You’re at the mercy of someone else getting your joke, and if they can get a scalp by purposely not getting your joke, they won’t.
3. Better yet, don’t make any comments on social media. If asked why you’re not on Twitter, or Facebook, don’t go off on a public political rant. Explain that it’s creepy, it’s a time suck, it’s all ads, etc. All true, and safe to say in any environment. No one actually likes social media anymore, and most admire those who have given it up. Your life is more likely to be totally ruined than even mildly improved by posting on social media.
4. If you must use social media, don’t put your job, full name, picture, etc on your profile. If you have to use it for business, stay militantly on topic and never post or like anything not directly related to your business and totally unobjectionable to everyone.
As for the phone thing, assume a hostile intelligence service is transcribing everything said within earshot of your phone for future blackmail purposes. Not all hostile intelligence services are foreign.
As a lawyer, the reader should know the fourth amendment protects you from the state introducing illegally collected evidence in a criminal trial against you. I bet there’s a judge somewhere who would sign a search warrant based on that Facebook post. Cops can judge shop, too. Even without a warrant, there are exceptions to using that information against you, and the reinterpretation of “Violent Extremist Organization” to include anyone to the right of Obama circa 2012 will only make those exceptions broader.
UPDATE.2: “Anonymous JAG” posts:

The headline doesn’t match the story in this situation. I’m a military Judge Advocate myself, and happen to be in a position to know something about the context of this reserve Major’s situation (though not about his particular case).

Forgive the long post, but in a number of ways the conclusions he draws from his case aren’t merited.

1. He describes getting a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMOR) issued by the Judge Advocate General of the Army as “Zeus looking down from Mt. Olympus and hurling a thunderbolt from on high to obliterate some unsuspecting peasant.” But that’s wrong in two ways:

-First and most importantly, as the name implies a GOMOR is always issued by a General Officer, typically the first in your chain of command…for him, that’s the Army Judge Advocate General, Lt Gen Pede. There’s nothing strange about this.

-Second, he’s not exactly a lowly peasant (though to a reservist it might feel like it sometimes): as a Major, he’s a field grade officer and outranks well over half the Army JAG Corps. To use his analogy, this is more like Zeus smiting one of the minor gods.

2. He overstates what actually happened to him. A GOMOR doesn’t mean he’ll automatically be separated (contrary to his description). As the GOMOR itself indicates, Lt Gen Pede hasn’t even decided whether it will be added to his permanent file. Now, it’s true that a GOMOR more often than not means you won’t be promoted, and sometimes leads to administrative separation proceedings (ie, getting fired from the Army). This runs into a larger problem of the military not having forms of punishment that don’t effectively end a career—especially at the Major/Lt Col level, promotion is competitive enough that a formal reprimand is usually going to put you out of the running. But he’s not being purged or subjected to any unusual form of discipline or punishment. Whatever complaints he has are shared by virtually every officer who’s received a GOMOR. It’s not “irregular,” nor is it unusually “high-profile” as he characterizes it.

You say, Rod, that at worst he deserves “at most a slap on the wrist.” But for a field grade officer making potentially embarrassing social media posts, this *is* a slap on the wrist. Not long ago the Army separated a junior Lieutenant for making a Holocaust joke on TikTok. If you want to say the Army is oversensitive about social media posts, fine, but he’s not being treated more harshly than normal.

3. An unsettling number of active duty or reserve military officers turned out to have been participants in the Jan 6 incursion…and not just among people swept up in the moment, but among those who did things like come in body armor or carrying a supply of flex cuffs. Surely we can all agree that military officers taking part in a mob that broke into the Capitol is concerning. All the military services are taking a look at whether there’s a systemic problem or not, and in some commands that extends to looking at senior officers’ social media presence. Obviously reasonable people can disagree as to how concerned the military should be about political extremism in the ranks and what actions should be taken, but I don’t think evaluating a field grade officer’s social media statements about the Jan 6 incursion is, by itself, over the line.

4. His post—I take him at his word that he didn’t mean it as a celebration of a man carrying a Confederate battle flag breaching the Capitol with John C. Calhoun’s portrait able to look on. But the responses to this post show pretty clearly that a lot of people did, and that it’s not an unreasonable response. I myself thought the post was celebratory, and didn’t think it seemed like a joke, without whatever context might have been on his facebook feed (and let’s be honest, emojis do not have such well-established meanings that including one resolves any ambiguity). Bottom line, assuming the rest of his social media supports his assurance that he wasn’t celebrating the Jan 6 mob, maybe a GOMOR might be considered a little harsh, but it’s not wildly out of line…he’s a field grade officer posting what, as the GOMOR says, “appeared to endorse” the riot.

5. As to whether the rest of his social media supports his assurance…I confess I’m skeptical. In his letter he calls America “Amerika,” refers to civilian leadership as the Pentagon’s “political masters,” talks about what “God-fearing men and women in the Armed Forces are about to suffer,” (standard, run-of-the-mill administrative punishment, I suppose), and such. The tone is such as to make me wonder about his professional judgement, specifically his ability to detach his political views from his role as a military officer. Obviously this letter might not be fully representative, but it’s a bit unsettling.

6. Several things about his account are just off. For example, he describes the Army Judge Advocate General as “the guy who advises the Joint Chiefs of Staff and briefs at the White House.” In fact he only advises the Army Chief of Staff; the heads of the other Armed Services have their own JAGs and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has his own two-star legal advisor. And the Army Judge Advocate General would almost never brief at the White House—legal opinions from the uniformed JAGs are generally routed through the DoD’s General Counsel, and legal advice to the White House most often comes from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel anyway. Mistakes like this aren’t huge deals in themselves (obviously he’s not personally involved in Pentagon legal advice), but they all add up to exaggerating the severity of his treatment, making a pretty routine administrative action seem far more serious than it is.

7. He claims that his Colonel was told, or found out, that his phone was being monitored, and told him. Given every other issue here, I’m just not able to take his word on that. I can’t prove the negative on this, but…I’d need more evidence. Especially since there’s no real point to monitoring his phone here. The GOMOR is about the facebook post, which no one needs the NSA to see. The amount of trouble it would take to monitor his phone is well beyond what anyone would think worthwhile for a routine administrative action.

8. Finally, not to be this guy but I happen to know Lt Gen Pede, and he’s not the type to be leading a purge of conservative, “God-fearing” soldiers. It just doesn’t wash.

Your post’s headline asks “Is the US Military Being Purged of Rightists?” The answer is no. This guy isn’t in trouble because he’s conservative, or Christian. It’s because he put up a facebook post that appears to celebrate (whatever his intent) the Jan 6 mob, and he’s being treated that same way officers are generally treated for this sort of error in judgement.

Full disclosure, I genuinely believe Christians should be worried about the direction of things. I wonder whether my children will be able to practice as lawyers or doctors in the United States without having to compromise their faith (assuming, God willing, they retain it). I don’t think you’re wrong in general about what’s coming. But this particular story is something else.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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