NYT Op-ed Links Organized Racist/Anti-Semitic Violence with Military Veterans

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April 15, 2014;New York Times

A post-doctoral fellow at Northwestern University named Kathleen Belew wrote a controversial and actually quite objectionable op-ed that implied an association between returning veterans and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s a connection that would never have crossed our minds or the minds of most readers, but Belew used the anti-Semitic shootings by 73-year-old Frazier Glenn Miller in Overland Park, Kansas to highlight a finding of a 2009 report, later withdrawn, from the Department of Homeland Security that indicated that the growth of the Klan is more closely associated with the return of U.S. military veterans from combat than any other historical factor.

“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,” according to the Homeland Security report.

Belew suggests that “when we interpret shootings like the one on Sunday as acts of mad, lone-wolf gunmen, we fail to see white power as an organized—and deadly—social movement.” That may well be true, but her focus on veterans as the impetus for racist and anti-Semitic violence (and anti-government—she linked former Vietnam veteran Miller, a former Green Beret, with bomber of Oklahoma City’s Murrah Federal Building, Gulf War army veteran Timothy McVeigh) is disconcerting, especially with her implication that the violence of veterans like Miller may be correlated with combat-related trauma.

“A vast majority of veterans are neither violent nor mentally ill,” she acknowledged, but she added a huge caveat. “When they turn violent, they often harm themselves, by committing suicide. But it would be irresponsible to overlook the high rates of combat trauma among the 2.4 million Americans who have served in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the full impact of which has not yet materialized.”

No one minimizes the challenge faced by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars due to incidents causing Post Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury, but the notion that PTSD and TBI makes veterans latent kegs of domestic, white-power terrorism seems beyond the pale. Would Belew extend that assertion to the 7.7 million Americans who suffer from PTSD due to car accidents or sexual assault? Is Belew suggesting that the 7.8 percent of all Americans who have experienced the symptoms of PTSD at some point in their lives—women twice as likely as men—are latent domestic terrorists? One presumes that, according to Belew’s thesis, veterans’ military training with firearms elevates their potential danger. But the likes of Miller and McVeigh are rarities in the context of the over 22 million Americans who are veterans.

Belew marginalized critics by lumping “the American Legion, Fox News, and conservative members of Congress” as behind the “intense blowback” to the Homeland Security report, but that is a further disservice to veterans. The numerous nonprofits that work at integrating returning Afghanistan and Iraq veterans into civilian society and the civilian workforce, such as the Wounded Warrior Project, the Wounded Warrior Careers program of the National Organization of Disability, and Easter Seals, just to name three, do not to our knowledge report problems with white racist groups signing up for their programs, but do report having to overcome obstacles of bias against returning veterans among employers and problems in getting them benefits and support from the Veterans Affairs department and other programs. The fact that political conservatives criticize the DHS study and are making hay out of Belew’s NYT op-ed doesn’t mean that their criticisms are wrong.

The actual personal history of Frazier Glenn Miller’s involvement in white power racist, anti-Semitic groups has been well documented, going back decades, with little or no discernable connection to his service in Vietnam. It is neither conservative nor liberal to dismiss the notion that veterans are somehow more inclined to racist, anti-Semitic violence than anyone else in our society. Rather, Belew’s charge is a misinterpretation of racism and anti-Semitism itself, an overemphasized correlation of veterans’ service with racial and anti-Semitic violence, as opposed to an exploration of the reasons why racism and anti-Semitism persist and, in some quarters, have even expanded.—Rick Cohen

  • Lindom

    As someone who has interacted and supported our veterans from WWII forward, this assumption by this writer is a bunch of bull to degrade our veterans. Apparently this writer has no ties to any veterans (past or current) or been around those today trying very hard to return to the civilian world. These men and women who have served our country honorably and seen things this writer will never see (unless she joins the military) or even have the ability to understand what they go through and see while serving our country overseas in foreign lands. Never to know if the one standing next to you that you are training to be a soldier in that country will turn and kill you or seen your brothers/sisters-in-arms blown up in front of you or be in a vehicle that hits an IED.

    This is nothing but someone who based on 2-3 incidents assume our veterans are something they are not or belong to groups that have specific agendas that harms our country.

    This writer needs to go visit medical facilities where our wounded warriors are (Walter Reed-Bethesda, Brook Army Med Center-San Antonio TX) and see what these warriors who have sacrificed so much and their families are going through.

    Nothing more than a 1 sided – 1 person’s opinion again based on situations that overall has nothing to do with our veterans. As always violence increases due to people losing their jobs and internal family disputes due to cheating, etc. Yes the Kansas incident may be anti-Semitic and yes the suspect was a veteran and yes known as a member of the Klan but can’t understand why because of a few that hit the major headlines, the writer attempts to lump all veterans into a single category.

    For the writer at least she lives in a country where our service members and veterans even deployed to a foreign are ensuring we continue to have the right to write crap like this even though it is completely one sided, 1 person’s opinion, and overall no real basis. If she cares about our military and veterans she should have written about how they are being mistreated (not getting the treatment they really need), cut in benefits, and disability/retirement payments. That would be supporting our troops and veterans instead of putting out something that is way off base.

    Personally I consider this and article that belongs in “File 13” and go back to supporting and being there for our troops and veterans by helping them instead of degrading them.

    Submitted by a daughter of a deceased WWII US Army veteran and widow of a deceased Vietnam Era US Army veteran who both served this country and US honorably. Supporting our troops and veterans for 45+ years and will continue til the day I leave this earth.

  • Anon

    According to her if you do not want Americans to fight die, or wounded spend US tax money in US Wars supporting Israeli apartheid you are anti semitic. She is just one of many US Zionists spinning any questions concerning Israeli atrocities against Palestinian is anti American.