Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense & National Security — Partisan extremism poses 'growing problem' among veterans

It's Wednesday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee held the first of what will be three hearings on the recruitment of U.S. veterans by violent extremist groups.

We'll break down what lawmakers and the panel of academics, former military officers and veterans group leaders had to say on the issue, the solutions proposed and why some lawmakers objected to the hearing altogether.

For The Hill, I'm Ellen Mitchell. Write to me with tips: emitchell@thehill.com.

Let's get to it.

House hearing highlights partisan divide on extremism

Veterans are increasingly joining extremist groups but a lack of data on the topic makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly how deep the problem runs, a panel of experts told House lawmakers on Wednesday.

"Violent extremism is a growing problem in America and by extension the military and veteran communities," retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Joe Plenzler, a researcher of extremism, told the House Veteran Affairs Committee.

"The question is not whether domestic violent extremist groups are recruiting and organizing veterans to commit violence, we already know this to be true. The questions are how extensive is this problem and what are we going to do about it," Plenzler said. 

A small number still a threat: What's more, even if extremist groups reach and radicalize only a small number of veterans and service members, they can still pose a threat to the United States.

"While veterans who participate in domestic terrorism may be few, they can be extremely dangerous," Plenzler said. 

Stark data points: He pointed to data that found veterans, who account for less than 6 percent of the U.S. population, have been connected to 10 percent of all domestic terrorist attacks since 2015.

The issue gained national attention after it was discovered that a large portion of those who participated in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol had military backgrounds.

Of the more than 620 people arrested in connection to the insurrection, 71, or 12 percent, were part of the military and veteran communities. Five were active-duty members of the National Guard or Reserve force while 66 were veterans.

The hearing's purpose: Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said the purpose of the hearing was not to condemn veterans who engage with extremist groups but "to draw attention to what these groups actually represent and to highlight the lurking threat posed."

GOP lawmakers protest: But Wednesday's hearing was often stalled by Republican lawmakers who questioned the need for such testimony and framed extremist views and behaviors as a matter of free speech. 

Ranking member Mike Bost (R-Ill.) said it was "every veterans' right to have an opinion, even one I find radical," though he added that if such an opinion is acted on with violence it "cannot be tolerated."

He also worried that holding the hearing risked spreading the false stigma that veterans are "broken" once they leave the military, thus easily targeted by extremists.

"I hope every veteran in America is watching this hearing today and hearing from the majority party that our veterans are so stupid and susceptible to becoming domestic terrorists that Democrats have to save them," said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.).

Solutions offered: A main focus of the hearing was how to stop veterans from becoming vulnerable to recruitment from extremist groups, with emphasis on educating service members on the issue before they leave the ranks.

It was also suggested that the U.S. government must do more to support research on extremism, noting that there's not enough data on why veterans could be susceptible to such organizations. 

Read more on that here.

Marine critical of Afghanistan withdrawal expected to plead guilty 

A Marine officer who criticized the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is expected to plead guilty to several charges against him for his comments. 

Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller Jr. took to Facebook in August after 13 service members were killed in a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport demanding accountability from those in leadership. 

The charges: The video, which Scheller took in uniform, led to charges including contempt toward officials, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, failure to obey lawful general orders, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

He spent a week in confinement and will appear in court on Thursday at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

'A call for accountability': Tim Parlatore, one of Scheller's attorneys, told The Hill that Scheller will be pleading guilty in the case.

"This case began with a call for accountability and Lt. Col. Scheller will demonstrate to senior leadership how to accept accountability for his own actions," Parlatore said.

Parlatore said the team is working on an agreement with the hope of getting Scheller an honorable discharge or a discharge with honorable conditions. 

He added that Scheller should only get a letter of reprimand and no additional punishments following the "totally excessive and unnecessary" week in the brig.

Read the full story here.

US, Israel, UAE discussing 'other options' if Iran diplomacy fails

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, alongside his counterparts from Israel and the United Arab Emirates, said Wednesday that other options for dealing with Iran's nuclear program are on the table if diplomacy fails.

The secretary issued a warning for Tehran that time is running out for a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Obama-era nuclear agreement that imposed strict oversight on Iran's nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief.

"The runway that we have left to do that is getting shorter and shorter and so we're watching Iran's comments, posture, very, very carefully," Blinken said in remarks to the press following a trilateral meeting with the foreign ministers of Israel and the UAE.

A more blunt warning: Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid issued a more blunt warning to Iran.

"By saying other options I think everybody understands, here, in Israel, in the Emirates, and in Tehran, what is it that we mean," Lapid said.

Covert attacks: Israel is widely believed to be behind multiple clandestine attacks against Iran's nuclear facilities and its scientists. The Islamic Republic in April blamed Israel for sabotage at its Natanz nuclear facility, and in June for a foiled attack at a site in the city of Karaj.

The New York Times reported last month that the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist in November 2020 was carried out by Israeli operatives using a remote-controlled machine gun.

Some background: Blinken said that the U.S. supports Israel's right to defend itself and blamed Iran for failing to return for a seventh round of indirect talks in Vienna over efforts to bring both parties back to the JCPOA.

Iran, which maintains that its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes, has delayed a return to Vienna over demands that the U.S. lift all sanctions as well as since transitioning to a new government and inaugurating a new president in August.

Former President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018 and Iran began violating the terms of the agreement in 2019 in what it said was a response to the reimposition of American sanctions.

Running out of time: The Biden administration launched efforts to return to the deal beginning in April, but has in recent weeks raised concerns that Iran's nuclear activities, including enriching uranium far beyond the limits of the deal, spinning more advanced centrifuges and advancing its ballistic missiles program.

"With every passing day, and Iran's refusal to engage in good faith, the runway gets short," Blinken said.

Read the full story here.

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That's it for today. Check out The Hill's defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you Thursday.

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