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Radicalization Within the Armed Forces: DoD Losing Sight of the Forest for the Trees

Make no mistake, this homegrown u201cradicalizationu201d has a specific name: extremist, evangelical, Christian fundamentalism or u201cChristian Dominionism.u201d

Peering inward, the top brass of the United States Armed Forces have dangerously lost sight of the forest for the trees. Invoking myopic, misleading drivel marinated in the “bath salts” of fundamentalist Christian predation, it has become all too clear that the Pentagon is incapable of making truly sober assessments of the profound internal threats and weaknesses it faces.

Earlier this year Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the ultra-secretive Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), testified before the Senate Armed Forces Committee with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey notably sitting with him. It was here that Burgess offered truly startling testimony depicting the threats that he claims undermine the integrity of the armed forces, endanger American life, and compromise our overall national security.

Among those threats is the menace of another WikiLeaks-style exposure. Understandably, the Department of Defense has no greater fear than another Bradley Manning-style whistleblower determined to shine a revealing light on the all too-frequent pattern of self-defeat which has become an outgrowth of a slipshod culture, rife with back-scratching favoritism and lazy pretension, which many in the Pentagon have become wedded to.

The next named threat, however, particularly caught our attention: “Self-radicalization or lone wolf individuals… within our own ranks, remain an enduring concern,” noted Lt. Gen. Burgess.

This line leapt out at us immediately, like a blazing meteor in the night sky. We can understand the threat posed by isolated, embittered loners such as the murderous Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hassan, and the recently convicted failed bomber, Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo. Indeed, what animated these two was the fact that they placed their own twisted brand of sectarian religiosity above their oath to the United States Constitution and their obedience to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Those who transgress their oaths, and their military mission, should be aggressively investigated and subject to timely trial by courts-martial as a simple matter of basic martial justice and discipline.

Staff and volunteers at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the four-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated civil rights organization of which I am Founder and President, immediately wondered — why are “lone wolves” and the “self-radicalized” the only subject of “enduring concern?” Is it because the above-named examples are Muslim? This could be one reason. Or is the Pentagon losing sight of the proverbial forest for the trees, as it is most certainly wont to do, particularly in line with the dictates of political expediency?

While Nidal Malik Hassan’s crimes were shockingly egregious, the radicalized, fundamentalist element within the U.S. armed forces is hardly a new or isolated phenomenon. Our organization represents just under 28,000 clients drawn from the ranks of active duty United States soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, cadets and midshipmen, veterans, Coast Guard, and National Guard reservists. As such, we have been well positioned to hear countless cries of help from thousands upon thousands of victims of such radicalization within all branches of the armed services. It is precisely this rapidly metastasizing threat of radicalized religiosity which has carved the greatest gash into the esprit de corps of our military, while also posing a concomitant enormous, ominous threat to the comprehensive national security of the United States itself.

Make no mistake, this homegrown “radicalization” has a specific name: extremist, evangelical, Christian fundamentalism or “Christian Dominionism.” Subscribers to this wretchedly exclusivist ideology bear more than a passing resemblance to Abdo and Hassan. Their virulent and utterly unconstitutional sectarianism is revealed in their arrogant attempts to coercively and viciously proselytize their comrades-in-arms, be they Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, or non-believer. Many are shocked by my revelation that some of the most gut-wrenching testimonials I or our MRFF staff have personally heard have been from faithful, dyed-in-the-wool Protestants and Roman Catholics who are harassed due to their lack of fundamentalist zeal. In fact, these disaffected Christians comprise a total of 96% of MRFF’s clients. Indeed, MRFF’s largest client growth area is actually with evangelical Christians who, despite their “born again” beliefs, are not prepared to proselytize in a manner that violates the time, place and manner restrictions imposed by our U.S. Constitution and its construing federal and state case law.

Other minority groups within the military have also borne the full brunt of this pernicious, radicalized scourge. These “radicals” have openly conspired to seek authorization for the bullying, abuse, and torment of LGBTQ service members, going so far as attempting to use the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as a Trojan horse for their bigoted agenda. This virulent oppression has come in the form of attempts to seek amendments to NDAA that explicitly allow servicemembers to ruthlessly harass and persecute gay colleagues while also allowing chaplains the right to refuse to minister to them and carry out marriages between same-sex partners on a basis of homophobic bigotry and prejudice alone. Twisting the English language in an outright Orwellian manner, they refer to this reprehensible denial of servicemembers’ human rights as examples of their own perverted and twisted, parochial “religious freedom” and “conscience protection.”

Servicewomen have also been subject to hideous torment as a result of the fundamentalist Christian cancer within the military. Hyper-patriarchal, misogynistic, and chauvinist attitudes are typically a part of the overall “package deal” of evangelical fundamentalism. Real world consequences mean altogether hellish conditions for female service members within their units.A recent VA survey has found that 30 percent of female veterans have reported sexual assault at the hands of a colleague or superior, while 20 percent have been raped more than once and 14 percent have been victims of gang rape. Eleanor J. Bader of RH Reality Check has cited the reason for the reluctance to report these sickening crimes: an unsympathetic military chaplaincy, a humongous 20 percent of whom were trained at the Rev. Jerry Falwell-funded Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, VA. These are the same chaplains who openly and brazenly agitate against, marginalize, and dehumanize gay and lesbian service members. Coincidence? Obviously not.

Bader quoted Rev. John Gundlach, a respected United Church of Christ military chaplain for 27 years, who explained to her that “[s]ome super evangelicals see the military as their own government-paid mission field…They are there to proselytize; that’s their mandate. Even though proselytizing is prohibited, it takes place all the time.” This unconstitutional train of thought, which oozes the poison that military service is a taxpayer-funded missionary expedition, is systemically extant throughout the U.S. military up to and including the very highest leadership echelons of the Armed Forces. Think of it as an alloy of evil, for that is precisely what it is.

The real threats to the national security of the United States are varied and multidimensional, with radical fundamentalism standing amongst them as the foremost challenge. But it isn’t the obscure threat of disaffected Muslim servicemembers that poses the greatest danger. A different type of radicalism envelops the U.S. military. It is a homegrown variety, which threatens to subsume our servicemen and women in a tsunami of intolerant, pernicious, and explicitly unconstitutional bigotry and bloody apocalyptic zeal. The magnitude of this universal, fundamentalist Christian threat is matched solely by the endless capability for malfeasance emanating from the Defense Department.

The DoD is clearly high on “bath salts” of a wholly dubious composition: organizational shortsightedness mixed with the anti-Constitutional contraband of radical Christian fundamentalism. The result is the severe handicapping of the top brass’s abilities to gauge the threats that truly undermine our military’s functioning capabilities. The bottom line is that the perpetrators of this radical Evangelical threat are gnawing off the morale and integrity of the United States Armed Forces. So long as this process of cannibalization continues, our military will consistently fail to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

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