March 31, 2022

Chairman Takano Delivers Opening Remarks Before Critical Hearing on Veterans and Domestic Violent Extremism

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Jenni Geurink (202-819-4684)  

WASHINGTON, D.C—Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif) delivered remarks at the Full Committee investigative hearing entitled: "Helping Veterans Thrive: The Importance of Peer Support In Preventing Domestic Violent Extremism.” This is the second in a series of hearings looking into domestic violent extremist groups and the targeted recruitment of veterans—today’s hearing will examine the various risk factors that place a small but growing number of veterans at risk for extremist violence and identify and evaluate civil society efforts to combat domestic violent extremism. Last week, Chairman Takano released a majority staff report entitled, "Report On Domestic Violent Extremist Groups And The Recruitment Of Veterans” that highlighted the lessons learned from a hearing focused on domestic violent extremist groups held in October 2021.


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A video of Chairman Takano’s remarks can be found here.


Chairman Takano’s remarks as prepared:   


Today’s oversight hearing is entitled, “Helping Veterans Thrive: The Importance of Peer Support in Preventing Domestic Violent Extremism.”  


Last fall, this Committee held an initial hearing examining the threat of veteran radicalization and recruitment by domestic violent extremist groups. We learned why violent extremist groups, such as the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Three Percenters, target veterans in their recruitment efforts. Some of the reasons for this may seem obvious. These groups value the leadership skills, the combat experience, and the weapons training that veterans possess. Having veterans among their ranks also gives these groups an air of credibility and allows them to project a false appearance of patriotism and duty that belies their true anti-government views and racial, ethnic, and religious hatred.    


Today, we build on the lessons from that earlier hearing as we seek to understand the veterans’ side of the story – specifically, why a small but growing number of veterans have been drawn to violent extremism in recent years and, more importantly, what is being done to address this problem.      


Before going further, I want to be clear on what this hearing is not about. This hearing is not about scoring political points or labeling one party as inherently extremist.  


While the data is clear – the majority of violent extremist plots and attacks in the U.S. over the past three decades have been committed by far-right actors – violent extremism exists on both ends of the ideological spectrum. I hope that all of us here today recognize that any viewpoint, when expressed through violence, crosses a dangerous line. Violent conduct is not constitutionally protected speech, and it is outside the limits of the law. Ideologically motivated violence should be rejected by all of us in public office regardless of party or politics, and it must be a bipartisan concern.   


We are also not here to condemn or vilify the veteran community. Veterans’ beliefs span the political spectrum. The vast majority of veterans continue to serve their country – and remain law-abiding citizens – long after their military service ends.   


It truly is a small percentage – a fraction of a faction – of our nation’s 18 million veterans who have engaged in some form of violent extremist activity or who have successfully been recruited by violent extremist groups.   


However, these numbers are growing, and the consequences of violent extremist activity are serious. Not only for our nation, but also for the veterans that may go down a path that leads to violence.   


Since 2015, 10% of all domestic terrorist plots or attacks have been carried out by military veterans, and more than 15% of those charged in connection with the January 6th attack on our Capitol have military backgrounds. Given that veterans make up less than 6% of the U.S. population, these numbers are particularly alarming.  


From 1990 through 2021, domestic violent extremist attacks by veterans and active duty servicemembers killed more than 300 people and injured nearly 2,000 more. This includes the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City as well as mass shootings at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, outside a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas, and inside a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida.   


According to recent analysis by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, the annual number of violent extremist crimes committed by individuals with military backgrounds has quadrupled since 2010 compared to the previous two decades.  


These are facts we simply cannot ignore. To do so would be a dereliction of our duty as Members of Congress and a disservice to the millions of veterans – and their families – who have honorably served our country. Our objective on this Committee, as always, is to advocate for our veterans and to help marshal the resources that are required to appropriately honor their service.  


Even though today’s subject matter may make us uncomfortable, it is a necessary discussion. It is worth asking why a small, but growing subset of the veteran community is drawn to violent extremism or is choosing to associate with violent extremist groups.   


What are some of the internal factors – like anger, isolation, resentment, or a loss of purpose – that are driving even some well-meaning and otherwise honorable veterans down a path toward extremism? What role do external factors, such as underemployment, lack of healthcare access, and online mis- and dis-information play? And finally: What strategies have been found to be most effective in preventing radicalization and in responding to those who have already become radicalized?  


We must fully understand the physical, psychological, and social factors that make some individuals susceptible to violent ideologies and recruitment by extremist groups before we can effectively formulate and advance solutions to support veterans in need. And so, I am eager to hear from our panelists today and to engage them in a vigorous discussion with our Committee Members.  


Domestic violent extremism is a serious and corrosive issue that continues to upend and destroy the lives of veterans and their families.   


Our Committee exists to help veterans in need--therefore our command is clear: we must do all we can to help any veteran that is ensnared in the radicalization process.  


Today we will hear about some of the efforts currently out there to help veterans find other pathways to a successful civilian life. Many of those efforts lead us back to veterans and military families themselves who are standing up civil society groups and peer support organizations. By virtue of their own military experience, these groups are often best positioned to regain the trust of veterans and help them find the resources they need to thrive.   


Veterans deserve our thanks and they need access to the care and benefits they have earned, but sometimes that road to accessing those benefits can be a bumpy and challenging one. Just as with any other public health concern, we need to collectively acknowledge the problem and look for the best way to address it. Sometimes the solutions are right in the very communities we are seeking to help.