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Rightwing extremist groups in US targeting veterans for recruitment: Top Democrat

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Rep. Mark Takano (Photo via the Guardian)

A top American lawmaker says that "rightwing extremist groups" are targeting veterans for recruitment in the United States.

Mark Takano, who heads a congressional committee investigating the targeting of veterans by extremists, told the Guardian that he was worried about the recruiting strategy used by extremists, especially in the country’s increasingly fraught political climate following the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021.

Takano, a Democratic congressman from California, is the chairman of the House veteran affairs committee, which has started hearings into the increasing threat to veterans. The first of three hearings took place in October last year, but Takano has been concerned about the threat for years.

“Targeting of veterans by violent extremist groups is a problem and it could become a bigger problem if we don’t understand what’s involved and the dimensions of it,” Takano said.

Takano pointed out that the current threat of veteran recruitment comes more from the extremist right.

“We are seeing that this violence is occurring to a far greater degree among rightwing groups, especially within the last six years,” said Takano. “As far as we can tell, rightwing extremist groups are the ones targeting veterans for recruitment. And there’s not really any evidence that we’re seeing that leftwing groups are targeting veterans.”

According to data, violent attacks from rightwing groups in the United States are greatly more prevalent than from leftwing or international terrorist groups.

The Center for International Strategic Studies, a non-partisan thinktank, analyzed 893 terrorist plots and attacks in the US between January 1994 and May 2020.

Their analysis found that “far-right terrorism has significantly outpaced terrorism from other types of perpetrators, including from far-left networks and individuals inspired by the Islamic State (Daesh) and al-Qaeda.”

“‘Rightwing extremists perpetrated two-thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90% between January 1 and May 8, 2020,” according to the analysis.

Out of the 738 defendants charged in the Capitol riot, 81 had ties to the military, while five were active-duty service members.

In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, three retired army generals warned of the threat of a coup in the 2024 US election, arguing it could succeed with the help of rogue military elements.

The first hearing of Takano’s committee was conducted in October. “We looked into how and why veterans were being recruited by violent, extreme groups: at the history and the track record of groups like the Proud Boys, Three Percent militia, Oath Keepers, Boogaloo Boys and others,” said Takano.

According to the lawmaker, extremist groups see an advantage in having veterans in their ranks. “In that sense they are a greater target for recruitment than non-veteran Americans.”

He touched upon friction in addressing the issue among some Republican lawmakers on his committee. “At least two members … wouldn’t even engage the subject,” said Takano. “When it came for their turn, they didn’t ask the witnesses any questions, including the witness that was chosen by the Republican team.”

“The two members instead just used their five minutes to attack me for holding the hearing,” said Takano.

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