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Veterans Fear Far-Right Group Membership Threatens Democracy

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Monday, July 5, 2021   

AUSTIN, Texas -- Veterans across the aisle are concerned about what they call recent attacks on democracy by far-right organizations. Yesterday, a far-right military-led group called "1st Amendment Praetorian" held what it called a "Coalition to Defend America" event in Florida.

Dan Barkhuff, a former Navy SEAL, leads Veterans for Responsible Leadership, a super PAC, and a member of We the Veterans, a nonprofit advocacy group for democratic values launched on July 4.

He said they want to counteract the draw of far-right groups to veterans who come home from service, such as the Oath Keepers, which played a major role in storming the U.S. Capitol.

"These extremist organizations are providing something to these veterans, which is, number one, a sense of belonging, and number two, kind of this camaraderie," Barkhuff explained.

Barkhuff pointed out his Veterans for Responsible Leadership group aims to redefine patriotism and compete with far-right organizations in their own communities.

George Black is a researcher and author of recent reports on the connections between the conspiracy theories that fueled the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6th and the grievances of right-wing military officers after the Vietnam War.

He said the events at the Capitol were just one part of a longer-term effort by far-right anti-government groups to gain political power.

"It's part and parcel with the movement to suppress voting rights in Republican-led states," Black observed. "It's about replacing local officials who are in a position to certify or decertify future elections."

Retired Navy Lieutenant Robert Pennoyer is a 96-year-old World War Two vet, who said members of the military take an oath to defend the Constitution, which he said is about the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech and thought.

"The disinformation is causing terrible harm," Pennoyer argued. "Many of the people believe this stuff. And the attempt to suppress the vote is extremely dangerous and needs to be opposed."

Pennoyer added any effort to undermine democratic rights goes against the values he fought for.

CORRECTION: Dan Barkhuff is a member of We the Veterans. An earlier version incorrectly stated he was leader of the group. (4:30 p.m. MST, July 5, 2021)


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