Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, fired back at GOP lawmakers who questioned the military’s interest in studying critical race theory on Wednesday during a tense exchange at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
Milley’s response followed a question from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who asked top military officials to clarify the Defense Department’s approach to critical race theory. Gaetz and Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., expressed concern about discussions regarding critical race theory and “white rage” at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
In response, Milley argued it was important for military cadets and officers “to be open-minded and be widely read” about concepts across the ideological spectrum. He also referenced the need to study the root causes of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol amid a broader effort in the Defense Department to address extremism.
“I’ve read Mao Zedong, I’ve read Karl Marx, I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist,” Milley said. “So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend? And I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned, non-commissioned officers of being, quote, ‘woke’ or something else, because we’re studying some theories that are out there.”
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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered a one-day stand down to address extremism last February, roughly one month after the Capitol riot. Gaetz claimed his sources within the military felt the stand-down was counterproductive to efforts to promote unity among military service members.
Gaetz addressed his question on critical race theory to Austin. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., yielded a portion of her time later in the hearing so that Milley could respond.
Austin also delivered a forceful response to Gaetz’s concerns.
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“I don’t know what the issue of critical race theory is and what the relevance [is] here with the department. We do not teach critical race theory. We do not embrace critical race theory and I think that’s a spurious conversation. We are focused on extremist behaviors and not ideology, not people’s thoughts, not political orientation. Behaviors is what we’re focused on.”
Earlier this month, Waltz sent a letter to West Point demanding the academy stop teaching critical race theory, which he called “divisive.”