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US military leaders condemn racism following Trump's comments on Charlottesville violence

By W.J. HENNIGAN
Tribune Washington Bureau

August 17. 2017 12:50AM
Veteran's Affairs Secretary David Shulkin looks down during a press briefing where he was asked numerous questions about U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial statements on the deadly Virginia protests, in Bridgewater, N.J., on Wednesday. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

WASHINGTON — America's top-ranking military officers spoke out forcefully against racial bigotry and extremism, a rare public foray into domestic politics that revealed growing unease at the Pentagon with some of President Donald Trump's policies and views.

The members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff _ the senior uniformed brass of the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force _ all posted messages on their official Twitter accounts to denounce the far-right extremists behind Saturday's violence in Charlottesville, Va.

The messages did not mention Trump, who is the commander in chief, by name. But the rebuke seemed clear in several posts given the bipartisan furor over Trump's insistence Tuesday that "both sides" were at fault for the violence.

"The Army doesn't tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks," Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, tweeted Wednesday. "It's against our Values and everything we've stood for since 1775."

The social media posts suggest the growing discomfort at the top ranks of the Pentagon, which supports Trump's calls for a new military build-up but has not implemented his sudden call on Twitter last month to block transgender troops from the armed forces.

Since then, the Pentagon has stated that transgender people will continue to serve openly until the White House issues new guidance through proper channels.

In a raucous exchange with reporters Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York, Trump expressed sympathy for those who seek to preserve statues and monuments to Confederate leaders from the Civil War even as numerous communities moved to take them down as a gesture of racial healing.

The planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville initially drew hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others from across the nation to rally.

The flurry of messages from America's military leaders had special resonance because several of those who played prominent roles in the far-right rally, or the violence that followed, had served in uniform.

James Alex Fields, the Nazi sympathizer who is accused of killing a woman and wounding more than a dozen others by driving his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, spent four months in the Army in 2015 but failed out of basic training.

In addition, a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dillon Ulysses Hopper, was identified as the leader of Vanguard America, a group that helped organize the "Unite the Right" rally.

Marine Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller tweeted Tuesday there is "no place for racial hatred or extremism in the Marine Corps."

Adm. John Richardson, the Chief of Naval Operations, started the trend on Saturday when he posted a statement on Twitter and Facebook that called the events in Charlottesville "shameful" and "unacceptable."

"The Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred" he said. "We want our Navy to be the safest possible place _ a team as strong and tough as we can be, saving violence only for our enemies."

Gen. David L. Goldfein, chief of staff of the Air Force, tweeted Wednesday that he stood "together with my fellow service chiefs in saying that we're always stronger together."

Separately, the military has moved to publicly disavow white nationalists who were photographed wearing military-affiliated clothing or gear.

The 82nd Airborne Division, whose paratroopers jumped into Europe to defeat the Nazis, used Twitter on Monday to disavow a man photographed giving a Nazi salute while wearing a hat with the division's insignia.

"Respectfully, anyone who thinks this man represents our culture and values has never worn the maroon beret ... and never will," the 82nd Airborne tweeted.


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