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Military veterans: Do they support extremist groups more than the general public?

By Lee Cleveland - July 26, 2023

Extremist groups and their ideologies have increasingly become a cause for concern in the United States. Among these concerns is the potential for military veterans to be more inclined toward radical positions.

However, recent research conducted by the RAND Corporation suggests that support for extremism among military veterans is not on the rise compared to the general public.

In fact, the study indicates that veterans are less likely, overall, to back these groups.

The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, conducted a survey among a nationally representative group of military veterans to investigate their support for extremist groups like the Proud Boys or Antifa. The results revealed that support for such groups among veterans is generally lower than rates reported in previous surveys of the general U.S. population.

While support for extremist beliefs varied among veterans, it was found that veteran support for QAnon was lower than that of the general public.

Lead author Todd C. Helmus, a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, stated in a news release, “We found no evidence to support the notion that the veteran community, as a whole, exhibits higher rates of support for violent extremist groups or extremist beliefs than the American public. However, our findings do suggest work still may be needed to make sure veterans are not susceptible to being recruited by those with extremist ideologies.”

In all, fewer veterans expressed support for Antifa and white supremacists compared to the general U.S. population. Similarly, support for the Proud Boys and the QAnon conspiracy theory was lower among veterans. However, a small percentage of respondents did express support for black nationalist groups.

However, although veterans’ support for overall extremism falls below that of the general public, their support for the Great Replacement theory appeared to be comparable to the general population.

Notably, veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps expressed the highest levels of support for both extremist groups and beliefs.

The concern over the radicalization of the veteran community has grown, particularly following the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. Reports following the incident confirmed the involvement of a significant number of individuals with military affiliations. Military veterans are often targeted for recruitment by extremist groups due to their skills, experience, and perceived legitimacy within these organizations.

Furthermore, the demographics of the veteran population, including a higher representation of males and Whites compared to the general U.S. population, are associated with right-wing extremism. Understanding these complexities, the RAND researchers conducted the first nationally representative survey to analyze veterans’ views on extremism and extremist groups.

The survey, which included 989 veterans who previously served on active duty, explored attitudes towards extremist groups such as Antifa, the Proud Boys, and white supremacist groups. It also examined support for the QAnon ideology, political violence, and the xenophobic Great Replacement theory.

It is essential to emphasize that the vast majority of veterans do not support or engage in extremist activities. They have made tremendous sacrifices in serving their country and should be recognized for their contributions. However, it is crucial to remain vigilant and address any potential vulnerabilities within the veteran community that could be exploited by extremist groups.