ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
“We're still learning new information about the people involved in the attack on the Capitol on January 6. One trend that has alarmed military leaders is the number of veterans who appear to have taken part in the insurrection. By NPR's count, nearly 20% percent of people charged in connection with the attack and rioting are veterans. NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach is here to talk about what we found.
TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So begin by giving us an overview of your findings.
DREISBACH: Well, we took a look at everyone we could find who's facing criminal charges in connection with the attack on the Capitol on January 6. The charges run everything from curfew violations to unlawful entry of the Capitol grounds, theft of government property, weapons charges, assault - among others. And anecdotally, we had heard reports about a number of military veterans among the people who were involved in some way.
We knew, for example, about Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by police while climbing over a barricaded door inside the Capitol building. She was an Air Force veteran. You might have also seen photos of a guy inside the Capitol wearing a military-style helmet, tactical vest and carrying flex cuffs. Well, federal prosecutors said his name is Larry Brock, and he's an Air Force veteran. And so what we wanted to know is exactly how big is this group?
SHAPIRO: And as we said, the number is close to 20% - almost 1 in 5 people. Put that into context for us. How does that compare, for example, to the overall percentage of veterans in the U.S.?
DREISBACH: Yeah, about 7% of all adults in the U.S. are military veterans, according to the Census Bureau. So that proportion of vets among people facing charges is quite a bit higher. But there are close to 20 million veterans in the country overall. It's a large, very diverse group of people, especially the younger generation. And the vast majority, we should say, do not get involved in extremism. But, of course, this is still a problem.
SHAPIRO: Is there any way of quantifying how big a problem this is in the armed forces and among veterans?
DREISBACH: Yeah, I mean, our colleague Tom Bowman reported that last year, the FBI had notified the Defense Department of 68 investigations of current or former service members in connection with possible domestic extremism. There's also a survey by the Military Times last year that found about a third of active-duty troops said they had personally witnessed white nationalist activity in the military - things like drawing swastikas or getting white supremacist tattoos. Now, I talked to Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League about this. And he said, you know, so far, the military's efforts to combat extremism in its ranks have largely been haphazard.
MARK PITCAVAGE: So an extremist discovered in one unit, on one base over here, there may be prompt action taken. The person may be very quickly administratively processed out. A very similar extremist in another unit, on another base somewhere else, maybe nothing is done.
DREISBACH: Pitcavage says there really needs to be systemic training throughout all of the services so everyone knows how to identify a problem and what to do once they spot it. And the Biden team has said that rooting out extremism is now a top priority for their administration.
SHAPIRO: Tom, this problem has newly become apparent. But is it a new problem?
DREISBACH: No. I mean, we've known that some extremism groups - extremist groups like the Oath Keepers, for example, they have specifically targeted veterans for recruitment over the years. And the concern is that military veterans often do have specialized training, which can make attacks more deadly. You know, some experts point to Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing years ago. He was an Army veteran. And so the stakes can be high.
But, you know, we should say, among vets, you'll also find really strong resistance to extremism, too. the police officer, Brian Sicknick, who was killed that day at the Capitol, defending it from the mob, he was also a veteran, and he served in the Air National Guard.
SHAPIRO: NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach. Thanks a lot.
DREISBACH: Thanks, Ari.
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