Veterans Blast NY Times Op-Ed That Stereotypes Them as Potential Domestic Terrorists

An unsigned Wednesday article in the Military Times spotlighted how veteran groups have rebuked the New York Times for an opinion piece that played up the recent shootings at two Jewish community centers as apparent proof that white veterans are susceptible to joining hate groups. Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America hammered the liberal newspaper for its "sensational, slanderous and incredibly offensive" attack on his peers.

In the Wednesday op-ed, author Kathleen Belew cited a controversial 2009 Department of Homeland Security report that hyped the potential for "right-wing recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities," and targeted conservatives for their criticism of its findings. Belew even threw the race card into the mix:

...This short document outlined no specific threats, but rather a set of historical factors that had predicted white-supremacist activity in the past — like economic pressure, opposition to immigration and gun-control legislation — and a new factor, the election of a black president....The agency was "concerned that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities."

The report raised intense blowback from the American Legion, Fox News and conservative members of Congress. They demanded an apology and denounced the idea that any veteran could commit an act of domestic terrorism. The department shelved the report, removing it from its website. The threat, however, proved real....That Mr. Miller was able to carry out an act of domestic terror at two locations despite his history of violent behavior should alarm anyone concerned about public safety. Would he have received greater scrutiny had he been a Muslim, a foreigner, not white, not a veteran? The answer is clear, and alarming.

After summarizing the New York Times op-ed, the unnamed Military Times correspondent extensively quoted from Rieckhoff, who slammed the Times for including a editorial cartoon-style graphic with Belew's piece that shows a silhouette of a man in uniform raising his arm in a Nazi salute (see above):

"Both the title — 'Veterans and White Supremacy' — and an accompanying graphic joining service members with KKK members are shameful," Rieckhoff said in a statement to Military Times on Wednesday. "And the piece relies on weak research and sweeping generalizations about veterans. Especially coming right after so much irresponsible journalism that surrounded the [April 2] Fort Hood shooting, this is stunning and sad to see."

"How could the New York Times publish such a hurtful piece?" Rieckhoff said. "Veterans deserve answers from the Times — and an apology. After more than a decade of sacrifice, no veteran should have to open the newspaper and read an op-ed linking them to hate groups. In contrast to this op-ed, we should focus on telling the story of veterans doing amazing, inspiring work across the country and addressing the real challenges veterans face, including high rates of suicide and unemployment."

The anonymous writer later cited several other veterans' critiques of the New York Times piece specifically, and the media's coverage of the military in general, and noted how left-of-center website The Huffington Post had to apologize after playing up acts of violence by veterans:

Kerry Patton, a former Air Force staff sergeant who writes for Ranger Up's blog "The Rhino Den," said stories like Belew's opinion piece are typical of how the media and academia view veterans.

"As veterans, we need to be concerned that this is unfolding, that people are talking like this, in this nature, about us when the great majority of us are the epitome of upstanding citizens," he said on Wednesday.

After the most recent shooting at Fort Hood, the Huffington Post ran a map showing where veterans had committed violent crimes in the U.S., but it took the graphic down and issued an apology after being lambasted by critics who argued the data was out of context....

Marine veteran Paul Szoldra, who writes for Business Insider, said he feels veterans are the last group in the U.S. that can be stereotyped.

"I think a lot of it has to do with misunderstanding," said Szoldra, who left the Marine Corps as a sergeant. "What's happening in these recent pieces is basically you have some journalists who aren't covering the beat; they don't really know what’s going on in the military; they just see a statistic and they are kind of like, 'Oh, there's something here; here's a story; it's a really interesting story.' They don't even realize just how terrible a story like that Huffington Post [story] looks."

— Matthew Balan is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matthew Balan on Twitter.