Jan. 12, 2024: Statement for the Record of Human Rights First on U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability
U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs
“The Risks of Progressive Ideologies in the U.S. Military”
January 12, 2024
I. About Human Rights First
Established in 1978, Human Rights First is an independent, non-profit organization that for more than four decades has pressed the United States to take a leading role in promoting and defending human rights. The organization’s work includes advocacy and action to challenge authoritarianism, systemic injustice, and the antidemocratic extremist movement that represents an existential threat to our communities and our democracy. Efforts to ensure diversity and equality within our democracy are central to this work.
Human Rights First is alarmed at the far-right extremist campaign to dismantle diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the military under the guise of calling out so-called ‘progressive ideologies’. We see this attack on vital programs and policies as a proxy for their broader efforts to roll back civil rights in the United States. This campaign mainstreams extremist rhetoric, spreads disinformation about DEI, and undermines the strength of the military and American democracy.
The struggle for a more inclusive and diverse military has been a cornerstone of American democracy since President Truman’s Executive Order 9981 ending military segregation. These efforts have not been linear, with people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ members facing an uneven road to equity, compounded by internal and external discrimination. The recent attacks on DEI efforts are part of a lineage of oppression these groups continue to face and a stain on the progress made over the years. We stand with the military leaders, servicemembers, and veterans who are calling for a fairer and more inclusive environment for our service members.
III. Why DEI Matters in the Military
Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts have been critical to creating and maintaining a strong United States military force. With over 40 percent of servicemembers identifying as minorities, policies to address and support a diverse force remain critical. As the military, much like the United States as a whole, becomes increasingly diverse, there remains a significant gap in racial and gendered representation at the highest ranks. DEI efforts seek to address this gap and the structured barriers minority servicemembers face in career advancement.
The anti-DEI campaign encourages the Department of Defense (DoD) to ignore both extremist threats, and internal DoD practices, both of which can create inequitable and even dangerous environments for Black, Brown, women, LGBTQ+ and other minority servicemembers. Black and Brown servicemembers face multiple forms of bias and discrimination in everything from promotions to discipline. Policies like the Clinton Administration’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, the Trump Administration’s military Transgender Ban, and Senator Rubio’s “Ensuring Military Readiness” Act of 2023 target LGBTQ+ servicemembers.
Discrimination harms recruitment, retention, and ultimately force readiness by undermining unit cohesion and creating discord. Anti-DEI efforts exacerbate this issue by restricting efforts to address it and promoting an environment of exclusion and discrimination.
IV. Anti-DEI Campaign Mainstreams Extremism & Undermines National Security
The mainstreaming of extremism in the United States is a significant threat facing our nation and one that has impacted Military and veteran communities. Members of the military community play an outsized role in extremist activity, and veterans remain a leading target for recruitment by far-right extremists.