PALM BEACH, FL – Veterans across the aisle are concerned about what they call recent attacks on democracy by far-right organizations. On July 4th, a far-right military-led group called 1st Amendment Praetorian is holding what it calls a Coalition to Defend America event in Palm Beach.
Dan Barkhuff, a former Navy SEAL, is the president of Veterans for Responsible Leadership – a super PAC – and We the Veterans, a nonprofit advocacy group for democratic values that’s launching on July 4th.
They want to counteract the draw of far-right groups to veterans who come home from service – such as the Oath Keepers, the extremist anti-government group that played a major role in storming the U.S. Capitol.
“These extremist organizations are providing something to these veterans,” said Barkhuff. “Which is number one, a sense of belonging. And number two, kind of this camaraderie. So our goal is to redefine patriotism and to compete with these organizations in their own communities. “
He added they aim to show veterans there are other ways to find that sense of belonging.
A Homeland Security bulletin obtained by ABC News raises concerns about extremist violence as COVID restrictions ease and more mass gatherings occur.
George Black is a researcher and author of recent reports on the connections between the conspiracy theories that fueled the Capitol insurrection on January 6, and the grievances of right-wing military officers after the Vietnam War.
He said the events at the Capitol were just one part of a longer-term effort by far-right anti-government groups to gain political power.
“It’s part and parcel with the movement to suppress voting rights in Republican-led states,” said Black. “It’s about replacing local officials who are in a position to certify or decertify future elections. It’s very much with an eye on 2022 and taking Congress back.”
Retired Navy Lieutenant Robert Pennoyer is a 96-year-old World War Two vet. He said the Constitution guarantees a bill of rights including freedom of speech and thought.
He said efforts to undermine democratic rights go against the values that he fought for.
“The disinformation is causing terrible harm,” said Pennoyer. “Many of the people believe this stuff. And the attempt to suppress the vote is extremely dangerous and needs to be opposed.”
Barkhuff added there’s one thing that connects all veterans of military service.
“We took an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” said Barkhuff. “It can’t be to winners and losers of the game, it has to be to the rules of the game. Our oath of loyalty is to the Constitution.”