A new RAND Corporation report is as alarming as it is relieving. Sampling 1,000 randomly selected veterans, the study found that a whopping 39.4 percent of U.S. Marine Corps vets surveyed expressed support in the white nationalist Great Replacement Theory that a group in America is trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who support that group's political views.
Before drilling deeper into the data, let's look at the overall results of the study. There is some good news here as RAND found that veterans are not more prone to extremism than the general population of America. Questions were asked about specific extremist groups – Antifa, the Proud Boys, Black nationalists, and white supremacists – finding that veterans are if anything somewhat less likely to support these groups than non-veterans.
However, after taking a deeper dive into the data, there are some alarming facts. In order to add context, first it is important to look at the backgrounds of the 1,000 veterans surveyed. The sample skews white (72 percent), old (49.6 percent over the age of 65 and 20.6 percent aged 55-64), and male (89.7 percent). In other words, the veterans surveyed are majority baby boomers.
It is also worth noting that 74.2 percent of the veterans surveyed joined the service prior to the 9/11 attacks. And those surveyed were not asked whether they had served in combat.
While the study takes aggregate statistics from veterans across all four branches of service to demonstrate that vets are not more susceptible to extremism than any other population in America, when a closer look is taken at the data there are some jarring statistics, especially when asked about specific conspiracy theories and not just whether the veterans had favorable or unfavorable views of certain extremist groups.
Of those surveyed, 17.9 percent of Air Force veterans and 17.4 percent of Marine Corps veterans answered they completely or mostly agreed with the QAnon conspiracy theory, which was defined for them on the survey as, "the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation."
These statistics hover right around the belief amongst Americans at large in QAnon which is 17 percent, according to other surveys.
Belief in the Great Replacement Theory, defined for those taking the survey as, "A group of people in this country are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants and people of color who share their political views," was 39.4 percent for Marine Corps veterans, 29.7 percent for Navy veterans, 29.5 percent for Air Force vets, and 26 percent for Army veterans. The general population is at 34 percent.
When it comes to political violence defined as, "because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country," 27.9 percent of Marine vets, 20.6 percent of Navy vets, 16.4 percent of Air Force vets, and 14.1 percent of Army vets.
Again, in aggregate the overall numbers show that veterans are less prone to extremist views than mainstream Americans (19 percent for political violence), however, the veteran population differs in significant ways and the findings are alarming because many vets have combat experience, weapons training, and leadership experience that could make them charismatic individuals in dangerous organizations.
The study also points out how Marine Corps veterans seem the most prone to extremist views of any of the four services and speculates that this may have to do with them having the strongest group identity, but calls for further research before drawing any conclusions.
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Reach Jack Murphy: firstname.lastname@example.org or @JackMurphyRGR.