Our Body Politic

How the Military is Tackling Sexual Assault and Extremism, and Reviewing the Latest Supreme Court Decisions

Episode Notes

Farai Chideya talks with Our Body Politic legal analyst Tiffany Jeffers and Slate’s health and race reporter Julia Craven on a Sippin’ the Political Tea roundtable focused on new Supreme Court rulings. Retired Major General Linda Singh of the Maryland National Guard shares her experience handling sexual assault cases in the military, and why she wants to hold the institution’s leaders accountable. Military Times bureau chief Meghann Myers explains why the military is having trouble tackling another pressing issue: extremism within its ranks. And Farai talks with fellow journalist Geraldine Moriba about what constitutes extremism, and how it manifests in the false “Lost Cause” narrative about the Confederacy.


00:49 On Sippin’ the Political Tea, legal analyst Tiffany Jeffers and journalist Julia Craven discuss the latest SCOTUS decisions

18:40 Retired Major General Linda Singh on holding military leaders accountable for addressing sexual assault

30:46 Military Times reporter Meghann Myers on the military’s efforts to tackle extremism within its ranks

39:37 Journalist Geraldine Moriba on confronting false narratives about the Confederacy and Confederate monuments

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. As we grow and evolve our show, we need lots of input from listeners like you. So I want to ask you a small favor. After you listen today, please head over to Apple Podcasts on your phone, tablet, laptop, or anywhere you listen and leave us a review. Thanks to you, Our Body Politic is moving up the ranks in the top 100 podcast on Apple for News Commentary. We keep getting insightful reviews about what you like most. And we read all of them because your ideas matter to us. Thanks so much.

Chideya: This is Our Body Politic, I'm the creator and host Farai Chideya. We cover extremism as a beat on this show. Today, we're zooming in on how the military is attempting to address extremism and other challenges within its existing structure. But first, our roundtable Sippin' the Political Tea. We have so much to cover in Supreme Court news. So joining me this week are Tiffany Jeffers, our legal analyst here at Our Body Politic. Hi, Tiffany.

Tiffany Jeffers: Thanks Farai. It's good to be back.

Chideya: And Julia Craven, a staff writer at Slate, covering race, politics, and health disparities, and also cohost of Slate's Podcast, The Waves. Welcome to Our Body Politic, Julia.

Julia Craven: Hi, thanks for having me.

Chideya: So there is so much going on for us to talk about, and we're going to focus in a bit on the Supreme Court. A few decisions came down last week. So, Tiffany, let's start there, the California v. Texas Affordable Care Act case, the Supreme Court upheld the ACA sometimes called Obamacare. And it was a seven to two decision, decided that there was no standing. Let's start with that, Tiffany. What does it mean to say something has no standing?

Jeffers: It's a complicated legal doctrine Farai, but it's required in every court of law that a person or entity bringing a case has standing. And what that means is that that person or entity can prove that they've actually suffered some type of harm or injury, or that some type of harm or injury is imminent if the defendant doesn't stop their behavior or because of the defendant's behavior. So what the Supreme Court said in the California versus Texas case was that the two individuals and the several Republican-led states that brought this challenge against the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act didn't actually suffer any type of injury and weren't likely to suffer an injury based on their challenge.

Chideya: What does it mean for the future of the Affordable Care Act? Is this like a closed door on challenges or just another intersection at the journey?

Jeffers: Farai, long sigh because I really don't know just based on the legal precedent that's come out between the court and Congress. So in 2012, the Supreme Court essentially gutted the Affordable Care Act and that it wasn't constitutional under the Commerce Clause which is an enumerated power in the constitution that gives the Supreme Court the authority to regulate state conduct. And the court held that the Affordable Care Act was only constitutional under the tax penalty clause. Right? So then in 2017, when Congress eliminated that tax penalty clause-

Chideya: And that was a penalty on taxpayers who don't get insurance?

Jeffers: Exactly. Like just going back to the beginning of the ACA, it's sort of this health sharing price reduction policy, where the theory is that if everyone buys health insurance, then we can reduce the costs for everyone. And so there's a tax penalty on the people who don't participate and don't buy health insurance. And now that Congress in 2017 eliminated that tax penalty, there's really nothing that's holding up the substance of the Affordable Care Act under Congress or under the courts. So it's sort of just out there. It's really difficult to say where the Affordable Care Act is going to go, but it's a win for progressive states and proponents of the Affordable Care Act. Because it's just that this decision has made it more difficult for individuals and states to prove that they've actually been harmed by the institution of the Affordable Care Act.

Chideya: Well, Julia, what you cover on a regular basis, race, politics, and health disparities, a lot of that shows up here, how are you parsing this decision? And also, what do you think our listeners need to know about their right to affordable healthcare? If it's a right, which some people say it's not.

Craven: Affordable healthcare is absolutely a right. It's a human right and it should be treated as one. So I definitely think that this is a win. And I particularly think that it's a win for people of color, especially Black and brown Americans who are disproportionately less likely to have affordable health insurance or health insurance period because the lack of health insurance, the lack of being able and being comfortable with going to a doctor, because comfort is also key in that.

Chideya: And, Julia, how do you think about these issues around insurance in light of the pandemic and the fact that the healthcare system has been heavily taxed and people who thought that they might be in a phase of their life where they didn't expect any medical wildcards have had a number of them?

Craven: No, absolutely. That just makes it even more vital for people to have access to health insurance. And as we've seen throughout the pandemic that Black and brown folks are more likely to experience disparate outcomes if they contract COVID-19, and they are also more likely to not have health insurance or not have affordable healthcare. And so I think that it's really, really important since what we're seeing going forward is that there are some complications, long-term, from having the coronavirus. I think that it's just a win across the board if people are able to have health insurance.

Chideya: I want to turn to another Supreme Court case that is making a splash. This one's about religious liberties. It's the Fulton v. Philadelphia case. And it was a unanimous ruling that Philadelphia violated the First Amendment when the city stopped working with a Catholic organization that refuse to certify same-sex couples as potential foster parents. Tiffany, what's the backstory here.

Jeffers: The backstory is that local governments and state governments are required to apply anti-discrimination laws and really all laws evenly across the board to all people. But there has been carved out an exception for religious freedoms, allowing religious minorities to practice tenants of their religion despite the potential violation of any anti-discrimination laws. So that's sort of the very simplistic overview of what the religious freedoms exception to the First Amendment exception means. We've seen it most frequently in challenges to same-sex marriage. And now, as we see in the Fulton case, adoption by same-sex couples.

Chideya: What's the significance of this being a unanimous ruling? When often we think about the court as being very divided, what does that say about the case and its impact?

Jeffers: I think we have to be honest in what the unanimous ruling decided. And what it decided and Fulton was a contract dispute. But it didn't address any of the substantive issues of whether religious organizations are protected from those anti-state and local anti-discrimination laws if it violates, if it's against one of their individual religious practices. So the court didn't answer that question. They essentially just said, based on this contract between these two parties, then the city loses. And so again, similar to my discussion in California versus Texas, the court's dodging a lot of the big legal questions in these opinions.

Chideya: And in a recent survey from Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Texas, a little over half of the respondents agreed that the Catholic agency's First Amendment rights were violated. This sort of issue comes up quite a lot on the state and local level around foster care systems and state-funded adoption systems and who gets to participate in them.

Chideya: Julia, I want to go further into LGBTQ rights. We are in Pride Month. And does that poll that sort of says, okay, the Catholic agencies First Amendment rights were violated, indicate anything bigger? Or is this a bit of a one-off? And how in general do you think about the framing of LGBTQ rights and religious freedom and how they sometimes end up pitted against each other in the courts?

Craven: What stood out to me the most was how discrimination often operates under the guise of religious freedom. And I think that that is a key piece in Fulton versus Philadelphia. Which is that the foster care group was discriminating against queer couples. And while that may be a religious belief of theirs, it is still at its essence discrimination. And I do think that, a lot of times, discrimination gets looped under religious freedom.

Chideya: Another case, one that's yet to be decided and is highly anticipated, is the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization and Mississippi about abortion access. Tiffany, what are some of the key questions and issues to keep in mind about this case? Could break it down for us.

Jeffers: The key question is whether viability is going to continue to be the legal standard through which women can obtain an abortion. So this new case that the court will hear is challenging, what Roe held was that an abortion is legal. It's a woman's right to have an abortion anytime before viability. And so this case is challenging what viability means. What we have known by ability to mean is whether a fetus can live outside a womb on its own. So that's the general medical acceptable and legal, acceptable understanding of viability. And what is happening with Mississippi is they're seeking to move that up, right now it's 24 weeks, to 15 weeks gestation age when there's no medical support that says that a fetus could live or survive outside of the human body at 15 weeks. So I went through the petition fiduciary that was submitted to the court. And what Mississippi is indicating in their brief is that, because a 15-week fetus can feel pain, that that is viability. And that's a really scary sort of proposition. That really is not supported by medical science.

Chideya: And, Tiffany, over time, there is, of course, a body of legal precedent that various courts draw on, including the Supreme Court, in making their decisions. How does that question of what has precedent and whether it should be upheld function right now in today's Supreme Court?

Jeffers: Right. That's a great question. What's happening now is that this Roberts Court is chipping away at longstanding progressive precedent in a way that's dangerously and slowly dismantling rights in areas of abortion, voting, health insurance. We look at the abortion access cases, and it's not a full overturning of Rue, but portions are chipped away slowly. Which you're just slowly denying access, making the death of these legal precedents even more painful to see.

Chideya: Julia, bringing you in, what should people watching this case, who are looking at abortion access, be paying attention to? It's certainly something where there are states now where there's just a handful of abortion providers for an entire state. And much of this action around abortion is taking place on the state level. And just recently, Roman Catholic bishops have made some moves to possibly deny President Biden, who is a practicing Catholic, the chance to take communion. That is a big deal. To be clear, this is about President Biden supporting abortion rights. That is why he would be denied communion in the Catholic Church, if he is, by these bishops. If you were talking about this, let's say to a family or to family members of your own, some of whom supported having legal access to abortion, and some of whom wanted to see it eliminated. How would you lay out what this is about and what the stakes are on your side?

Craven: If I were talking to say, my Nana about this, because she's my favorite example of a person to talk to about big news stories, I would make it clear that what's at stake here is a birthing person's ability to decide whether or not they want to have a child. And abortions aren't always because someone doesn't want to have a child. Sometimes, there are health issues at stake as well. And so, I would just lay that out for anyone, regardless of how you personally feel about an abortion, and whether or not you would personally get one shouldn't dictate the law.

Chideya: I want to move on to something else entirely, which is, on our... A lot of our minds, the For the People Act died via filibuster this week. Tiffany, access to voting rights is something that we discuss with you often. And so, how do you see things evolving as a result of the events of this week?

Jeffers: I don't see how this presidential administration is going to use the remainder of its term, essentially, right under two years to implement any meaningful voting protection legislation if the filibuster is not killed. And I'm just shocked that Democrats and the executive have not worked harder to make that happen, because I believe if we had a Republican president and a democratic-led Congress, the filibuster would have died a quick death.

Chideya: Julia, there has been a lot of discussion of the role that Senator Sinema and Manchin play in the Democrats not being able to pass the legislation. Senator Angus king, an independent from Maine, also chimed in saying that he's not ready to get rid of the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation. You have spoken a bit about Senator Sinema. She doesn't get quite as much coverage as Manchin. So tell us a bit more about what you are clocking.

Craven: Yeah, on a recent episode of The Waves, my co-host, Christina Cauterucci, and I, we... Basically, the whole show was about Sinema's role in this. What's interesting about Sinema is that she's a Democrat, and she is very much so backing the progressive policies that her own party wants to dole out. She had this very traditional trajectory up into the Senate through politics. And a lot of organizers spoke about feeling betrayed for working to get her elected because she came in as a progressive, and now, she's standing in the middle and she's holding up the filibuster or reforming the filibuster. And that ended up succeeding, which ended up killing the For the People Act, which would have expanded voting rights, stopped voters from being purged from the rolls. It also would have mandated that independent commissions handle congressional redistricting, which as we saw in North Carolina, if you let conservative state houses do it, they will target Black voters with "surgical precision." I think it's just very key to focus on Sinema's role as well. We can't ignore her.

Chideya: And before we leave, let's touch base on the debate over critical race theory. We've been covering that on the show. And Tiffany, you're a professor, how do you think critical race theory became a partisan shorthand for talking about race and racism, and who benefits?

Jeffers: The reality is that critical race theory is not being taught in American public schools. Similar to the way I view the world, I think that this is just another strategy to diminish the good work that anti-racist experts are doing across the country in bringing these issues to light. But it's mostly based in fear, and not reality.

Chideya: Julia, any thoughts?

Craven: These bills are also very, very vague. I think about Florida's, because I have most recently written about Florida's case, and the wording is just very vague. It's just like these large time periods and these very large topics. And so, while it lists topics and subject areas that it wouldn't want people to teach about in schools, it doesn't really say what about those subjects that you can't teach. And so, yeah, it just really all boils down to being an attack on anti-racism and history.

Chideya: Well, we're going to leave it there for now. We will come back to this and many other topics. It was great talking with you, Julia.

Craven: Thanks for having me.

Chideya: And it was great to talk to you again, Tiffany.

Jeffers: It's always my pleasure, Farai.

Chideya: That was Julia Craven, staff writer at Slate, covering race politics and health disparities. She's also the host of Slate's gender and feminism podcast, The Waves. And, Tiffany Jeffers, Our Body Politic legal analyst and professor at Georgetown Law.

Chideya: I have several family members who serve or served in the military. Like so many American institutions right now, it's grappling with issues our whole society is trying to tackle. One of those is sexual assault. Defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, and top policymakers in Congress are backing legislation that would change how sexual assault cases are handled in the military. The main crux of the change would be to remove those cases from the military chain of command. I want to bring in an expert voice on the topic, a former head of the Maryland National Guard, retired Major General Linda Singh. And as a note to listeners, this interview contains direct references to sexual violence and to self-harm. Welcome back to Our Body Politic, Major General.

Ret. Major General Linda Singh:

Thank you so much.

Chideya: I want to start out with a statistic, which is that in 2019, an estimated 20,000 service members experienced some form of sexual assault that was 37% higher than reported two years earlier. Do you feel this is an urgent issue?

Singh: I do feel that it's an urgent issue in the sense that we don't want to see the numbers going up, but we have to understand, in some cases, why our numbers could be trending up. And during my time being in the service, what I started seeing is, the more that we started looking at sexual assault, sexual harassment, we found that people started to be more comfortable coming forward. They were coming forward with older cases. And I think the key thing is, we have to drive into what's that particular situation, what is happening, and effectively get to the root cause, if it's systemic, or what's kind of causing it.

Chideya: There is a huge discussion right now. There's bills currently being discussed that would essentially remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. For people who don't know much about how the military has treated sexual assault or harassment allegations, explain how it has been and is, and a bit about the changes that are being proposed, regardless of whether or not they actually occur.

Singh: First off, the way that it works today, if an incident happens, we have individuals that are responsible for these areas. They can report it up through their chain of command, or they can report it up to the sexual assault coordinators. When these start going up above what we would call our command level, in some cases, and especially in the national guard and in the reserves, we have outside entities where we can refer more complicated cases. The problem that we have, and what I'm concerned with even about this, is that when those things get referred outside of the system, we are taking the responsibility off of the leaders. And that to me is... That's not how we should be really bolding our leadership. We need to make them responsible. Instead of us creating another organization that we pull it out, why not hold them accountable and responsible, make sure that we have the resources to be able to deal with this? And if it's anything, making sure that when something is brought up, if someone can't get it resolved within the chain of command, they have a path of escalation. Let's look at that path. And maybe that path of escalation needs to be better.

Chideya: And so when you think about how it is to be a person who is serving the United States of America, and who also has to deal with a problem in your chain of command or among a service member of the same rank, as someone who has spent years serving this country, what kind of practical wisdom can you give us on what it's like to have those kinds of conversations, and how you might counsel someone who was perhaps a young service member who had to think about what they were going to do next?

Singh: The challenge for me is, I've been in those situations where I've not only had to deal with people that were inappropriate, but also dealing with individuals that have found themselves bearing this burden themselves, not wanting to come forth because they felt like there would be repercussions. And so the first thing that you have to do is to get them to sit down and talk to someone. They may not feel comfortable coming to the chain of command, so they have to find the closest leader that they can get, maybe even outside of the chain of command. And one of the first places I would tell them to go is the chaplain. The chaplain is usually very, very open to be able to hear the issues and challenges, and can guide them, and can give them the best advice in terms of how to move forward. If something is going on, they need to get to an individual that can help them to work through this. We owe it to them.

Chideya: I feel like so many things have been changing throughout my lifetime about what women are asked to expect from the systems that we work within, any type of workplace, it doesn't have to be the military. What do you hope for young women, and young men, and people of any gender entering the service today? What do you hope that their expectations would be and how they would be informed about what their behavior is expected to be?

Singh: Well, first, this is a huge societal challenge. And the military is a microcosm. They're part of society. And so what I would want for anyone is to not have to ever go through what I went through, having someone take away a choice for me. I am a survivor of sexual assault, and the perpetrator who does that, takes away the choice, takes away so much of that individual. And they can laugh, and they can joke. It's serious stuff, because it takes years sometimes to overcome that. And so what I would want for our men and our women, because this happens to men and it happens to women, and what I would want is that we do not have to deal with this. We have the ability to come forth, and for people to hear the situation, for people to be held accountable. I would love to say, I'd like it to not happen.

Chideya: We're grateful that you're joining us here on the show. You don't have to talk about this. You don't have to talk about your experiences. Why are you? What does this mean to you?

Singh: First, having been a survivor myself, I know how long it took me to be able to talk about it. Secondly, I've seen the damage that it does to teams, and how it just pulls them apart. And then, I don't want to talk about the name of this individual, obviously, but I had a case a while back of a young lady, and she was raped by one of her leaders, and she got pregnant.Now, her husband, he had a hard time dealing with that, but they kept the baby. But then she got raped again, same unit, same group. And when she was pregnant this time around, they made her do things that... Continued to train while she was pregnant. They wouldn't give her the time off. She lost the baby on duty. She lost the baby. That group turned against her, because they felt like she was making it all up. She tried to commit suicide. She was not in my unit. Someone told her that she needed to reach out to me. And so the first thing I did was I violated every thing in terms of what you would call peer-to-peer relation, and I called up my peer and I said, "I'm pulling her, regardless of what you say. You need to release her, or this ends up in the news," because I felt like I had to intervene. And once we intervened, then I sat down and talked to my peer, and I said, "Here's what's going on in your organization. Now, I get it that you're going to be like... You have to investigate it." But I wanted her to be in a safe place. And it wasn't just pulling her, I pulled her and her husband so that they could work through it. And you have no idea. Now, at the time, I was a major general. I was pushing for the investigation to be done, and it still took years.

Chideya: That sounds incredibly painful and brave, and it sounds difficult in terms of saying, "This is what my loyalty looks like, that I can be loyal to service members who are suffering as well as to the idea of serving the country." I mean, how did you reconcile that with yourself?

Singh: Well, my first priority is to take care of my people, and my people go beyond just who's within my command. And so I would ask really anyone who is serving in uniform that you have to do your job, and you have to be willing to look at all sides. I mean, yes, there are people who will come forth, and you find out by the time you get to the end of it the situation really didn't happen the way that it was portrayed, but you have to look at all pieces, and you have to be willing to make sure that your team is going to dig deep enough. And I will tell you, there are people who work for me... I've seen instances, and I just had another one where someone felt like, "Oh, well, we could take care of this," and they didn't do the right thing.

Chideya: So for people who are not as deeply embedded in the culture of military service, how should we keep track of what's going on and be supportive of truth-telling and good operations in the service of everyone?

Singh: Make sure that we have the right resources, the right systems set up to be able to deal with these. Put the right parameters, the right process in place so that we do have a mechanism where these individuals can go and things can be taken care of. This should be something that is zero tolerance, zero tolerance. And I know leaders today that wear the uniform where this is not a big deal for them, because they don't believe that it exists.

Chideya: Major General Singh, I'm very deeply grateful for your ability to discuss this frankly, and very grateful for all of your service. Thank you so much for joining us again.

Singh: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Chideya: That was retired Major General Linda Singh. We're going to stick with our coverage of the military. Earlier this year in the wake of the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, the Pentagon instructed commanders to host a stand-down about extremism. A stand-down is a loosely organized one-day training where military leaders convene their troops to talk about an important topic. They've been done, for example, to raise awareness about sexual assault among troops. Some Republican lawmakers say the investigations into extremism are not necessary, and that the military is too "woke." Joint Chiefs Chair General Mark Milley spoke before Congress this month and said in response-

Mark Milley: I want to understand white rage. And I'm white, and I want to understand it. So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?

Chideya: Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief of the Military Times, a publication for service members. She's been covering the ups and downs for months of this initiative to tackle extremism. Meghann, welcome to Our Body Politic.

Meghann Myers: Thanks for having me.

Chideya: You wrote earlier this year that authorities estimated that one in five of the people charged criminally for participating in the insurrection on January 6th were either currently serving in the military, or had once worn uniform. Did that surprise you?

Myers: You know, it didn't, and the reason that it didn't is not because I think there's widespread extremism in the military. I think based on stories that I had written in the past few years, that my colleagues had written in the past few years about what were at the time sort of considered isolated incidents, I knew that this sort of thing was brewing. But I also was very aware that a lot of the militia movements in this country, particularly the right-wing ones, really prized service members and veterans having them as part of their organizations, not only because they do have the mission training, the tactical training to carry out some of these attacks or some of these movements that they want to put on, but also because it lends legitimacy to these groups if you have someone who served in the United States military who endorses your political action.

Chideya: Now, you say that it's not necessarily that extremism is widespread, but the Military Times' own research... You've polled service members about whether or not they've seen extremism, and in the 2020 survey, a third of people said that they had. So that's obviously the way that you do your surveys, is voluntary response. It's not weighted. How do you make sense of those numbers?

Myers: Our survey focused a lot on White supremacy, White nationalist rhetoric that people had seen at work. And there were a lot of service members, particularly service members of color, who felt that they had experienced in the workplace some of that rhetoric, some of those disparaging comments or prejudiced statements from people that they work with. And that is one facet of extremism separate from, I think, what we talk about more in a general sense, which is the support for the violent overthrow of the government, which is another kind of extremism. That's more rare in the military, obviously, because the vast majority of service members understand that they work for the government, and so it's really anathema to service. But at the same time, you're right, and according to our polling, some of the more latent, insidious, not necessarily violent aspects of extremism are something that service members are grappling with and trying to understand what it looks like, how to identify it, and then what to do when they see it.

Chideya: So what path do service members have if they think that someone they know, including someone who might rank above them, is an active member of an extremist group?

Myers: It's the way that they would report a lot of other things that they might find in their formations. If it's not your immediate superior or something like that, you can always go to your chain of command, report it to a non-commissioned officer or the first officer in your chain of command, but there are also anonymous inspector general channels. And also, if you think that somebody is in a violent sort of criminal kind of extremism that they are espousing and that they're involved in, you can go to the criminal investigative unit for your service and file a report with them for them to follow up on.

Chideya: Going back to what you said about the question of what actually constitutes extremism that was addressed in the stand-down, what have you been hearing from people who have to make those judgment calls?

Myers: What was in some of these presentations about is this considered extreme, is this not considered extreme, the example of supporting Donald Trump. Is that in and of itself extreme? And the answer is across the board, "Of course not." If you want to support Donald Trump, if you want to wear a red hat, if you want to do the whole thing, that's fine. You can't do it when you're in uniform, and we don't want you going off about it at work.

Chideya: Getting to the crux of what needs to happen next, you wrote about a proposal which included, quote, "the development of a punitive regulation on extremist activities." What are the next steps and timeline for that?

Myers: That's something that is in the president's budget proposal for next year. There's money in that budget for the study and the development of creating a regulation like that, and the bonus of having a regulation like that is just to make things more precise and easy to track. Because a lot of the issue with extremism in the military is that it takes many different forms, and there's many different ways you can treat it, and many different ways that you can prosecute it. And sometimes it just looks like misconduct, sometimes it's something you pass off to the FBI because it's clearly a conspiracy. And those cases have been very much handled case-by-case, very siloed, no central way to track them, because they are all sorts of different sorts of crimes or disciplinary issues. So if they created an article in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, then they would be able to go into all of their databases and sort for everybody who committed an assault that was related to violent extremism so that they can really get a better handle on how to track these things, and know how many cases they really do have, and help them make their case about why something needs to be done. Because there are members of Congress who, lacking any real data, have real questions about whether this is actually a concern.

Chideya: And so, what is at stake here?

Myers: What's at stake for the Pentagon and for the military services is credibility. When you come in here, you're supposed to be better. You're supposed to be serving the nation. Obviously, being attached to any sort of extremist group is not serving the nation. It's not protecting the Constitution.

Chideya: The military of course is a place where all of the streams of American society and all of the racial groups and ethnic groups of the United States who come together. And that is constantly, from what I hear from friends and family who have served, part of the fabric of social cohesion. Part of the promise of the military has been like, "We will have social cohesion, even when America's not that united." Do you think that this shakes that a little bit?

Myers: Especially in the army, there has been this expression, "I only see army green." It's the same as people who say, "I don't see color." Now, in this moment that we're in right now, we are all grappling with the idea that that's not enough, that you also have to understand that maybe based on where someone comes from or what they look like, they have very different life experiences than yours. And that is the thing that the military is in some ways trying to embrace right now. The army is trying to embrace that right now in its marketing campaigns, that people from all backgrounds can come here and they can thrive. But then the other issue is the leadership in the military looks very different than what the rank and file looks like in the military. The military has gotten very diverse, more and more women, more and more people of color, but the leadership is still very male and very White. And so some of the services, they're taking steps to level the playing field with promotions, or just to work on retaining some of these people so that they will rise to the top and set an example for yet more people to come in behind them.

Chideya: Well, Meghann, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.

Myers: Thank you.

Chideya: That was Meghann Myers. She's Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times, and covers operations, policy, leadership, and other issues affecting service members. The difficulty of defining extremism is something my next guest explores extensively in her work. Geraldine Moriba is an award-winning journalist and the host and executive producer of the podcast Sounds Like Hate from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"Sounds Like Hate” Clip:

Most of us are national socialists, but there are others who consider themselves white nationalists, so being pro white is the number one criteria.

Chideya: That's a clip from season one when the podcast team combed through recordings of white nationalist recruiting calls. In the latest season, the show examines how we come to accept false narratives, like the heroic "Lost Cause" mythology of the Confederacy and how to understand the people who spread them by examining the question of removing Confederate monuments. Welcome, Geraldine.

Geraldine Morib...: Thank you. It's great to be here.

Chideya: So Geraldine, you've talked to a number of people who are grappling with their own place in history and their relationship to history. One of them is Jordan Gass-Poore'. I want to have us listen to a little bit of what Jordan has to say.

Gass-Poore': What I learned was Texas seceded from the union because of state's rights, because of the right to own land and to prevent people from the north, from the Union, from stealing our land, our property. So when I read the constitution of 1861, and I saw the number of sections devoted to the right to owning a human being, it shocked me.

Chideya: Give us a little bit more context for who Jordan is and what this is about.

Moriba: So Jordan is actually somebody on our production team. She's a producer, she's really smart. She also happens to be from Texas and she happens to have ancestors, three in fact, that people that she knows of who were German immigrants who fought on the Confederate side of the Civil War. And she decided because of the story we were doing around Confederate monuments and holding on to the celebration of the Confederacy to examine her own family's history because she grew up in a community where it was not unusual to see various versions of the Confederate flag waving on the back of trucks or in bedrooms, on belt buckles. As she got older, she started to question these historical facts that she was taught to be truth. Sometimes, we find out things about our family that disturb us, things that don't connect with our belief system. And then you have to decide what you're going to do. And in her story, that's exactly what happened.

Chideya: What do you think the role is of both family and money? I would expect that a lot of ancestors of your producer's were thinking about what is their future in America. They were immigrants to this country and perhaps they were thinking like, what is my future in this land?

Moriba: I am an immigrant. I'm from Canada, but my parents are immigrants. They're from Jamaica. So I'm an immigrant and the child of an immigrant. So I completely understand the nuance in this question, but the reality is what Jordan learned and what this podcast ultimately about in these episodes around Confederate mythology is whether white America acknowledges institutional racism or systemic racism. They benefit in many, many ways. They've benefited historically and today from advantages generated by the enslavement of millions of Africans 400 years ago. So Jordan's family argues that they personally didn't have slaves. But the thing is that argument doesn't fly because the Civil War was fought over slavery. It is exactly what that state's right that everybody talks about was about. And why did people who didn't own slaves, the majority of the people who fought on the Confederate side of the war didn't own slaves. That's a fact, but they fought and they fought because they needed jobs because it was part of an economic system. It wasn't only the slave owners who benefited. Everybody across that chain of commerce benefited. So people fought and defended it because they knew their jobs counted on it. And it's the reason why even today, people will vote for what will get them some little gain in their own lives even if it means many more people will suffer.

Chideya: I want to turn to someone else that you spoke with, Camille Bennett, who is a childcare professional, a business owner in Florence, Alabama. And she's also the founder of Project Say Something which is a local civil rights organization working to get a Confederate statue removed from in front of the county courthouse. And she shares with you very frankly about the attacks that she has received since becoming active. Let's hear a little bit of Camille.

Camille Bennett: The labeling has gotten really creative. You're a Marxist. You're ANTIFA. You are extremist if you're fighting for racial justice.

Moriba (in clip...: If you're anti-racist.

Camille Bennett: If you're anti-racist, absolutely. White people that are actively participating in racism will criminalize your advocacy and your activism is nothing new. It's been happening for decades.

Chideya: Again, your season really tackles this question of monuments. Why is this theoretically old history so very present today?

Moriba: The people who win in war tend to rename things and build a narrative and a culture around their victories. What's so strange about what happened here is the victors don't do that the way the losers do. We have Confederate, 17, over 1700 Confederate monuments and symbols in this country in public spaces that are sanctioned by local laws that protect them, paintings, monuments, street names, and it's a perpetuation of a false narrative. And so Camille is not waiting for local authorities to say, okay, we see the light you're right. And she's refusing to be silenced. And that's what Ida B. Wells did with her anti-lynching campaign. It's what Fannie Lou Hamer did to get voters registered in election after election. Women have done that. Black women have done that. And so Camille is part of a tradition of Black women who have said, this is wrong and I'm not going to let it stay in place and harm my own children. And in resisting, they've had to deal with racialized and gendered violence against them. And Camille isn't backing down. She's willing to put everything she has on the line to make sure change happens.

Chideya: Geraldine, I just want to thank you for being you and I want to thank you for sharing so much time with us. I appreciate you.

Moriba: Thank you for having me on your show.

Chideya: That was Geraldine Moriba. She's senior vice president of TheGrio and host and executive producer of Sounds Like Hate. Find seasons one and two wherever you listen to podcasts and follow the show, so you don't miss season three, out this fall.

Thank you so much for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by Lantigua Williams and Co. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is executive producer. Paulina Velasco is senior producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Our producer is Priscilla Alabi. Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Original music by associate sound designer Kojin Tashiro. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt, Veda Chand, Sarah McClure, and Elizabeth Nakano.

This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “How the Military is Tackling Sexual Assault and Extremism, and Reviewing the Latest Supreme Court Decisions.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. June 25, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/