Over a hundred retired US military generals and admirals signed on to The Big Lie this week, and the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin now have to confront the fact that our armed forces have long been a breeding ground for white supremacist insurrectionists with the training and knowledge to do real violence, and that the rot obviously goes way up the chain of command.
A day after 124 retired generals and admirals released a letter spreading the lie that President Joe Biden stole the election, current and former military officers are speaking out, calling the missive a dangerous new sign of the military being dragged into the trenches of partisan warfare.
The open letter on Monday from a group calling itself Flag Officers 4 America advanced the false conspiracy theory that the presidential vote was rigged in Biden's favor and warned that the nation is "in deep peril" from "a full-blown assault on our Constitutional rights."
“Under a Democrat Congress and the Current Administration,” they wrote, “our Country has taken a hard left turn toward Socialism and a Marxist form of tyrannical government which must be countered now by electing congressional and presidential candidates who will always act to defend our Constitutional Republic.”
The broadside also raises questions about “the mental and physical condition of the Commander in Chief" and sounds the alarm about a host of hot-button issues, such as the border wall. It goes on to accuse congressional leaders of "using the U.S. military as political pawns with thousands of troops deployed around the U.S. Capitol Building."
The group's website claims that "we are in a fight for our survival as a Constitutional Republic like no other time since our founding in 1776."
As news of the letter spread, it set off a round of recriminations among current and former military members. One serving Navy officer, who did not want to be identified publicly, called it "disturbing and reckless."
Jim Golby, an expert in civil-military relations, called it a "shameful effort to use their rank and the military's reputation for such a gross and blatant partisan attack," while a retired Air Force colonel who teaches cadets at the Air Force Academy, Marybeth Ulrich, labeled it "anti-democratic."
"I think it hurts the military and by extension it hurts the country," said retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, describing it as replete with "right-wing Republican talking points."
The talking points in the letter fall generally in line with die-hard loyalists in Trump's orbit, who question the results of the election despite the fact that the courts and Trump's own Justice Department said there was no reason to declare him the winner.
Several experts said it reminded them of the current crisis in civil-military relations in France, where dozens of retired generals were recently sanctioned after warning in an open letter in a right-wing magazine of civil war for the "protection of our civilisational values."
That letter was followed up by an anonymous one from current officers calling French politicians cowards for not dealing with the Muslim population, sparking calls for a purge of the ranks. The controversy has undermined public confidence in the French military and recalled the bitter feuds between the brass and elected officials during the early years of the Cold War.
The American letter was striking for several reasons. It is not unusual for retired officers to take sides in electoral politics and endorse candidates. But its fiery, even angry, language and conspiracy-mongering struck multiple long-time observers as particularly out of bounds and dangerous. Coming outside the campaign season was also seen as rare if not unprecedented.
This is a not-so-subtle reminder that if there are scores of flag officers willing to embrace the Big Lie, there are thousands of members of the Armed Forces who feel the same, and the letter all but calls President Biden unfit for command. The implication that current and former military personnel should ignore his commands and consider "righting this wrong" of his election are absolutely frightening.
The Pentagon ignores this at our peril. The potential for real, devastating violence is the highest it's been in generations.
It's far from over.