- Top military Gen. Mark A. Milley said before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the military must take a “hard look” at Army bases named after Confederate officers.
- “The Confederacy… was an act of rebellion,” he said. “It was an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution, and those officers turned their back on their oath.”
- Milley’s comments are an escalation in a recent tone shift by the military to disavow Confederate tributes that are rampant within the Armed Forces.
- It’s also being reported that the Defense Department is drafting a new policy that would ban the display of the Confederate flag from any of its buildings.
Milley Disavows Confederate Namesakes
A month after the U.S. Army said it was open to holding a “bipartisan conversation” on reviewing nearly a dozen major bases named after Confederate leaders, the military’s top officer has now said that the Armed Forces must take a “hard look” at that process.
“The Confederacy… was an act of rebellion,” General Mark A. Milley, who is also Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said before the House Armed Services Committee Thursday. “It was an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution, and those officers turned their back on their oath.”
“The way we should do it matters as much as that we should do it. So we need to have, I’ve recommended, a commission of folks to take a hard look at the bases, the statues, the names, all of this stuff, to see if we can have a rational, mature discussion.”
During that meeting, Milley also said that about one in every five members of the Army is Black.
“For those young soldiers that go onto a base—a Fort Hood, a Fort Bragg or a fort wherever named after a Confederate general—they can be reminded that that general fought for the institution of slavery that may have enslaved one of their ancestors,” Milley said.
While the phrase “this should not be a political issue” has become increasingly common vernacular in U.S. politics in recent years, Milley asserted that his decision was political and that the renaming of those bases will need to be political, as well.
Any move to change those bases’ names will likely be met with a substantial amount of resistance, including from President Donald Trump. Just two days after Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced they were willing to hold talks on renaming 10 Army bases, Trump denounced the idea on Twitter.
“It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc,” Trump said on June 10. “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom.”
“The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”
“Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”
Trump has vowed to veto any defense bill that includes proposals to initiate renaming proceedings. Still, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have backed the idea of renaming bases. A House version of an annual defense bill would explicitly ban displaying the Confederate flag on Defense Department property. Another pair of bills in the House even seek to tie funding to a renaming process.
In 2017, the Army refused to change the names of the bases in question, calling any attempt to rename them “controversial and divisive.” In February, McCarthy again said there were no plans to rename the bases.
However, McCarthy has now indicated that he has the power to change those bases’ names but will need input from the White House, Congress, and local officials.
Banning the Confederate Flag
On Monday, it was also reported that leaders at the Pentagon are currently considering a ban on the Confederate flag at all bases. Notably, any such ban would extend to the whole of the Department of Defense.
CNN, which first reported the news, said it obtained the information from an official within the Pentagon. That official spoke on the condition of anonymity, as the move to ban Confederate flags would currently be classified as internal deliberations.
Thursday, Esper told the House that he’s initiated a process to begin examining “substantive and symbolic” issues.
“We want to take a look at all those things,” Esper said. “There is a process underway by which we affirm… what types of flags are authorized on U.S. military bases.”
The announcement came roughly a month after two branches of the military—the Marines followed by the Navy—banned Confederate flags on their bases. Those bans include the flag itself, as well as iconography displayed on shirts and bumper stickers. They did not ban historical uses of the flag, such as in scenes depicting Civil War battles.
Still, calls to remove Confederate tributes from the U.S. military have not stopped with only installation names and Confederate flags. Many also want the military to disavow the names of ships and buildings with Confederate namesakes.
Why Were U.S. Military Bases Named After Confederates?
The concept behind naming U.S. military installations after leaders of an army that committed treason against the United States is (to say the least) a bit of an oxymoron, even if it has only recently come into mainstream purview thanks largely to wide-scale protests over racial injustice.
Notably, each of those 10 installations are all in former Confederate States—Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, and Alabama. Most of them were founded in the early 1940’s following the U.S. joining World War II because of an immediate need for large areas of land on which to build Army bases. They then gained their namesakes from influential local residents.
Not only were these bases named during the Jim Crow era, two were also named after self-avowed white supremacists. Fort Benning—located near Columbus, Georgia—is named after Brigadier General Henry Benning, who directly cited the preservation slavery as a reason for secession during the Virginian secession convention of 1861.
“If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished,” Benning said in his explicitly racist speech. “By the time the North shall have attained the power, the Black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have Black governors, Black legislatures, Black juries, Black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?”
“We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa,” Benning later added in that speech.
The other base, Fort Bragg, carries the namesake of General Braxton Bragg. Ironically, Bragg is considered one of the worst generals in the Civil War, and most of his battles led to defeat. In fact, his losses were so devastating that he is commonly cited as one of the main reasons the Confederacy lost the war.
Though it’s not the case for all the bases Milley is looking to rename, both Benning and Bragg have ties to the states where their bases sit.
Besides the 10 bases in question, several other bases with Confederate namesakes still exist and currently have no plans of being renamed. That includes Camp Pendleton in Virginia, as well as Camp Maxey in Texas. Both are national guard posts.
While not named after an officer, Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia, is named after a slave plantation. Funnily enough, it didn’t gain that name until 1935 when it was changed from Camp A. A. Humphreys. What’s more, A. A. Humphreys was a Union General during the Civil War. Because of that, some have renewed criticism over the fort’s current name, arguing that it propagates a nostalgic vision of the Antebellum South.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Politico) (CNN)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”