This morning, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of today’s Committee hearing on violent domestic extremist groups and the recruitment of veterans:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And, welcome to our witnesses.
We are here today to discuss violent extremism among veterans.
The important word there is “violent.”
Something that seems extreme in Southern California might be commonplace in other parts of the country.
That doesn’t make it wrong.
The First Amendment gives us the freedom to hold and express beliefs and opinions regardless of how extreme others may find them.
Thank God for that.
Free speech is foundational to democracy and the American way of life.
That’s why servicemembers and veterans have fought and died for it for 245 years.
Free speech must be protected.
I will oppose any effort to restrict it.
It is every veteran’s right to have an opinion – even one I find radical.
However, if that opinion is acted on with violence, it is another thing altogether.
Violence cannot be tolerated.
It is undemocratic and anti-American.
We have seen political violence from across the political spectrum over the last several years.
For example, there were devastating riots in several major American cities last year.
Those riots did incredible damage to people and property.
And, they led to calls to defund the police that led to rising crime throughout the country.
There was also the riot in the Capitol on January 6th.
When the Chairman announced his investigation into the targeting of veterans by violent extremists, I was concerned that it was a political exercise seeking to capitalize on January 6th.
This hearing was originally scheduled for July 29th.
However, on July 23rd, my staff and I learned on Twitter, from a reporter, that the hearing had been postponed.
That postponement was allegedly due to scheduling issues.
However, my staff was later told by the Chairman’s staff that the hearing had actually been postponed at the request of Speaker Pelosi.
Allegedly, she was concerned that our hearing would interfere with the first hearing of the Select Committee on January 6th on July 27th.
I am sure that Members’ can understand my serious frustration with those events.
First, it is unacceptable that important information about our schedule would be shared with the members of the media before me, my staff, or other Committee Members.
Second, I was already concerned that this investigation was motivated by partisan politics rather than the best interests of veterans.
Speaker Pelosi’s order to postpone the hearing because of its overlap with the Select Committee on January 6th confirms my concern.
Let me be clear – the V.A. Committee is not the appropriate place to debate that incident.
There are other House Committees with the jurisdiction and expertise to do that.
There is also the Select Committee on January 6th.
I have serious concerns with the partisan nature and narrow focus of the Select Committee.
But, our job on the V.A. Committee is to honor, support, serve, and empower veterans.
Our job is to help them get the care, benefits, services, and opportunities they have earned.
If anything is going to prevent veterans from falling prey to violent extremism, it is that.
There are approximately 18 million veterans in this country.
They come from every background and belief system.
Veterans are hard-working, highly-skilled, and well-respected.
Those qualities make veterans excellent employees, leaders, and community members.
Those qualities may also make them attractive to violent extremists who want to take advantage of their skills and standing to cause violence and division.
It grabs headlines when veterans are accused of becoming violent extremists.
But there is very little data on how many veterans are actually involved in violent extremist actions.
And there is no question that the vast majority of veterans are law-abiding and peaceful.
We cannot let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch.
There is already a false, but persistent, narrative about veterans.
It says that they are sick, broken, and dangerous – so-called “ticking time bombs.”
What is actually dangerous is that stigma.
And I am concerned that this hearing will spread it.
That stigma makes it harder for veterans to find jobs and to seek help, if they need it.
Most importantly, it is false.
We know that a lot of violent extremism takes root online.
That is one reason why Congresswoman Mace and I introduced H.R. 2326, the Veterans’ Cyber Risk Awareness Act.
Our bill would require a study about cyber risks facing veterans from frauds, disinformation campaigns – and, yes, violent extremists.
It would also require V.A. to partner with other agencies and experts to share best practices with veterans about how to stay safe online.
I hope our bill will be considered in Committee and on the House Floor very soon.
And then, I hope that we can get back to doing what we do best for veterans and leave the partisan political investigations in the past.
With that, I yield back.
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