Over 120 retired U.S. generals and admirals published a disturbing open letter earlier this week pushing the false conspiracy theory that President Joe Biden stole the election while arguing that he might be mentally unfit for office.
The letter, released Monday by a group calling itself “Flag Officers 4 America,” reads like a screed ripped from former President Donald Trump’s now-defunct Twitter account, replete with erratic punctuation, far-right talking points and outright lies about the 2020 election.
The letter raised alarm among many current and former military members.
“This is really, to my mind, a classic very bad example of the erosion of civil-military relations in America, which is the bedrock of our democracy,” retired Army Col. Jeffrey McCausland, a visiting professor at Dickinson College and a national security consultant for CBS, told HuffPost.
The letter begins by asserting that “Our Nation is in deep peril,” and that “We are in a fight for our survival as a Constitutional Republic like no other time since our founding in 1776. The conflict is between supporters of Socialism and Marxism vs. supporters of Constitutional freedom and liberty.”
The nation has arrived at this precipice, the letter argues, because of election fraud. “Without fair and honest elections that accurately reflect the ‘will of the people,’ our Constitutional Republic is lost,” it states, adding that the “FBI and Supreme Court must act swiftly when election irregularities are surfaced and not ignore them as was done in 2020.”
There is no evidence of fraud affecting the results of the 2020 election.
Yet the admirals and generals who signed the letter argue there need to be more restrictive voting measures to ensure “election integrity.” Such measures, currently being enacted by Republican state legislatures across the country, seek to make it more difficult for Black and brown people to vote.
“Today, many are calling such commonsense controls ‘racist’ in an attempt to avoid having fair and honest elections,” the letter states. “Using racial terms to suppress proof of eligibility is itself a tyrannical intimidation tactic.”
A cursory glance at the 124 signatories shows them to be almost uniformly white men who have not served in the military for decades. Most are also only one or two-star generals or admirals. (“I covered the military for a very long time. The most remarkable thing about this list is how few names I recognize on it,” veteran Washington Post reporter Greg Jaffe noted on Twitter.)
These 124 retired officers have chosen their side, and they are betraying the overwhelming majority of veterans who keep faith with our oaths. Alex McCoy, former Marine and political director of Common Defense
According to Politico, the letter was organized by Army Maj. Gen. Joe Arbuckle, a Trump supporter and Vietnam veteran who retired from the armed forces in 2000.
Among its other more well-known signatories are retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, a U.S. Senate candidate in New Hampshire; retired Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a virulent anti-Muslim bigot who now heads up the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council; and retired Vice Adm. John Poindexter, best known for being convicted for his role in the Iran-Contra Affair as national security adviser for President Ronald Reagan.
McCausland, the retired Army colonel and professor, said that although it’s not uncommon for retired American military officers to engage in politics, endorsing certain candidates or policies, it’s a dangerous development for them to take part in a clearly anti-democratic campaign to overturn the results of a fair election; to attack the legitimacy of a major political party; and to use ad hominem attacks against the current commander in chief.
To have these 124 retired officers attack the peaceful transfer of power in favor of their preferred candidate sets a dangerous precedent, McCausland said, and threatens America’s history as one of the world’s “few democracies in which the military hasn’t threatened to take over control of government.”
Alex McCoy, a former Marine who is now political director of Common Defense, a progressive political action group for military veterans, saw the letter as a betrayal.
“Historically, former military members have been either fertile ground for fascist movements, coups, and attacks on democracy, or the backbone of pro-democracy movements like the Civil Rights movement and the Labor movement, upholding the promise of our Constitution against the small group of power-hungry people seeking to divide us and undermine the will of the people,” he told HuffPost in a statement.
“These 124 retired officers have chosen their side, and they are betraying the overwhelming majority of veterans who keep faith with our oaths.”
The Pentagon is currently struggling to deal with far-right extremism in its ranks in the wake of the historic Jan. 6 pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Some 15% of those arrested for their roles in the riot had some sort of military affiliation.
The letter refers to the insurrection only obliquely, lashing out at Biden’s fortification of the Capitol after his inauguration and for “using the U.S. military as political pawns with thousands of troops deployed around the U.S. Capitol Building, patrolling fences guarding against a non-existent threat.”
The letter also accuses Biden of “forcing Politically Correct policies like the divisive critical race theory into the military at the expense of the War Fighting Mission” which, it argues, “seriously degrades readiness to fight and win our Nation’s wars, creating a major national security issue.”
This might be a reference to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s military-wide stand-down order in February that required commanders to have “needed discussions” about extremism with their troops.
Flag Officers 4 America didn’t respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on its letter. The Pentagon also declined to comment on the letter, which ends with an unsubstantiated claim about Biden’s health.
“The mental and physical condition of the Commander in Chief cannot be ignored,” the letter says. “He must be able to quickly make accurate national security decisions involving life and limb anywhere, day or night. Recent Democrat leadership’s inquiries about nuclear code procedures sends a dangerous national security signal to nuclear armed adversaries, raising the question about who is in charge.”
Those Democratic inquiries about nuclear code procedures, the letter omits, were actually made when Trump was still in office, two days after he incited an insurrection at the Capitol.