DOD Woke Agenda

The Architects of the Woke U.S. Military: Military Woke Complex

This important investigation by Fred Lucas of the Capital Research Center exposes a “band of nonprofits—some very well-financed, others operating under the radar—pushing a left-wing agenda into the military. The list of donors to the military woke complex suggests bringing the armed forces to heel is a priority.” As Lucas says, it’s not just the government pushing these woke policies into the U.S. Armed Forces.

The Capital Research Center, “a conservative watchdog” in Washington, DC was established in 1984 to examine how foundations, charities, and other nonprofits spend money and get involved in politics and advocacy, often in ways that donors never intended and would find abhorrent. CRC has exposed how those organizations are “captured” by interest groups and used to undermine Americans’ freedoms. CRC believes in free markets, constitutional government, and individual liberty. It’s an organization you should know about and it’s worth your time to read the investigations and their ‘Influence Watch’ on their website.

The Architects of the Woke U.S. Military: Military Woke Complex

By Fred Lucas, Capital Research Center

The Left began its long march through institutions in the early 20th century and gained a complete stranglehold over education and the media. In recent years, wokeism has deeply infiltrated sports and organized religion. For a long time, the military and business were at least the last institutions the Right controlled, or so we thought. More recently, the Left has gained—if not a stranglehold—a vice grip on the corporate world. And now the military is under siege. Since his inauguration, President Joe Biden’s administration has run a full-court press to push woke policies on the military, including an executive order to opening military service to all transgender individual, teaching about the threat of “whiteness” at West Point, and promoting senior officers who espouse left-wing progressive ideas.

Hours after his inauguration in January 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to open military service to all transgender individuals.

The push for wokeness in the military didn’t stop there.

Under the Biden administration, the Space Force has considered doing away with periodic fitness testing. The Biden administration’s Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilda added Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist to his list of recommended readings, while the U.S. Military Academy at West Point taught about the threat of “whiteness.”

Biden has also nominated a string of senior officers for promotion to general who have expressed political opinions in favor of kneeling for the National Anthem, asked for dialogue on “whiteness,” and declared that DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is in the Air Force’s DNA.

Military Woke Complex

In his farewell address in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about the growing influence of a “military-industrial complex”—the belief that private military defense contractors would agitate for war so they could cash in.

This is something different. Whether the term is “woke” or DEI, it’s not just the government pushing these policies into the U.S. Armed Forces.

What should also get attention is a developing “military woke complex”: a band of nonprofits—some very well-financed, others operating under the radar—pushing a left-wing agenda into the military.

The list of donors to the military woke complex suggests bringing the armed forces to heel is a priority. The money backing the military woke complex includes big checks from George Soros and entities connected with Arabella Advisors, as well as from major bankrollers of the Left such as the Tides Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Many of these organizations claim to be veteran service organizations, no different than Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion. Others profess to represent active-duty military. Some assert they’re doing both.

But their real function seems to be providing cover for politicians and bureaucrats to push unpopular policies on the military.

These politicians and bureaucrats can claim they aren’t just doing the bidding of the LGBTQ lobby or environmental lobby. In fact, they aren’t imposing anything on military.

All they have to do is point to soldiers, sailors, and airmen in these assorted organization as proof that at least some men and women in uniform agree with them.

CRC looked at these groups advocating woke policies in the military:

Common Defense

The Biden administration has done its part to push the military toward being “climate justice” warriors.

The president once told a group of U.S. airmen based in Britain that the Joint Chiefs of Staff determined that the biggest threat facing America was global warming:

“You know what the Joint Chiefs told us the greatest threat facing America was? Global warming. Because there’ll be significant population movements, fights over land, millions of people leaving places because they’re literally sinking below the sea in Indonesia; because of the fights over what is arable land anymore.”

Even then-Chairman of the Joint Chief Gen. Mark Milley—no foe of wokeness—was quick to make a course correction. Milley didn’t directly contradict his commander-in-chief, but he asserted that China and Russia posed the biggest global threat to the United States on the same day as Biden’s global warming gaffe.

Nevertheless, by the end of his first year in office, Biden had ordered the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to transition to pollution-free electrical generation by 2035. In 2023, the Pentagon spent $3 billion on addressing climate change concerns.

The Biden administration would be technically correct in claiming that military veterans are calling for a full-throttled focus on the climate and that the administration is not just relying on traditional green groups for these policies.

But in this case it would be talking about a tiny percentage of veterans that is represented by the left-wing Common Defense network of nonprofits.

In 2022, the Common Defense Education Fund joined Critical Defense Civic Engagement to launch Vets for Climate Justice. The initiative said its mission is to lead campaigns on environmental issues, build political will for action, and pressure elected officials to transition to a green energy economy.

The Common Defense Education Fund is part of the Common Defense network of nonprofits that began as an anti–Donald Trump organization and has since morphed into a catchall organization for woke policies in the military.

Common Defense was founded in 2016 as the Vets Against Trump movement in opposition to then-presidential candidate Trump’s policies.

The group claims the Right “co-opted” the idea of patriotism. The organization has its roots among organizers of a large veterans’ rally that took place in 2016 outside the Trump Tower in New York City. The rally organizers continued as a group and incorporated in 2019 and gained tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service in 2022.

The network of organizations includes:

  • the Common Defense Education Fund, a 501(c)(3) that says it is for “training and organizing”;
  • Common Defense Civic Engagement, a 501(c)(4) that says it is “for issue based and electoral advocacy”; and
  • Common Defense Action Fund, a political action committee “for lobbying and electoral support.”

The organization’s website says:

Founded in 2016, Common Defense is the nation’s largest grassroots organization of US military veterans and the only one that invests in the leadership of its members through training and deployment in campaigns that connect directly to their history of service, including voting rights, climate justice, and anti-militarism.

The Common Defense network lists its priorities as lobbying and advocating for legislative bills and issues and making “endorsements of progressive candidates.”

The group trains left-of-center veterans to engage in get-out-the-vote efforts. The Common Defense umbrella of groups also promotes social justice issues, such as critical race theory in military training, and opposes what it calls “forever wars.”

The network has seen some movement on its goal of more “equity” in the military.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Judicial Watch found that training materials for West Point now teach on the problems of “whiteness.” One of the instructional slides said, “In order to understand racial inequality and slavery, it is first necessary to address whiteness.”

Members of Congress obtained curricular materials from West Point showing lectures titled “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage” and slides labeled “White Power at West Point.”

When asked about these during a congressional hearing, Milley defended the woke curricular. “I want to understand white rage, and I’m white,” Milley said. “I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist.”

After it was incorporated, Common Defense—though having expanded its menu of advocacy—was still out to get Trump and strongly advocated for the 45th president’s impeachment in 2019.

In the lead up to the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Common Defense asked candidates to sign a pledge ending “forever wars.” Seven Democratic candidates signed the pledge, and it was adopted into the party’s platform at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. This marked a significant win, and proved the organization could flex it muscle.

The Common Defense Education Fund runs the Veterans Organizing Institute, which supports leadership development of left-of-center military veterans for a network of “highly diverse, former service members, with sophisticated political analysis and practical organizing skills to play an important role in reshaping the long-term American political landscape.”

The institute also says it wants to create “training opportunities for all veterans,” especially those who represent directly impacted communities, including women, people of color, Indigenous, Muslim, LGBTQ+, and disabled veterans.”

Donors to the Common Defense network have included, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the David Rockefeller Fund ($27,500 for climate advocacy), and the Fund for Nonviolence ($20,000 to support the Veterans Organizing Institute).

The Ford Foundation, a primary funder of left-of-center causes, gave a $100,000 grant to the Common Defense Education Fund to organize a multiracial, multi-generational, and inclusive movement to get veterans to advocate for a “healthy and participatory democracy.”

Common Defense Civic Engagement, the 501(c)(4), had revenue of $2.9 million and spent $2.7 million in 2021.

One of the biggest funders for the lobbying arm is the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a passthrough for the Arabella Advisors network, which gave $1.06 million to Common Defense Civic Engagement—almost half of the group’s revenue.

It has also received donations from major left-wing funders such as

  • the Tides Foundation,
  • the George Soros–connected Open Society Policy Center,
  • the Clinton-aligned Onward Together,
  • the group Need to Impeach,
  • the Arabella-aligned North Fund, and
  • the Communications Workers of America.

Jose Vasques is the Common Defense executive director. Vasquez, a 15-year Army veteran honorably discharged in 2007, was previously the director of Iraq Veterans Against the War and was a member of the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice.

The board of directors for Common Defense Civic Engagement includes several activists on the left, including

  • screenwriter Billy Ray;
  • human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid;
  • Shailly Gupta Barnes, policy director of the Poor People’s Campaign;
  • Jeff Blum, former executive director of USAction and founder of Pennsylvania Citizen Action; and
  • Jeff Quiggle, a supporter of Texas Democratic politician Beto O’Rourke and co-founder of “Veterans for Beto.”

Vets for the People

Vets for the People, a project of the far-left Working Families Party, asserts “warmongers, white supremacists, and corporate politicians” exploit veterans.

Vets for the People recruits ex-military members to be spokespersons for the group and specifically looks for vets who are ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQ people, and immigrants.

Triste Ordex, national organizer for Vets for the People, has a background in Texas Democratic Party politics.

During an interview about her organization, she asserted America’s class system exploits poor people and compels them to join the military. Ordex argued that the military subjects women, LGBT people, and ethnic minorities to “vicious harassment, violent assault, and worse.”

Such arguments build a platform for a more woke military.

The organization says the military disciplinary system is unjust, and thus does not see a distinction between honorably discharged and dishonorably discharged veterans.

Vets for the People endorses political candidates that support a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour, socialized health care, increased social services, open borders, environmentalist policies, government-mandated family and medical paid leave, and reduced incarceration.

The organization participated in a 2021 rally in support of extending the eviction moratorium from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group also opposed Florida’s House Bill 1 in 2021, which barred protestors from blocking roadways and increased penalties for crimes committed during the protest. The organization claimed the law would disproportionately harm minorities.

LGBTQ Military Groups

Numerous organizations are advocating for LGBTQ policies in the military.

These organizations were likely enthused by the news in 2022 that Ramstein U.S. Air Base in Germany had scheduled a drag queen story hour at its base library for children and that the Navy released a training video to help sailors understand pronoun use, but it was cancelled after a public backlash.

SPARTA is a 501(c)(3) organization that advocates for transgender people in U.S. military. SPARTA says its membership is “Open to all transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces, SPARTA further extends support communities for the families, veterans, and allies of transgender service members.”

The organization asserts there are 1,400 transgender service members.

The organization claims it works to “educate commanders, legislators, fellow service members, and the public about transgender service concerns, best practices, and the benefits of a diverse and representative military.”

The president and board chair of SPARTA is Emily Shilling, a Navy commander serving as an Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer with NAVAIR outside Washington, DC. The organization says Shilling is the “first trans-identifying individual to regain her Naval Flight Clearance to fly high-performance tactical jets post-transition in Feb 2023.”

In August 2023, SPARTA issued a warning to military personnel and veterans about living and even getting medical care in the state of Florida, claiming that laws recently enacted by the state make it a dangerous state for transgender members of the military:

SPARTA has withheld such recommendations previously, recognizing service members can fulfill their duties anywhere in the world. They have done so proudly for over 200 years and continue to do so in duty stations worldwide and ships sailing all the world’s oceans. However, here at home, the state of Florida has created circumstances that pose legal challenges and hazards to our nation’s military members, even while they defend our nation’s freedoms.”

The Modern Military Association of America, a 501(c)(3) organization, claims to be the largest LGBTQ servicemember organization in the country. It represents active-duty members, veterans, spouses, and family members.

Two organizations—the American Military Partner Association and OutServe-SLDN—merged in May 2019 to create the Modern Military Association of America (MMAA).

The group said it was in response to the Trump administration’s transgender military ban the previous month. It named Navy veteran Andy Blevin, who was previously head of OutServe, as the first executive director of MMAA.

The MMAA also says the merger was the “result of decades of work for the LGBTQ+ and HIV+ military and veteran community.”

Although an advocacy group for U.S. military and veterans, the organization claims to have more than 85,000 people in a worldwide network of members and supporters.

The MMAA filed four major lawsuits against the Trump administration:

  • In the case of Karnoski v. Trump, the MMAA and Lambda Legal sued in federal court over the transgender military ban. The lawsuit represented six currently serving members of the armed services and three who sought to enlist.
  • In Roe and Voe v. Esper, the MMAA and Lambda Legal sued over the Air Force’s involuntary separation of airmen with HIV.
  • In the case of Harrison v. Esper, the MMAA and Lambda Legal sued on behalf of Army Sgt. Nick Harrison, who was denied a position in the Judge Advocate General Corps because current policy considers servicemembers living with HIV non-deployable.
  • In the case of Deese and Doe v. Esper, the MMAA and Lambda Legal sued on behalf of former Navy midshipman Kevin Deese and former Air Force cadet “John Doe,” who were denied commissions based on their HIV status.

The group scored a victory when the Biden administration ended the long-standing policy prohibiting HIV-infected individuals from serving in combat zones. Previously the Pentagon cited the need for HIV medication and the risk of shared blood in combat zones as reasons to prevent them from being in combat.

The MMAA claims it opposes the “torrent of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and policies that are making our states less equitable and actively harming our communities.” The organization asserts that in 2022 more than 200 “anti-LGBTQ+” bills were introduced in state legislatures. The MMAA claims the number of bills increased to 500 in 2023.

The MMAA leads the Rainbow Shield Certification, which it describes as an online certification program that provides training and “culturally specific and trauma-informed linguistic, administrative, and environmental resources and knowledge for agencies and corporations to effectively work with LGBTQ+ and HIV+ military and veteran communities.”

American Veterans for Equal Rights advocates for current and former service members. The organization also claims the same superlative as the MMAA, but with qualifiers, referring to itself as the “oldest and largest chapter-based, all-volunteer national” LGBTQ group advocating for active-duty military and veterans.

The group says it is the nation’s only LGBTQ veterans service organization that is recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The organization boasts of successfully advocating for the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy in the U.S. military. Yet AVER warns:

Despite the fact that transgender veterans were on the front lines of the fight to end DADT, transgender service members did not benefit from the DADT repeal. AVER’s mission of inclusion will not be complete until transgender patriots are allowed to serve honorably beside other members of the military. We will leave no one behind.

AVER has active chapters in Albuquerque; Chicago; Miami/Ft. Lauderdale; New York City; San Antonio and Austin, Texas; Atlanta; central and northeastern Ohio; the metropolitan area of Washington, DC; Indianapolis; Phoenix; Denver; St. Louis; Los Angeles; Palm Springs; Sacramento; and Seattle.

Service Women’s Action Network

The Biden Defense Department’s policy of paying for military women to travel to other states to have an abortion became the subject of a hotly contested fight over more than 300 military promotions in 2023.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) blocked a mass vote on the military promotions until the Pentagon dropped the new abortion policy—although he didn’t prevent individual votes.

Among the key champions for the Pentagon’s abortion policy was the Service Women’s Action Network.

The organization takes more mainstream positions as well, such as calling for tougher rules to stop sexual assault in the military, as well as advocating equal pay.

But the group has made abortion part of the mix, as well as demanding women be allowed to serve in combat roles. It claims to be the voice of 350,000 service women and 2 million female veterans in the United States.

The SWAN website says:

Our efforts include opening all military jobs to service women, expanding access to services for a broad range of reproductive healthcare services, working to hold sex offenders accountable in the military justice system and eliminating barriers to disability claims for those who have experienced military sexual trauma. But our work is not done.

SWAN published an issue brief in 2023 calling for Congress and the president to greatly expand abortion at military and VA facilities, going well beyond what even the Biden administration authorized:

“Congress must repeal the prohibition on the use of military bases for abortion and the ban on use of military funds for abortion care.” SWAN argued,

Abortion is a human right. Congress and the administration must fulfill their obligation to make that right a reality for servicemembers, veterans and their dependents.”

The brief recommended:

Servicemembers should be permitted to access abortion on base, with appropriate privacy protections and without consulting their superiors.

The administration must rescind regulations prohibiting abortion care within VHA [Veterans Health Administration] facilities. VHA must provide access to and coverage for abortion services as it does with other pregnancy-related care.

In 2012, SWAN sued the Defense Department over the policy of excluding women from military combat. A friendly Obama administration eliminated the policy in 2013, and by 2016, women began joining combat units.

The most recent financial information on the organization shows that in 2021, SWAN received $314,566 in revenue, made $243,160 in expenditures, and had assets of $419,527.

Veterans for American Ideals

Veterans for American Ideals describes itself as a coalition of veterans advocating for human rights at home and abroad.

It is affiliated with the left-of-center group Human Rights First, which calls for the United States soften its immigration policies to accept more refugees.

Veterans for American Ideas also calls for “police demilitarization,” demilitarizing border enforcement and addresses “domestic political extremism.” The group also says it is battling online hate speech and bigotry.

“In response to the January 6th insurrection, VFAI has addressed the challenge of extremism by helping build civil society’s capacity to confront and roll back violent extremist movements in the United States,” the organization says.

The Left’s Long March

The Left began its long march through institutions in the early 20th century and gained a complete stranglehold over education and the media. In recent years, wokeism has deeply infiltrated sports and organized religion.

For a long time, the military and business were the last institutions not captured by the Left, or so we thought. More recently, the Left has gained—if not a stranglehold—a vice grip on the corporate world.

Militant wokeism is seeking a conquest of the U.S. military, and it has plenty of private-sector assistance backing up that battleplan.


First published in Capital Research Center

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