Military leaders speak out against racism, extremism

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis answers a reporter's question about North Korea, before a meeting with Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert at the Pentagon, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the four major U.S. military services have spoken out against racism and extremism after last weekend's violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Their comments on Twitter and in longer written statements made no mention of President Donald Trump's responses to the incident.

Military officers are trained to avoid politics. They traditionally see it as their duty to emphasize to troops core values such as racial equality and tolerance. The man accused of ramming his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, had enlisted in the Army and began basic training in 2015 but was released from active duty four months later for what the Army described only as "a failure to meet training standards."

The Navy's top officer, Adm. John Richardson, was the first of the military chiefs to respond to Saturday's violence in Charlottesville. That evening he took to Twitter to say the events there were "unacceptable and mustn't be tolerated."

In a fuller version of his statement, Richardson called the events "shameful."

"Our thoughts and prayers go to those who were killed and injured, and to all those trying to bring peace back to the community," Richardson wrote. "The Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred. For those on our team, we want our Navy to be the safest possible place — a team as strong and tough as we can be, saving violence only for our enemies."

Richardson's spokesman, Cmdr. Chris Servello, said Wednesday the statement was "motivated solely by the shameful and unacceptable events that occurred in Charlottesville — period."

Other service chiefs followed Richardson but did not explicitly mention Charlottesville.

On Tuesday, Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, wrote on Twitter: "No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act."

Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, then tweeted on Wednesday: "The Army doesn't tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It's against our Values and everything we've stood for since 1775."

He was followed a short time later by the top Air Force officer, Gen. David Goldfein, who wrote on Twitter: "I stand with my fellow service chiefs in saying we're always stronger together - it's who we are as Airmen."

An Air Force spokesman, Col. Patrick Ryder, said Goldfein's statement had no political aim.

"Gen. Goldfein was simply highlighting that the Air Force, like the other services, will not tolerate racism or extremism in its ranks. His intent was to echo comments made by the other service chiefs and to reassure airmen and the public we serve of our commitment to our core values. There was no other purpose or intent behind the tweet."

In an impromptu encounter with reporters at the Pentagon on Monday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was asked his thoughts about Charlottesville.

"I was saddened by it, very saddened about what I saw," he said.

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