Violent extremists stand with Donald Trump — as do many of my Marine buddies

Trump is the embodiment of everything we stood against

Members of the National Guard prepare to distribute weapons outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 14, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Security has been increased throughout Washington following the breach of the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, and leading up to the Presidential Inauguration. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

We will remember the attacks of Jan. 6 with the same horror as we remember the terrorist attacks of 9/11. While there was far less loss of life at the U.S. Capitol, our loss of national dignity was far worse.

We know President Trump incited and encouraged the mob that perpetrated the attack.  During the attack he gave  a half-hearted video address in which he told the attackers, “We love you. You’re very special.”

According to a report from ABC News, “at least nine of those arrested for participating in the riot have been confirmed to be former members of the U.S. military,” and, as for the upcoming inauguration, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press Sunday that defense officials are “taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation” to guard against the potential of an attack being carried out by military personnel.

In 2015 and 2016 I belonged to a by-invitation-only social media group of former Marine Corps fighter pilots. I was astounded at the group’s overwhelming support for Trump.  This was not a group of “the uneducated” whom Trump famously professed to love, but a group of educated, highly intelligent, highly accomplished former military leaders.

Rich Westmoreland, Lt. Col. USMC (Ret)

There were 17 Republican presidential candidates then, and I’d routinely ask, “Why Trump?” What makes him so much more appealing than the other 16 candidates? My friends all struggled with this question so I answered it for them: the overt, in-your- face racism and bigotry.

Look at the crowd that stormed the Capitol: a mob of white supremacists peppered with groups like the Boogaloo Boys, Proud Boys, Aryan Nations – littered with people wearing shirts with logos stating that not enough Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The folks in that crowd who are not members of those groups had no problem joining those who are.

I’m White, as are more than 95 percent of Marine Corps fighter pilots. I don’t remember many issues or instances of racism from my Marine Corps days. I have no evidence or cause to call any of my former colleagues racists. But they overlooked, tolerated and attempted to minimize Trump’s racism. So what does that say about them?

We spent years aspiring to, teaching, living the 14 Marine Corps leadership traits, such as  justice, integrity, unselfishness, judgment. We followed leadership principles like “setting the example” and “taking responsibility.” We studied history, politics and warfare. We held each other accountable. We were better leaders and we were better pilots than our contemporaries in the Air Force and Navy. We were brutally honest with each other in identifying and correcting weaknesses and deficiencies. In my mind, Trump is the embodiment of everything we stood against: an incompetent leader, a racist, a liar, a con man. It’s  been hard to swallow that most of my former colleagues are all in for him.

Not only did 74 million Americans vote for him, but a YouGov poll indicates that 45 percent of Republicans are OK with the attack on the Capitol. This latter group should be a sobering concern to us all.

As for my former colleagues — men I spent most of my adult life with, men I flew in combat with, men with whom I celebrated weddings and the births of our children — I’ve spoken to very few of them since 2016.  Whatever bonds held us together are not strong enough for me to turn a blind eye to their embrace of what I believe has been the biggest threat to our nation since the Civil war.

On a crystal clear fall day in 1994 I was patrolling the skies over Sarajevo as the sun set over a city that looked as though it could just as easily have been Cleveland as a city in Europe. I had a front row seat as Serb forces in hills surrounding the besieged civilians in the city below opened fire with tanks, artillery, and mortars and fired indiscriminately for more than two hours.

Seeing supposedly civilized Europeans indiscriminately kill civilians was something I was not prepared for. As I watched the attack on the U.S. Capitol this month, I got the same feeling in the pit of my stomach and the same metallic taste in my mouth that I experienced on that day in 1994.

I don’t think average citizens understand how dangerous the tolerance of lies by political leaders can be. Lies and hate led to the rise of fascism in the former Yugoslavia. Lies and hate led to the rise of the Third Reich. Lies and hate led to the attack on our Capitol on January 6th.

Every American should stop and consider that at this minute, thousands of American troops are deployed to the capital city of the United States to protect our government against violence and threats from Americans — after an attack by Americans.

I wonder how my former colleagues feel about the attacks carried out by their fellow Trump supporters. Is it too late for them to remember that they once swore an oath to the country and the Constitution and not to a party led by a dangerous man?

 Richard Westmoreland, Lt. Col. USMC (Ret.)  served as an F/A-18 pilot in the Marine Corps. He flew more than 100 missions in two conflicts, earning five air medals. He moved to New Orleans in 2014 where he still works as an aviation professional.