The three-star general nominated to head the U.S. Space Command declined to endorse the Biden administration’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies in the military at a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
Space Force Lt. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting, nominated by President Biden earlier this month to be the new force’s second commander, also defended his firing of an officer who went public with criticisms of the Pentagon leadership’s drive campaign to impose diversity in the military, calling the effort Marxist ideological subversion.
In an exchange at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination with Sen. Eric Schmitt, Gen. Whiting repeatedly declined to say he endorses DEI policies in the military.
“Do you support DEI initiatives in the military?” Mr. Schmitt, Missouri Republican, asked several times.
“Senator, I support a ready lethal force that draws from the best talent all across America,” Gen. Whiting replied.
Mr. Schmitt said that was not his question and pressed the general to say whether he backs DEI, which he described as “rooted in cultural Marxism.”
Gen. Whiting said he supports a “merit-based approach” to finding the best people for military service.
“That’s not what DEI is either,” Mr. Schmitt countered.
The GOP lawmaker also pressed the nominee about statements by Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, who was tapped by President Biden to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. Brown told the publication Defense News in February that “there is still a lot to do” in promoting DEI and gender and racial equality initiatives in the armed services, which he said were dealing with a “cultural shift.”
Asked if Gen. Brown should be relieved of command for the remarks, Gen. Whiting said no.
A spokesman for the senator declined to say if Mr. Schmitt will oppose Gen. Whiting‘s nomination.
The conservative group American Accountability Foundation earlier this month filed a complaint with the Pentagon inspector general regarding Gen. Brown, alleging that comments by the general, currently Air Force chief of staff, suggest he is racially biased.
“Race-based hiring has no place in the military,” the foundation said in a statement July 10 announcing the IG complaint.
Mr.. Schmitt in the hearing also quoted statements by current Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley on his support for DEI. The chairman has said diversity is needed “to improve the system, improve the military, improve our problem-solving capabilities and improve our warfighting readiness,” according to the senator.
Gen. Whiting also said he did not believe Gen. Milley should be relieved of command for those comments.
Sen. Schmitt then raised the case of now retired Space Force Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier, who was relieved of duty by Gen. Whiting in May 2021. Gen. Whiting said he acted because Col. Lohmeier criticized DEI training in the military as “rooted in Marxism” during an appearance on a conservative podcast while on active duty. He continued to air his criticisms after being ordered not to do so, officials said.
In addition to his public criticism of DEI training, Col. Lohmeier was removed from command for criticizing “specific political parties,” Gen. Whiting said.
Questioned by Mr.. Schmitt, Gen. Whiting said that opposition to DEI policies does not constitute partisan political speech, unless the comments advocate for a specific political party or candidate.
Col. Lohmeier’s case “involved a specific quote involving a specific political party,” Gen. Whiting said, adding that the offending podcast was an hour long.
However, a review of the podcast appearance shows Col. Lohmeier spoke for about 10 minutes on the “Steve Gruber Show” podcast on May 12, 2021. The colonel was promoting a book he authored, “Irresistible Revolution: Marxism’s Goal of Conquest & the Unmaking of the American Military.”
During the appearance, there were no references to any political party or his chain of command.
Col. Lohmeier, who left the service in September 2021, said in an email that he was fired by Gen. Whiting, then chief of operations at Space Command, for two reasons. One was for political partisanship while acting in an official capacity, and the second was for publicly criticizing his chain of command.
“Those were the reasons Whiting gave me over the phone when he called to fire me,” Col. Lohmeier said. “Both of those reasons are false — never did either of those things.”
Col. Lohmeier said the general’s testimony at the hearing “clearly demonstrated that Whiting himself was unwilling to affirm his support for the [Defense Department’s] DEI initiatives and trainings.”
“He was asked several different ways if he supported DoD’s DEI initiatives and, instead of affirming his support, said something that nobody could disagree with; specifically, he said that he cared about developing a lethal and ready force.”
The comments indicate Gen. Whiting shares his view that “this woke DEI push” has hurt recruitment, retention, and readiness efforts in the military, Col. Lohmeier said.
“It is unfortunate that Whiting felt sufficient institutional and cultural pressure in 2021 to make the decision to fire me for publicly sharing a nonpartisan view that he likely holds himself,” he said. “It is more unfortunate still that our senior leaders lack the courage to speak their minds despite the damage our current policies are inflicting.”