Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama joined the Senate in 2021 after years as a college football coach. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., said people identified as “white extremists” and “white nationalists” should be allowed to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

“We are losing in the military, so fast, our readiness in terms of recruitment,” Tuberville told radio station WBHM in an interview published online Monday. “I can tell you why. Because the Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists” and others who do not believe in President Biden’s “agenda.”

In response, the reporter asked Tuberville, “Do you believe they should allow white nationalists in the military?” Tuberville said, “Well, they call them that. I call them Americans.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, white nationalists can hold white-supremacist or white-separatist ideologies and often focus on “the alleged inferiority of nonwhites.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., called out Tuberville for his comments in remarks on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “I cannot believe this needs to be said, but white nationalism has no place in our armed forces and no place in any corner of American society, period. Full stop,” Schumer said.

Representatives for Tuberville released a statement to The Washington Post on Wednesday, echoing what they told, which reported the comments earlier.


“Sen. Tuberville’s quote that is cited shows that he was being skeptical of the notion that there are white nationalists in the military, not that he believes they should be in the military,” the statement said.

Steven Stafford, a spokesman for Tuberville, wrote in an email to The Post that the senator “resents the implication that the people in our military are anything but patriots and heroes.”

In the radio interview, Tuberville defended the people who protested outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 but did not go inside the building. He said they had similarly been unfairly characterized by their critics as extremists. Those people, Tuberville said, “were true Americans that believe in this country.”

In the wake of the attack on the Capitol, Garry Reid, director for defense intelligence and counterintelligence, law enforcement, and security, said, “We … are doing everything we can to eliminate extremism in the Department of Defense.”

A little more than two years later, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report in March that said the Defense Department “is facing its most challenging recruitment environment in 50 years.”

The Pentagon has attributed its difficulties to factors including the nation’s low unemployment rate, school closings during the coronavirus pandemic that limited recruiters’ access to high school students and faculty members, and a shifting culture in which more teens gravitate to jobs with work-life balance.

The freshman senator from Alabama is among the Republican lawmakers who disagree with the Pentagon’s assessment and instead point to what they say are the military leadership’s “extremist” training programs – which focus on increasing inclusion among people of different races, gender identities, and sexual orientations – as the root of the recruiting issues.

At a rally headlined by former president Donald Trump in October, Tuberville was accused of making a racist remark by falsely claiming that Democrats are “pro-crime” and support reparations for Blacks whose ancestors were enslaved because those who “do the crime” are owed.

Tuberville has slowed the Senate’s ability to promote more than 200 military officials in objection to a Defense Department policy that assists service members and their dependents with travel to get an abortion when they are stationed in a place where that service is not readily available. Defense officials have said that stalling the promotions is harming the military’s readiness around the globe. And on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he doesn’t “support putting a hold on military nominations.”

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