- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2021

Watchdog organizations say the Department of Defense is ignoring calls for transparency into critical race theory curriculum at the nation’s service academies.

The Washington-based Judicial Watch has filed a lawsuit seeking information about CRT instruction at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, following up on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in April for records and contracts related to “diversity, equity, inclusion, and equity training” at the storied academy. 

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told The Washington Times that his organization filed suit after the FOIA request went unanswered.

Federal agencies must respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days unless there are “unusual circumstances.” 

“Under the law, they’re not being forthcoming,” Mr. Fitton said. “Some of it is the bureaucracy. And the other factor that one can presume is that they don’t want the information to be released for political and other reasons.”

The litigation comes amid increasing scrutiny by lawmakers and parents who say that public and private schools are incorporating curriculum containing CRT, which emerged at universities in the 1970s as a legal theory examining bias within institutions. Critics say it divides students along racial fault lines and is used as a political indoctrination tool by the far left. 

The theory, which has evolved from its foundation as a legal framework, asserts that a racial hierarchy exists in American society and that racism has become normalized in the U.S.

Dakota Wood, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says the tenets of CRT are often taught as fact rather than theory, and that any pushback is silenced by claims that those who oppose the teachings are racist. 

Critical race theory also has come under fire by some who say the doctrine is showing up in military training and recommended reading lists, and is being taught at service academies. Critics say the academies and the Pentagon are not being forthcoming with the extent of the teaching and the specifics.

Rep. Mike Waltz, Florida Republican, said in April he received presentation materials that raised “serious concerns about the U.S. Army’s introduction of elements of critical race theory into cadet instruction.”

Other FOIA requests for details from the Air Force and Naval academies have gone unanswered by the Pentagon, according to retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Bishop Jr., who runs Stand Together Against Racism and Radicalism in the Services (STARRS).

Mr. Bishop said his organization has made 13 FOIA requests dating back to August 2020 for information about diversity training and policy at the Naval and Air Force academies, and at West Point. All but one of his requests have gone unanswered. 

In May, STARRS filed a FOIA request for course material “mentioning, involving, or related to critical race theory,” among other topics on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The request remains unanswered, according to Mr. Bishop. 

In July, Air Force Academy assistant professor of political science Lynne Chandler Garcia published an op-ed in The Washington Post titled “I’m a professor at a U.S. Military Academy. Here’s why I teach critical race theory,” in which Ms. Garcia said the curriculum was vital for cadets in shaping their understanding of racism and how racism has shaped foreign and domestic policy.

“In my classes, cadets learn about the ideals embedded in this founding document,” Ms. Garcia wrote. “We explore the liberalist theories that promoted these ideals, and we embrace our democratic system of government. But we also acknowledge that the United States was founded on a duality: liberalism and equal rights on the one hand; inequality, inegalitarianism and second-class citizenship on the other.”

Soon after the op-ed, Heidi Stirrup, a member of the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors, filed a lawsuit over Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s suspension of the board. The suit claimed that Mr. Austin’s action prevented vital oversight, including over the potential introduction of critical race theory in the university curriculum.

The board is one of 42 Defense Department advisory committees that Mr. Austin suspended in February to consider their “continued utilization,” according to a Pentagon memorandum.

Mr. Bishop said the lack of oversight and response to the FOIA requests are concerning. 

“Is there some nefarious plot to resist giving us information? To be honest, we’re beginning to think so,” Mr. Bishop said. “You match that up with the Board of Visitors for all the academies being suspended, essentially being terminated now for six-plus months. I think a logical person begins to become suspicious.”

The Pentagon declined to comment on the ongoing litigation brought forward by Judicial Watch, and did not respond to The Washington Times’ request for comment on the FOIA requests submitted by STARRS. 

A representative from West Point was unable to provide specifics regarding the FOIA requests submitted by STARRS, but told The Times that no FOIA requests are ignored and that West Point is not withholding any information regarding their curriculum or training. 

Representatives from the Naval and Air Force academies did not respond to The Times’ request for comment in time for publication.

All three academies provide course catalogs and information on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives on their websites. 

Questions about the military’s handling of race are on the rise in Congress, with lawmakers peppering military leaders in defense budget hearings in recent months about military training and reading lists that incorporate critical race theory.

In June, Mr. Waltz, a former Army Special Forces officer, pressed Mr. Austin and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the issue during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

Mr. Waltz said he received a letter from the superintendent of West Point confirming that West Point has a course that includes critical race theory as part of its syllabus, and a seminar titled “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage,” that “over a hundred cadets attended.”

Mr. Waltz was also made aware that the seminar was “taught by a woman who described the Republican Party and Republican Party platform [as] a platform of white supremacy,” he testified. 

“I cannot think of anything more divisive and more destructive to unit morale,” Mr. Waltz said. “I want to be very clear, the military needs to be open to all Americans. That is the strength of the United States military. But once we’re in, we bleed green and our skin color is camouflage. We’re worried about that American flag on our shoulder. That’s the only thing our enemies are worried about.”

Mr. Austin agreed with Mr. Waltz that the teachings, as Mr. Waltz described them, should not occur, but said he would need to understand the specifics in more detail.

Later in the hearing, Gen. Milley pushed back against the lawmakers for the compounding criticism.

“I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military — general officers, commissioned and noncommissioned officers — of being ‘woke’ or something because we’re studying some theories that are out there,” he said.

The general also said that it is important for service members to be open-minded, and to form a greater understanding of phenomena, such as “white rage,” that have led to events such as the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States? What caused that? I want to find out,” he said.

Mr. Bishop said signs that CRT is taking root in the military and within the service academies are especially concerning. 

“This teaching is having a divisive effect within the military,” he said.

Mr. Bishop, an Air Force Academy grad who served in uniform for more than 30 years, moved back to Colorado after retiring to be a part of the Air Force Academy community. He and his wife sponsor out-of-state cadets during the school year, providing mentorship and guidance to future Air Force officers living away from home for the first time. 

He said that curriculum based on critical race theory can have devastating consequences for a group of students that will one day be military officers. 

“If you’re taught that the country you are going to put your life on the line for is inherently racist or inherently evil, are you going to want to put your life on the line?” he said. “I don’t think I would have spent 30 years in the service of our nation if I wasn’t proud of our nation.”

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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