The chair of a Virginia electoral board stepped down Monday after pressure from fellow Republicans, including the state’s governor, following a resurfaced racist Facebook screed against Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré posted in early 2021. The Republican Party of Hampton first called for his resignation Friday.
The post targeted Austin, the first Black defense secretary, after he had ordered a Defense Department-wide stand down to discuss violent extremist ideology in the military. It also targeted Honoré, who is Black. House Speaker Navy Pelosi appointed him to conduct a review of the Capitol’s security infrastructure, interagency processes and command and control following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by supporters of President Donald Trump.
David Dietrich, an electoral board member from Hampton, Virginia, called them the n-word and called for “a good public lynching.”
“Even in light of those truly irresponsible, mean-spirited ― indeed, wicked ― comments, [Austin’s] going to be focused on leading the department forward and, and trying to continue to set an example going forward,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Military Times Tuesday. “That’s where his head is.”
As secretary, Austin has spoken frequently about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion when it comes to the readiness of the military, a force that is more than 40% non-white.
“No matter who you are, no matter … where you came from, what your background is, he believes that if you’re qualified, and you want to serve this country, you should be able to do it. And you’ll be able to do it without fear of discrimination or harassment,” Kirby said. “And in his view, there’s no place in the Department of Defense for comments like that, or for actions that come from comments like that.”
Multiple polls of Military Times readers have noted white supremacist attitudes in the force, with more than a third of respondents noting they had seen or experienced racist behavior.
In addition to diversity and inclusion training and education, the Pentagon is also working to remove reminders of racist history from its installations. A commission has proposed renaming nine Army posts memorializing Confederate military officers, as well as hundreds of buildings, roads and other items meant to honor the Confederacy.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT
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