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Backing Trump, Some Ex-Military Officers Spread Conspiracies, Urge Martial Law

President Bill Clinton applauds Air Force pilot Scott O'Grady, who was shot down in Bosnia and survived six days in the woods, in 1995. Now a Trump supporter and tapped for a top Pentagon job, O'Grady has been endorsing baseless conspiracy theories related to the election.
J. Scott Applewhite
President Bill Clinton applauds Air Force pilot Scott O'Grady, who was shot down in Bosnia and survived six days in the woods, in 1995. Now a Trump supporter and tapped for a top Pentagon job, O'Grady has been endorsing baseless conspiracy theories related to the election.

The first time Scott O'Grady made a splash in the news the Air Force pilot had been shot down on a mission over Bosnia in 1995. He survived in the woods by eating leaves, grass and bugs for six days before he was rescued. He returned to the U.S. a hero, was welcomed by President Bill Clinton and appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

He's in the news again, this time for different reasons.

The White House on Monday nominated O'Grady to be assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs at the Pentagon.

But in a review of his public statements, CNN found that O'Grady called former President Barack Obama and some military generals "sworn socialists" in a radio interview. On Twitter, he endorsed a tweet that called former Defense Secretary James Mattis a "traitor." And he has backed multiple conspiracy theories, retweeting the baseless claim that Hillary Clinton and George Soros somehow helped facilitate foreign interference in last month's election.

O'Grady's nomination still requires Senate confirmation. Even if he clears that hurdle, he's almost certain to be replaced when President-elect Joe Biden becomes commander in chief next month.

O'Grady, who headed the group during the campaign, is just one of several prominent, retired military officials who have promoted some of the most outlandish election conspiracy theories and, in some cases, voiced approval for martial law.

In many cases, Trump has rewarded their loyalty.

The best-known figure is Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and Trump's first national security adviser. Flynn lasted less than a month in that job and later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Trump pardoned him on Nov. 25.

Less than a week later, on Dec. 1, Flynn tweeted his support for the right-wing group, We The People, which called on Trump to "immediately declare a limited form of Martial Law, and temporarily suspend the Constitution and civilian control of these federal elections, for the sole purpose of having the military oversee a re-vote."

"We are at the point where we can only trust our military to do this because our corrupt political class and courts have proven their inability to act fairly and within the law," the group said in a statement.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley, has insisted the U.S. military will not be involved in politics.

"We have established a very long, 240-year tradition of an apolitical military that does not get involved in domestic politics," Milley told NPR in October. "We want to ensure that there is always civilian leadership, civilian control of the military, and we will obey the lawful orders of civilian control of the military."

However, retired military members are free to express their opinions, and in recent years, they have been doing so far more openly. Hundreds of former military and other national security officials signed letters supporting Biden or Trump this year.

Now, some former officers have gone way beyond taking a partisan stance. In some cases, they've made unfounded accusations of treason against their political rivals and have called for suspending the Constitution they once pledged to defend.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney recently made the bogus claim that U.S. special operations forces were killed in Germany when they tried to take over a CIA computer facility in Germany. He alleged, without any evidence, that the CIA was concealing information about vote fraud that flipped ballots from Trump to Biden.

The claim was swiftly debunked, yet McInerney has continued to insist it's true.

McInerney flew more than 400 combat missions in Vietnam and served at the Pentagon as the Air Force assistant vice chief of staff in the 1990s. After he retired, he became a military analyst for Fox News, consistently advocating hawkish positions. He was dropped by Fox in 2018 after he said that North Vietnamese torture "worked" on the late Arizona senator John McCain when he was held prisoner for more than five years.

In a recent email to the Military Times, McInerney wrote that Trump "won in a landslide and the Dems left so many footprints that this TREASON must be stopped!!!" He added: "This will be the last free election we have and I predicted it on 2 Nov on the Steve Bannon Show!"

In August, Trump appointed retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata as the acting undersecretary of defense for policy. Tata did not require Senate confirmation because he's serving in an acting capacity. Tata hasn't been involved in controversies during his brief time in the position, but his appointment has come under sharp criticism for previous remarks.

He called Obama a "terrorist leader" with "Islamic roots" in 2018 tweets. He speculated that Obama may have negotiated a nuclear agreement with Iran because it would help that country "crush Israel." He later deleted those tweets, but CNN captured them in a screenshot.

Greg Myre is an NPR national security correspondent. Follow him@gregmyre1.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.