Harlan Sanders and Chicken Colonels

Recently, headlines have focused on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call to create a Florida defense force separate from the National Guard. The Florida State Guard would be under his exclusive control, “not encumbered by the federal government”. Concern was raised that the move was a wannabe dictator establishing a Praetorian Guard with loyalty solely to himself. While DeSantis’ aggressive MAGA track record imputed a nefarious intent, the uproar was, at least TBTG for present, an over-reaction.

Federal law recognizes peacetime state defense forces and some 22 states have some sort of independent state military structure. The New York Guard, for example, is an unpaid volunteer force serving at the direction of the Governor. Among other duties, the force can be melded with the National Guard in state emergency support and disaster missions.

My experience with state defense forces is that they are civic-minded individuals who either long to put a uniform back on, or had some condition preventing them from putting one on in the first place. In traffic court one day, representing a client, I appeared before a judge with Strabismus, where his eyes didn’t align with each another. It was a disability preventing his enlistment. But there he was at the Armed Forces Week Military Luncheon, in the uniform of a New York Guard captain.

There are varying requirements to join a state guard, but from what I’ve seen, the major prerequisite is connection. You need politically-trusted references to join. State guards are small, cadre-sized units top-heavy with high rank. It’s a way for the governor to reward loyalty with a shiny military uniform. In a similar way, some 13 states award civilians the honorary title, “Colonel” – as in Col. Sanders or Col. Tom Parker.

These are what in NATO we called “chocolate soldiers”; pretty harmless in combat. But on the cultural battlefield, these influential lawyers, business people, teachers and otherwise noteworthy individuals could be a force to be reckoned with. Put to use under a Christian nationalist like Noem of South Dakota or Stitt of Oklahoma, these chicken colonels could become a formidable military resource pledged to do a theocratic governor’s political bidding. In 2015, Gov. Abbott used his Texas State Guard to spy on Navy SEAL/Green Beret joint training exercise, which was taking place in Texas. Fueled by alt-right disinformatia, Abbott was convinced it signaled an  imminent federal takeover of Texas and subsequent imposition of martial law. It gave him spit-and-polish creds to his ultra-nationalist followers. To sane people, however, it looked like a poor satire of The Mouse That Roared. “It doesn’t take an intelligence expert to see that Trump Republican Greg Abbott calling the Texas National Guard on the U.S. Military was downright idiocy,” a Texas Democratic leader remarked.

But it put a seed in fellow MAGA Governor DeSantis’ grandiose mind. As CNBC notes: “It’s yet another sign that the Republican Party is willing and ready to round up military forces in order to execute its radical visions for America.” Instead of chasing windmills, maybe these soldiers’ duty time would be better off drinking beer and enjoying a military issue of Colonel Sanders’ 11 secret herbs and spices.

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