A MAGA-Defiant Military

Kevin Stitt is Governor of Oklahoma. He attends an Assemblies of God church in Tulsa. “Under vaccines, I believe in choice,” Stitt stated. This is a governor who named a state highway after Trump, blamed President Biden for a Chick-Fil-A sauce shortage, and who tested positive for COVID. “I was pretty shocked that I was the first governor to get it,” he said. A bigger shock was that the state was recording over 1000 new infections per day. Oklahoma rates in the top 6 States for death rates from coronavirus, and ranks 39th in terms of population fully vaccinated.

If one realizes that Gov. Stitt is not only a politician, but also the Commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, it’s not hard to understand that the Guard is at once a military element and a political animal.  And Stitt is using his authority to stick it to the libs.

The Pentagon has issued direct orders for all service members to be fully vaccinated. Active duty members have largely complied. Those hold-outs refusing are subject to punishment, out of which a number have been involuntarily discharged. The Pentagon’s orders applied to National Guard members as well, with only 40% of Oklahoma’s Army Guard vaccinated.

The problem is, the Pentagon does not command state National Guards, unless/until directed by the President. In ordinary drill status, Guardsmen take orders from their Governor. Through his commanding general, Stitt issued a directive countermanding the military vaccination orders. As if to solidly his showdown with Washington, he directed his attorney general to sue the Biden administration to halt its COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

Stitt was technically on solid legal ground. But in making MAGA points by his stunt, he seriously let his Guard members down. Refusers were essentially locked out of a State system which depended on Federal resources. To name only a few necessities: military schools needed to qualify in their jobs, Federal subsidies added to their pay, the award of Federal medals, and Federal recognition of their promotions. On a unit level, Federal assets on loan to the Guard, such as airplanes, tanks and weapons could be withdrawn. Making this a partisan point against Biden policy has a tremendous organizational downside.

I fully support the authority of the Governor under the constitution and Title 32 to govern his forces in Oklahoma,” the newly-appointed Adjutant General Thomas Mancino stated. (His predecessor, a vaccine proponent, was abruptly relieved of command. It may well be that he stood up for his troops’ well-being and got the chop). His more compliant replacement, Brigadier General Mancino, now finds his second star in limbo due to State intransigence. In one way or another, the quarrel will resolve itself in the Pentagon’s favor.

“It’s the fault of the elected officials,” one researcher said. “They are politicizing members of the military; this is almost unprecedented.”  The standoff has serious implications for good order and discipline, where one component thumbs its nose at the rest of the military. It harkens back to 1997, when the Secretary of Defense ordered the troops to receive an anthrax immunization to protect them from chemical weapons threats upon deployment. While the vaccine remained experimental, some 2 million U.S. military personnel received it. Some – including a number of National Guard personnel – nopted out, either by resigning or bearing harsh consequences for disobeying a direct order. There was no Christian MAGA Right to lobby for them then. Billy Graham was silent on the matter.

It is curious, then, that anti-vax became an evangelical cause; it never was so until it became an ideological marker of Trumpism.. A generation later, and with Christian nationalism in full tilt, Graham’s son took time off from saving souls to help rescue these poor soldiers from a diabolical Biden. Franklin wrote: “Oklahoma’s Attorney General John O’Connor is suing the Biden Administration over their Covid-19 vaccine mandate for the military and federal employees, saying that it “does not reflect the Land of the Free.” I must say that I agree with him… . The pandemic has given power-hungry government officials the opportunity to overreach into our lives—and they will just want more and more control.”

Someone should ask Franklin Graham how a “woke” military mandate to vaccinate against Covid-19 is any more tyrannical than requiring some 16 other inoculations to protect the troops and defend the American people. When I entered the service, my left arm felt like a pin cushion – but it was needed to be world-wide deployable. Especially ask Graham why, given the US death toll from Covid-19 has passed 800,000, with more than 200,000 of those deaths occurring after vaccines became available. A number of military members have lost their lives – the majority in the Reserves or National Guard. Graham has never served in the military, much less having been told by anybody what to do. It’s a different ballgame in the military; you do as your superior orders. Jesus encountered this, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.” (Matthew 8:9)

Perhaps evangelicals like Graham and Stitt fight this vaccine mandate as the devil trying to attack true Christians. If so, we have met the enemy and they are us.

Christian Dominionist Politics and the National Guard.

You may wonder, what a blog about Jerusalem hath to do with Rome? I was a career officer in the Air National Guard – a JAG to be specific. This is an area near-and-dear, in which I have considerable experience. My fear is that the military is becoming more vulnerable to MAGA/QAnon/Christocrats – like Mike Flynn. Flynn, the retired soldier who once swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, now was advocating a military coup. The hero of  pro-Trump tele-preachers, the former general stood before John Hagee’s church to declare that America must have one religion under God. Presumably, the Christian nationalist one.

Trump loyalists are pervasive throughout the military. “We’re not talking about half a dozen people. We’re probably talking about thousands across the Department of Defense.” Of course, military members are also citizens, with differing political views and voting patterns. As Flynn himself asks, “will having a pro-American set of beliefs and using the word ‘patriot’ get you labeled a domestic terrorist?No, but fomenting a rebellion will.

6 states have National Guard forces that could rival a foreign army. In terms of the Air Guard, several states have more military aircraft than many countries. The question is, why does a peacetime State need combat-ready planes? To fend off attacks from neighboring hostile States? But there are legitimate missions to perform – disaster relief and wildfire suppression, drug interdiction, aero evacuation, coronavirus-related missions and quelling civilian disturbances. But National Guard soldiers and airmen spend most of their time at home base, training to be combat-ready for “when the balloon goes up” – mobilization in time of war. A relic from the Cold War, this force of almost 500,000 part-timers is largely under-utilized during peacetime, although certain elements have been busy performing domestic operations, including border controls along the southwest U.S.

Governors, who under Title 32 are the commanders of their state National Guard, in the past have seen their state military as a political play toy. Seven Mountains Christians seeking to rule the political mountain have found their darling in Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota. To kick off her stint as Governor, Noem held a public prayer meeting in which one speaker declared Jesus to be “the Lord and King of South Dakota”.

In 2021, presidential aspirant Noem ordered her National Guard to deploy to the southwestern border. The campaign was – oddly enough underwritten by a private donation from a MAGA billionaire – with critics saying it “set a troubling precedent in which a wealthy patron can effectively commandeer U.S. military might to address private political motivations.” One reservist lawyer commented that “it looks like those soldiers are working for the billionaire or for the donor.”  Claiming ignorance, the Commander of her National Guard said he didn’t know about the financing, adding his troops were “not for hire”.

The message I have received is clear: this deployment is working”, Gov. Noem stated. Meanwhile, deployed leadership ran amok, with a mission ill-defined. Even if the troops had some concept of their job, equipment needed to perform it was withheld. Many slept on concrete warehouse floors. Weeks of endless boredom staring into a vacant desert, performing mindless tasks, living without electricity or showers, and eating MREs even over holidays meant morale sunk to the bottom. Soldiers were getting into trouble with the law, and party-spirit reigned as bored-stiff soldiers binged on alcohol and drugs. One Alabama National Guardsman got busted for trying to buy a kilo of pot. Sexual harassment and discipline problems were rife. Some deserted, others died in alcohol-fueled crashes. “We are literally the biggest threat to ourselves down here,” one deployed officer commented.  

Like the Fourth Crusade sent off on a mission from God, the Tex-Mex adventure met an inglorious, drunken end without defeating any enemy except itself. But turning her military into an instrument of MAGA ideology did brand-building wonders for a woman quickly moving up the ladder of possible 2024 GOP presidential candidates.  Her military foray was definitely not “small beer”, but for her career it was not small potatoes either. And as we shall see in a following post, hers was not a singular instance of governors translating their Dominionist beliefs into military action, with the aim of ruling America as one theocracy under their version of God.  

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.

The Dog Did It.

Farts. There’s nothing more embarrassing in polite society than issuing a malodourous southward blast. The age-old ploy is to blame your outburst on someone else – a dog is most convenient – in your immediate vicinity.

Since the fall of Kabul, lots of farty people have piled onto President Biden for the ensuing chaos. A loud voice in that frenzy was Richard Land, a pope within the Southern Baptist Convention, doyen of evangelical Trump politics, and executive editor of the Christian Post. Recently, his hate-filled outburst directed at President Biden, “AFGHANISTAN:  A name that will live in infamy”, appeared on his click-bait site. That wasn’t enough for him; he took the curious step to have a Christian Post staffer publish an editorial covering his own editorial.

Land’s article is a J’Accuse! directed at the “collection of buffoons and pretenders has just presided over a national humiliation”. Meaning, an “incompetent'” President Biden and his foreign policy “boobs”. Yes, the abrupt pull-out was more like doing a runner than an exit strategy. But Afghanistan was a venture doomed from the start, with successive Presidents tossing it to the next guy like playing Milton Bradley’s Time Bomb. The years went by with successive generals promising victory and painting a rosy picture of the progress they’ve supposedly made.  Even Tucker Carlson admitted that the American people had been lied to for twenty years by commanders passing off their failures as progress. Americans themselves got bored and distracted, and you’d have been hard-pressed to see Afghanistan as headline news for the past decade or more. Even Congress gave up paying attention to the money-pit war.  Observing an empty Senate chamber, Sen. Lindsay Graham lamented, “I remember when all these rows were full with people carrying bags and everybody was hanging on every word about Afghanistan.” By 2015, Afghanistan had become another Forgotten War. Soldiers went to a place that made little sense to them, among people who didn’t want them, and who often tried to kill them for being there. Many – like my son – came back with a Purple Heart and PTSD to a country disconnected from that  sideshow so far removed from their everyday lives and experience.

The realities emerging from the protracted outcome were much different from those promised at the outset to be swift and crushing victories, with the war no longer resembling the objectives we originally sought to achieve. We no longer fought an endless war because we should, but because we could. Except we couldn’t win it. Knowing this, Trump cut a deal with the Taliban to reduce military personnel to bare bones. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s Secretary of State  glad-handing the “gentleman” Taliban leader over the Doha surrender agreement, sabotaged the Kabul government, and released 5,000 jailed fighters on good faith. Arty McDeal really cut a pants-ripper loose on that one. But instead of drawing attention to his flatulence, The Christian Post continued to give fawning praise to the evangelical political leader – and presidential wanna-be.

All the attention given over to how we left Afghanistan covers over the odiferous way we stumbled into a forever war. In the Afghanistan blame game there are plenty of windbags, all of whose farts don’t smell. Like Richard Land. To what started out as a punitive mission not unsimilar to chasing Pancho Villa’s cross-border raiders, he blessed the cannons to turn it into a holy crusade. America is no exception to the truism that nations carry their deities into battle with them. And evangelicals pack their soldiers off to war like missionaries with guns. Land re-worked the Just War theory to construe godly arguments for “why not” war.  “The question is not if God is on our side, but if we are on God’s side,” Richard Land was quoted as saying about the Iraq invasion. “Then, with a wink of the eye, Land added, ‘But I think God is on our side in this one.’”[i]  Of course, committing the evangelical god into making victory happen had help from a President with a Messianic certainty of what God told him to do.

After 20 years, there have been more than enough farts stinking up our air, but too few people owning up to the ones they made. I think Richard Land should feel shame – and do some serious repentance – for his own stinky contribution . Then again, maybe his dog did it.


[i] Michael P. Melon, Yet You Would Not Return to Me, Xulon Press, 2004, p. 193.

Onward Christian Terrorists

“The attack on Washington?” Rayford said, craning his neck to talk to the officer. “Washington, D.C.?”

One prediction the Left Behind tag team of LaHaye and Jenkins got right – unintentionally, by the way –features in their 1996 installment, The Tribulation Force. (I’ll summarize the plot so you don’t waste your time). Our born-again hero has a growing awareness that he is working directly under the honest-to-goodness Anti-Christ. The antagonist, U.N. Secretary-General Nicolae Carpathia, having largely succeeded into hood-winking the religions of the world to unify, is well on his way to One World Government – starting with disarming America for world peace. The U.S. President is opposed, and enlists the well-armed “patriotic militia forces” to resist. Carpathia responds:

“If we accomplish what I have proposed, do you really think a bunch of zealots running around in the woods wearing fatigues and shooting off popguns will be a threat to the global community?” Yet, their President character whispers a warning to the righteous hero: stay away from Washington.

They could have been writing about January 6th, 2021. A collection of self-declared vigilante organizations – Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three Percenters and less-glorified street gangs – were leading the siege. And Franklin Graham can lie all he wants – it would be out-of-character for him not to – but evangelical Christians were among the mob forcing its way inside the House chambers. “We love you and we thank you, in Christ’s holy name we pray.” There may not be a self-styled ‘Christian’ militia, but armed Christians permeate these private armies. “God is not on the Democrats’ side,” said a rioter who kicked in Nancy Pelosi’s office door. “And if patriots have to kill 60 million of these communists, it is God’s will.”

Slowly, America is waking up to the fact that these are not just “a bunch of zealots running around in the woods wearing fatigues and shooting off popguns”. Especially, given that Donald “good people on both sides” Trump’s campaign underwrote the January 6 rally organizers to the tune of $2.7 million. “Be there, be wild,” the now-disgraced former President cheered.

I am a former National Guard officer – a JAG, to be specific. I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I know a thing or two about militias under the Constitution.  I know enough about the so-called Anti-Klan laws – now codified as 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 – 1986 – to recognize a civil conspiracy to deprive individuals of their constitutional rights. I don’t think many evangelicals are involved; maybe it was the same in Klan days. But almost all Southern white folk supported the night-riding vigilantes. Evangelicals today should ask themselves, how much further down into the Tribulation Force do they want to sink? All its hateful malevolence is unfolding right before our eyes, and I’ll be blogging about it for the foreseeable future.