Following is a rush transcript from Todd’s interview with First Liberty Institute’s Michael Berry. Listen to the full interview by clicking here.
I want to strongly urge you to sign up for Todd’s free newsletter. It’s your only lifeline to conservative news and commentary. We can no longer rely on social media. Click here to subscribe.
TODD: [01:41:21] So you are a military veteran. So you you know firsthand what’s happening in the military. I want you to tell our listeners what’s going on during the Biden administration.
BERRY: [01:41:33] Well, it all starts back with President Biden, who said that white supremacy is the greatest threat to America right now. Notice he didn’t say it was China or North Korea or Russia or Iran. He said it was white supremacy. And, of course, you know, when when the president or Congress jumped, the Pentagon says how high? And so the Pentagon and the secretary of defense announced that they were creating this. This new commission called the Countering Extremism Working Group in this working group is tasked with identifying extremists in the military and figuring out how to get rid of them. And lo and behold, somehow I’m not I’m still to this to the day a little bit puzzled as to how I got added into this working group or at least made a legal adviser to the working group. But I participated in a in a recent meeting of the working group, and I was quite shocked and and dismayed to hear about some of the ideas. And so I decided, you know, I mean, you know, sunlight is the best disinfectant, right? So or is the old Washington Post used to say democracy dies in darkness. So I said, you know, I’ve got to tell people what’s going on. And so that’s exactly what I did with the op ed.
TODD: [01:42:51] Well, let’s talk about some of the things that are going on that trouble you.
BERRY: [01:42:57] Well, I mean, it starts first with the Constitution and the First Amendment, you know, when people join our military, they certainly give up some of their freedoms. Right. There are some things that we agree to to you know, we can’t criticize. The president will earn uniform. We can’t criticize our top level elected officials who wear uniforms. Sure. But you don’t give up, for example, religious freedom when you serve in the military or you don’t give up the right to to freely exercise your religious beliefs or even to have an opinion on on things and opinions strongly, whether it’s about issues of life, issues of marriage or even things like, you know, whether you believe that the election was legitimate and people in this country are free to have differing views on those types of things. But according to this Countering Extremism working group, it sure sounds like they’re they want to figure out whether or not people in the military have the right viewpoint, what the government’s approved viewpoint. And I’ll be more specific to the types of things that they said they’re going to start looking at is reviewing people’s monitoring, social media accounts of service members and veterans to see the types of things that they’re posting and sharing and liking to see if those are things that might make them extremist. And then, of course, the question becomes, well, what’s an extremist then? How do you define extremist? And the answer was, we’re not sure yet. We’re still working on that. But, you know, we need to the existing definition is not sufficient and we need to expand it. Well, that’s that’s a really, really problematic from a constitutional and First Amendment standpoint.
TODD: [01:44:30] Mike, I’m curious, in their discussions, did they bring up Christianity and what to do with with soldiers, with officers who might be of the Christian faith? Was that of concern to this working group
BERRY: [01:44:44] wasn’t brought up and it certainly wasn’t mentioned as a concern. You know, what was mentioned as a concern, though, as well. How do we how does the Department of Defense intend to reconcile the First Amendment rights of service members and really just Americans in general with with this idea of, you know, monitoring our social media? Is this going to become like China where, you know, China has this social credit system where if you if you post something that the government disapproves of, you get dinged on your social credit score. And if you get enough dings on your social credit score, then you start to lose certain rights and privileges as a citizen. I mean, that’s what China does. I never thought I would, you know, see the day when we would start to do stuff like that in America. But apparently, you know, look, I don’t want to change subjects here too much, but I’m starting to hear some of that in the military where service members are being told if you don’t get vaccinated, you don’t get to go on liberty during the weekend where your your buddies who got vaccinated, you know, they get a liberty pass. That sure sounds like a social credit type system, right? I mean, and so are they going to start doing the same thing when they when they start looking for extremist and saying, well, you posted something on Facebook that the Department of Defense doesn’t agree with you. You don’t get to go home for Christmas or, you know, or something like that. I mean, I’m just using that as a hypothetical. I’m not suggesting that that’s, you know, that’s going to happen. But again, I felt the need to certainly raise the alarm to say we seem to be headed in that direction. And because those are things that are being thought about and talked about and nobody other than myself is saying, you know, stop, wait a minute, why are we doing this? You know, the people in the military, we serve because we love this country, because we want to defend the Constitution and we want to defend the constitutional rights of Americans. And yet you’re talking about taking away those constitutional rights from those of us who are serving. That’s not right. And the answer was, was, you know, most most typical the most typical answer I got was, well, it’s really complicated and we’re just going to have to figure that out.
TODD: [01:46:48] Wow. On the Liberty University newsmaker line, Mike Berry from First Liberty Institute, their general counsel. Mike, do you think they knew that you were a conservative or was it just an accident they put you on this committee?
BERRY: [01:47:01] You know, I’m still not entirely sure. I mean, after that first meeting that I attended, I guarantee you they knew I was a conservative after that. I mean, all they had to do is go to First Liberty Institute and they would see the types of issues that First Liberty handles. They I mean, whether you want to call that conservative or not, that’s up to people to decide that, you know, we just defend the Constitution, right? We defend religious freedom. And what if, you know, that doesn’t have to be a conservative or liberal issue? I think of that as an American value. And so, you know, to your point earlier about did you know Christianity or religious beliefs get brought up? You know, that was something that I raised, too, was you know, there are DOD training documents. And you’ve talked about these before, Todd, that talk about labeling extremists as people who are Catholics or evangelical Christians. In the same breath as saying, you know, Hamas and al-Qaida and the Ku Klux Klan are extremists and I mean to lump those in the same category, you’re lumping evangelical Christians and Catholics in the same category as Hamas and al-Qaeda. That is beyond ridiculous. I mean, that’s that’s extremely offensive and inappropriate for the Department of Defense to do that. And there’s another training document as well that I mean, I’ve got copies of all this so I can provide the evidence if anybody ever challenges me on this. And it says that nowadays extremists will talk about things like individual liberties, states’ rights and how to make the world a better place. I mean, think about the individual liberties, states’ rights, and how to make the world a better place. Those are the values that this country was founded upon, and those are the values that people in the military are serving to defend. And yet now we’re being told, well, if you believe in those things, you might be an extremist. I mean, so I just if I sound a little upset, it’s because I am a proud service member. I’m a proud veteran. I love my country. I love what America stands for. And I just hate to see this happening to our men and women in uniform.
TODD: [01:49:07] No, I hear you. And again, I have to tell you, I’m kind of surprised to hear you talk like this. But I can I can feel the passion in your voice.
BERRY: [01:49:24] Well, it’s because there’s so much at stake, you know, and that was one of the things I mentioned in the op ed was America does have real enemies. You know, we need to be we need to make no mistake about that. We there are people and countries out there that want to do real harm to us, like physical harm. They would wipe us off off the planet if they could, because they hate us so much. And I don’t understand why we’re not focusing all of our resources and our attention and our energy on those real threats to America. And instead we keep focusing on dividing ourselves from within. And I mean, you know, the old proverb says, a house divided will not stand. And yet we’re doing it to ourselves. And I just can’t help but believe that the countries that I mentioned like China or North Korea, Iran, Russia, they’re just sitting there giddy because they see they don’t even have to lift a finger. We’re going to try and it ourselves. And it’s totally unnecessary. And the last point I want to make is that so then people say, OK, you know, Mr. Berry, then what’s your answer to all this? Right. And this is one of the things I brought up during the Countering Extremism Working Group meeting. As I said, I mean, of course, there’s not a one size fits all solution. Yes, there are extremists in the world. There are extremists in this country and even in the military, and they don’t belong in the military. The true extremists. Let’s get rid of them. But let’s also remember that according to the secretary of defense, the secretary of defense, that’s less than one percent of the military are extremists. OK, so let’s not overstate their, you know, their case. And second, the way that you fight extremism is you give people something far more superior and better to believe in. Let’s remind people in this country and especially people in the military why we love America, what makes America great, you know, our love of country, our pride in serving this country, our pride in wearing the uniform and remind people. And instead, all we hear is this constant cacophony of what everybody hates about America and how, you know, we have some you know, we don’t have a perfect track record. Yeah, we can we can all acknowledge that. But instead of focusing on all the negative and the things that we hate, let’s focus on what makes what unites us. You know, what unites us is far greater than what divides us.
TODD: [01:51:38] All right, Mike, we’re going to have to leave it there, folks. We have a link to Mike’s column that appeared in Washington Examiner on our live show blog. So just go to ToddStarnes.com and you’ll be able to find it there. Mike, always good to have you on the program and keep us updated on this committee and developments down the road.