By Jonah Bennett
One of the nation’s leading veterans organizations is launching a new effort to fight political correctness engulfing the country and protect the First Amendment, branching out from the usual, run-of-the-mill vets issues into uncharted territory.
Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a right-leaning vets advocacy organization, is creating a new initiative for 2017 called Defend the First, which might appear a somewhat unusual effort. Taking the fight to political correctness and supporting the First Amendment is a crucial part of the commitment veterans have made to protect and defend the Constitution, according to CVA executive director Mark Lucas. This makes CVA the first major vets organization to tackle free speech issues.
“We want to protect everyone’s speech, regardless of their political persuasion, because that’s what America was founded on,” Lucas told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There are a lot of Americans who are afraid to speak out on their political views because they’re afraid of being shamed, and that’ a completely un-American way of thinking. We want people to be able to freely express whatever they think.”
“A veteran or anyone should be able to go on their social media and share their opinions, but we’ve had these social justice warriors who are trying to stifle them,” Lucas added. “We’ve had too much political correctness. And who defines what’s correct and incorrect? I think we’ve gone so far in this direction of the media and social justice warriors trying to shame people—I want to protect everyone’s speech, even speech I might not necessarily agree with.”
Lucas already is seeing the consequences of suppressed speech. While in Afghanistan on deployment, he saw up close and personal how former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and his cronies tried to fix elections and intimidate people who spoke out. Lucas wants to prevent similar developments in from taking shape in the U.S., as occurred during the IRS targeting scandal, for example. The IRS admitted that it targeted non-profit Tea Party groups for extra-intensive scrutiny, but only after initially denying that it was doing so.
Veterans, having fought and died for the First Amendment, also end up trapped in freedom of speech controversies — and sometimes even at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) itself.
Whistleblowers at the VA are subject to harassment and retaliation from management for speaking out publicly about waste, fraud, abuse, secret wait-lists and veterans dying for lack of care. Instead of applauding them for bravely speaking out, management often tries to stifle speech with gag orders and depressingly typical retaliation. “There’s almost an unwritten playbook when it comes to how to retaliate against whistleblowers,” said director of communications at the Project on Government Oversight Joe Newman in 2014.
The goal of VA retaliation is allegedly to chill speech, to silence other whistleblowers from stepping forward, according to critics.
Brandon Coleman, a noted whistleblower at the Phoenix VA who is also involved with CVA’s new project, suffered retaliation after he made disclosures about suicidal veterans being allowed to walk freely right out of the emergency room. The VA’s own Office of Accountability Review established that then-medical center director Glen Grippen placed a gag order on Coleman to prevent him from speaking to veterans and co-workers.
“Veterans know firsthand what happens when the government uses private information to silence citizens brave enough to speak up,” Coleman told TheDCNF. “Just look at every VA whistleblower who has been retaliated against across the country.”
“Sadly, this kind of abuse is happening across all branches of the government not just at the VA,” Coleman added. “Veterans didn’t fight to defend freedom overseas only to be silenced by our own government when we get home.”
That silencing isn’t just limited to the government, but has now become a deep-seated part of college-originated culture, with limited pushback.
“College campuses are supposed to be areas for enlightenment and education and the exchange of ideas, and I’ve seen campuses in my life swing so far to the left with these safe spaces and people shouting out conservative viewpoints, and I think that’s absolutely wrong, and I think it would be wrong for a conservative campus to do that for a liberal spokesperson,” Lucas told TheDCNF. “It’s a non-partisan issue. It’s an American issue. We’ve got to protect the First Amendment.”
Since veterans are respected for their attitude and service, Lucas hopes CVA will have a big impact.
“We not only say we love our country, we prove it by our willingness to deploy and die for our country,” Lucas said.
To kick off the endeavor, CVA is hosting an event on the importance of free speech with GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy in South Carolina Dec. 19, an event meant to highlight and provide counterbalance to anti-free speech forces.
CVA plans to host more events in the upcoming months with other elected officials and free speech advocates to raise awareness about the First Amendment. Moreover, CVA wants to use its grassroots army to attack anti-free speech legislation, whether on the state or federal level.