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Rep. Anthony Brown to Vote “No” on the National Defense Authorization Act, Citing Insufficient Action on Extremism and Military Justice Reform

“After reviewing the text of the [NDAA], it is clear that House and Senate committee leadership failed to advocate for a bill that offers adequate solutions to defense issues of deep importance”

“At a time when Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch, it is an unconscionable failure to deliver a National Defense Authorization Act that does not meet the values of equity and justice for which we have long strived or a bill that does not meaningfully protect the foundations of our democracy.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Anthony G. Brown (MD-04), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and 30-year Army veteran, wrote the Congressional Black Caucus detailing his upcoming “no” vote on the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) over concerns that the legislation does not sufficiently tackle the issue of extremism within the ranks or adequately address racial bias in the military justice system.

“At a time when Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch, it is an unconscionable failure to deliver a National Defense Authorization Act that does not meet the values of equity and justice for which we have long strived or a bill that does not meaningfully protect the foundations of our democracy,” wrote Congressman Brown. “If we do not take this moment, in the face of the rising threat of extremism, and persistent racial inequities in both our civilian and military justice systems, we fail the communities who elected us, the Constitution on which we swore an oath, and the servicemembers who sacrifice so much to defend our nation,” 

Congressman Brown continued, “Supporting our troops does not require us to pass the NDAA simply because it includes important provisions such as annual pay raise, it must also protect the Black men and women who are disproportionately the target of extremism and a biased military justice system.”

Congressman Brown concluded, “I served in uniform for 30 years, have sat on the House Armed Services Committee for five years, and have voted in favor of the bill in every instance during that time, whether in committee, on the floor, or for final passage. This year, for the reasons above, I cannot vote for this bill which does not address these critical issues. I ask that you join me in such a vote and oppose passage of the FY2022 NDAA.”

Congressman Brown’s provision combatting extremism within the military was passed out of the House Armed Services Committee by a vote 31-28, and included in the package passed by the House of Representatives on September 23, 2021. Congressman Brown, a former JAG officer, is a lead cosponsor of the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (MJIIPA).

The full text of the letter is included below:

Dear Congressional Black Caucus Colleagues:

It is with great disappointment that I write to inform you that I oppose the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (FY22 NDAA) under consideration this week. This year’s NDAA presented the Democratic Caucus with a momentous opportunity to take meaningful action on issues important to Black men and women in uniform. Unfortunately, after reviewing the text of the legislation before us now, it is clear that House and Senate committee leadership failed to advocate for a bill that offers adequate solutions to defense issues of deep importance to both the Democratic Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus, including racial disparities in the military justice system and extremism in our ranks. 

While the Armed Forces desegregated in 1948, racial disparities in the military justice system have been consistently documented and studied since President Nixon’s first task force on the subject in 1972.  As recently as 2019, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed that little progress has been made in the five decades since. Earlier this year, the CBC supported the removal of all non-military, felony-level crimes from commanders to address the undeniable and long-standing issue of racial inequity in our military justice system. Combined with robust demographic reporting under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to monitor and evaluate progress in increasing equity, this change would have transferred the authority to send servicemembers to court-martial from commanders to an independent body, and curtail the prejudices and biases—whether implicit or intentional—that give rise to racial disparities under the UCMJ.  

Simultaneously, our military is being used as a training ground by extremist individuals and organizations seeking to use the skills gained in our Armed Forces to attack our democracy. Twelve percent of those charged in the January 6th riot on the Capitol had military experience. Extremism in the military has existed long before this, with a 2019 annual Military Times poll finding that 36 percent of active duty servicemembers had witnessed instances of white supremacy or racist ideologies. Moreover, just last week, a report by the Department of Defense Inspector General found nearly 300 allegations of prohibited extremist activity in the last year, 70 of which were racially motivated incidents. The House-passed version of the NDAA recognized this threat and included substantive provisions to commit robust and enduring attention to countering extremism in the Armed Forces. 

Regrettably, these needed reforms on racial justice and extremism have not been included in the current legislation. The negotiations between the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, with the Department of Defense as a partner in the discussions, have resulted in a bill that does not reform the justice system for Black servicemembers and contains no provisions on countering extremism. While the reforms in the bill will unquestionably improve justice for victims of sexual assault and establish a permanent reporting structure for racial disparities, Black servicemembers will continue to be over prosecuted and punished under the existing biased structure. Even a compromise offered to add a smaller set of felonies of larceny, arson, fraud, robbery, and assault has been rejected by those involved in the writing of this bill. These same negotiations resulted in no provisions on countering extremism in the military in the final text, less than 12 months after the most significant attack on our democracy in decades.

At a time when Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch, it is an unconscionable failure to deliver a National Defense Authorization Act that does not meet the values of equity and justice for which we have long strived or a bill that does not meaningfully protect the foundations of our democracy. If we do not take this moment, in the face of the rising threat of extremism, and persistent racial inequities in both our civilian and military justice systems, we fail the communities who elected us, the Constitution on which we swore an oath, and the servicemembers who sacrifice so much to defend our nation.  Supporting our troops does not require us to pass the NDAA simply because it includes important provisions such as annual pay raise, it must also protect the Black men and women who are disproportionately the target of extremism and a biased military justice system.

I served in uniform for 30 years, have sat on the House Armed Services Committee for five years, and have voted in favor of the bill in every instance during that time, whether in committee, on the floor, or for final passage. This year, for the reasons above, I cannot vote for this bill which does not address these critical issues. I ask that you join me in such a vote and oppose passage of the FY2022 NDAA.

Sincerely,

Anthony G. Brown

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