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Trump Jr.’s claim of 6 million military hours spent on a ‘woke’ agenda

Donald Trump Jr. speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 27 in Orlando. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
6 min

“Our generals, the great woke leaders of our military that spent 6 million man-hours training our troops about wokeness — not fighting, not killing bad guys. They wanted to learn about White rage, a term none of us had heard of prior to him [Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff] testifying, right?”

— Donald Trump Jr., in remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Feb. 27

The former president’s son, addressing the conservative faithful, often spoke in shorthand that would only make sense if you were a regular viewer of Fox News or Newsmax. His reference to “6 million man-hours” was echoed by some other speakers. So let’s dive in and explain what’s going on here.

Not surprisingly, it’s a number lacking significant context.

The Facts

A spokesman for Trump did not respond to a request for comment, but we quickly traced the source of the 6 million figure. Somewhat unique to Trumpworld, it was not a number invented out of whole cloth.

The figure comes from a letter sent by Milley to Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Inhofe had requested how much time was spent on three items required by the Defense Department — an extremism “stand-down” related to the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol, a climate change plan and a new diversity, equity and inclusion training program.

The biggest chunk of time was devoted to the extremism stand-down — nearly 5.4 million hours. Since nearly 2.5 million members of the military participated, that means about two hours per person, which Milley noted is “comparable to other Joint Force periodic training requirements.” The climate change plan (1,059 hours) and diversity training (529,711 hours) brought the total up to 5.9 million hours. But you can see that more than 90 percent of the total related to the extremism course.

To put this big number in perspective, if every service member did just four hours of physical training a week — and the figure probably is higher — that would mean 10 million hours a week and more than 500 million hours a year. So 6 million hours for a discussion on extremism in the ranks is just a drop in the bucket.

Somehow, in the Fox News coverage, this got translated to Biden’s “woke” agenda. Inhofe in a letter to Milley called it a “leftist social agenda.”

Defense Department officials reject the claim that the extremism training either detracted from other training or was part of a left-wing agenda.

“Six million man-hours dedicated to extremism in no way degrades our combat capability or lethality,” said Col. Dave Butler, a spokesman for Milley.

In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, in which dozens of those arrested were found to have military records, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed the Defense Department to provide education on the threat posed by extremist activity.

After the stand-down, he directed that a series of recommendations be implemented, including clarifying the definition of prohibited extremist activity and reviewing screening questionnaires.

A Defense Department report released in December estimated that fewer than 100 members of the military had participated in extremist activity in the past year. “Extremist activity within the Department of Defense is rare, but even the actions of a few can have an outsized impact on unit cohesion, morale and readiness — and the physical harm some of these activities can engender can undermine the safety of the Total Force,” the report said.

The military is primarily relying on commanders to identify possible extremists — a tactic that some experts say is inadequate as commanders are more focused on getting troops combat-ready.

As for the stand-down itself, the course materials show it had four broad goals — reviewing the meaning of the oath taken by service members and Defense Department employees, reviewing impermissible behaviors, reviewing responsibilities to report prohibited actions and then a “listening session” to provide feedback. Military Times reported mixed feedback from troops, depending on how seriously trainers took the assignment.

“I would say, and this is reflected in the material, that the stand-down was principally designed to reinforce for everyone the very meaning of the oath they take to the Constitution — and what that oath portends for the behavior expected of us: the dignity and respect we owe each other and the greater loyalty we owe to America’s system of government,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.

As for Trump’s reference to “White rage,” he’s referring to a comment that Milley made during congressional testimony in June regarding a course taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point that a lawmaker decried as critical race theory. The lawmaker, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), claimed an instructor used phrases such as “White rage.”

Milley replied that it was important for leaders to be well-versed in many schools of thought. “I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist,” Milley told the House Armed Services Committee. “So what is wrong with understanding … the country which we are here to defend?”

He added: “I want to understand White rage. And I’m White. What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out.”

The Pinocchio Test

Notice the sneaky trick that Trump Jr. plays here. The vast majority of the “6 million man-hours” and the “White rage” comment concerned the attack on the Capitol by supporters of his father — an attack that the former president has defended and even seemed to celebrate. But his son does not make that clear. Instead he claims that this is all about a “woke agenda” imposed by the Biden administration. To some extent that might be a matter of opinion, but it seems like a real stretch.

We cannot quite get to Four Pinocchios because the 6 million figure is based on a real estimate. But there is no evidence that this relatively minor course detracted from any military training — and Trump Jr. entirely mischaracterizes what the training was for.

Three Pinocchios

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