Polling the troops about their politics is a bad idea – OCRegister

When Congressman Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, suggested on CNN this week that the National Guard troops providing security for today’s inauguration might pose an “insider” threat, it was too much even for CNN news anchor Jim Sciutto.

“The Guard is 90 some odd percent, I believe, male,” Cohen asserted. “Only about 20% of white males voted for Biden. You have got to figure that the Guard, which is predominantly more conservative — and I see that on my social media, and we know it — there are probably 25% of the people that are there protecting us who voted for Biden. The other 75% are in the class that would be the large class of folks who might want to do something.”

“To have voted for Trump does not make you an ‘insider,’” Sciutto pushed back. “I mean, that is far different from being a threat of violence inside, whether the National Guard or law enforcement.”

Right now, the Capitol is secured like the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and 25,000 National Guard troops protecting the inauguration have been “vetted” by the FBI.

“If there’s any indication that any of our soldiers or airmen are expressing things that are extremist views,” said Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, “it’s either handed over to law enforcement or dealt with the chain of command immediately.”

There’s nothing unusual about routine background checks on U.S. military personnel. What’s concerning this time is the possible definition of “extremist views.” Rep. Steve Cohen seems to be defining an individual American’s vote for Donald Trump’s re-election as reason to believe that individual “might want to do something” to “us,” a term he didn’t define.

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Since 1948, it has been against the law in the United States to “poll” members of the armed forces of the United States with reference to their choice of candidate or vote in any election. “Poll” is defined as, “any request for information, verbal or written, which by its language or form of expression requires or implies the necessity of an answer, where the request is made with the intent of compiling the result of the answers obtained, either for the personal use of the person making the request, or for the purpose of reporting the same to any other person, persons, political party, unincorporated association or corporation, or for the purpose of publishing the same orally, by radio, or in written or printed form.”

It may not be illegal under this law, 18 U.S. Code Section 596, for the FBI to “poll” the National Guard and ask individuals whether they voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump. But it’s a terrible idea, just the same.

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Greer v. Spock, which related to partisan activity in the military. The commanding officer at Fort Dix had refused a request to allow the campaigns of the candidates for president and vice president to distribute campaign literature and hold a political meeting on the post. The issue was whether an Army regulation that gave the commanding officer the authority to make that decision was constitutional.

The Supreme Court upheld the regulation and the decision of the commanding officer to keep partisan politics out of Fort Dix. “Such a policy is wholly consistent with the American constitutional tradition of a politically neutral military establishment under civilian control. It is a policy that has been reflected in numerous laws and military regulations throughout our history,” the court ruled.

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