The Pentagon on Thursday pushed back at Republican lawmakers who claimed that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued misleading remarks when denying that the department does not have an agenda to teach critical race theory — an academic and legal concept that conservatives have appropriated and hijacked as one of its many faux culture wars.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby hit back at the right-wing outrage to Politico on Thursday.
“There is no contradiction here. The Secretary’s comments stand,” Kirby told Politico. “That a professor at an academic institution such as the Air Force Academy teaches a given theory as part of an elective course does not in the slightest way signify some larger effort by the Department to teach, espouse or embrace said theory.”
“We expect our professors to challenge the minds of future leaders, and we respect their academic independence,” Kirby added.
Last month, Austin told lawmakers that the department does not teach critical race theory, nor does it “embrace” the academic and legal concept.
“And I think that’s a spurious conversation,” Austin told lawmakers last month. “We are focused on extremist behaviors, and not ideology, not people’s thoughts, not people’s political orientation.”
Conservative outrage ensued after an Air Force Academy professor defended discussing critical race theory with cadets in an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Wednesday.
Lynne Chandler Garcia, an associate professor of political science at the Air Force Academy, wrote that she teaches critical race theory to cadets because it is “vital” that future military leaders understand the history of racism and how it is baked into the country’s institutions.
“Cadets, like all military members, take an oath to defend the Constitution with their lives — so it is crucial they have a sensitive understanding of that Constitution,” Garcia wrote.
Republican lawmakers quickly latched onto Garcia’s comments as part of the caricature of the critical race theory they created. They claimed that Garcia had contradicted Austin’s testimony last month.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Wednesday told Fox News that Garcia has “no business” teaching the Constitution or political science to Air Force cadets. Cotton demanded that Garcia “should start looking for a different place of employment.”
“Secretary Austin has testified at least twice that our military does not teach, instruct, or condone critical race theory,” Cotton said. “We should not be teaching and indoctrinating our cadets to believe that our military is a fundamentally racist institution.”
Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL) similarly hopped on the GOP bandwagon of alleging that Garcia’s comments contradict Austin’s testimony.
“Secretary Austin testified that DOD was not teaching Critical Race Theory yet we now know both West Point and the Air Force Academy are doing just that,” Waltz said in a statement to Politico on Thursday. “Critical Race Theory isn’t a history lesson, it’s indoctrinating our future military leaders that America and the military are systemically racist. That’s unacceptable.”
Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) urged Garcia to be fired from the Air Force Academy.
“Professor García’s comments on Critical Race Theory are utterly unacceptable and incompatible with the mission of our United States Military Service Academies,” Green wrote in a letter to acting Air Force Secretary John Roth. “Disparaging the United States as a racist country should disqualify anyone from teaching at one of our country’s most prestigious institutions.”
The GOP uproar over Austin and Garcia’s comments comes weeks after Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended teaching so-called “Critical Race Theory” to members of the military. Milley’s remarks prompted right-wing outrage, which included former President Trump demanding that Milley resign.
“The United States military academy is a university,” Milley said. “And it is important that we train and understand … white rage. And I’m white, and I want to understand it.”
In recent weeks, conservatives have attempted to make “critical race theory” a national issue as pundits and right-wing pressure groups push for state legislatures to ban the concept from being taught in public schools.