Tommy Tuberville’s white nationalist comments are a reminder that the military has a white nationalist problem

OPINION: The Alabama senator refused to call white nationalists racists because he thinks they're "Americans," and he's fine with them serving in the military. The problem is they already are.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala) speaks to reporters in the Senate subway at the U.S. Capitol July 10, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Tuberville was asked about his decision to block hundreds of promotions for high-ranking generals and officials in the U.S. military due to his opposition to a Pentagon policy ensuring abortion access for service members. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Sometimes called America’s dumbest senator, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., may not know much, but he does know that he is fine with white nationalists in the military and stands with them.

On Monday, while speaking with Kaitlan Collins on CNN’s “The Source,” Tuberville said he’s against racism but is fine with white nationalists in the armed services. “My opinion of a white nationalist — if somebody wants to call them a white nationalist — to me, it is an American,” Tuberville said. “Now, if that white nationalist is a racist, I’m totally against anything that they want to do. Because I am 110% against racism.”

Later, Tuberville conflated white nationalists with white people in general. “So, if you’re going to do away with most white people in this country out of the military, we got huge problems,” he said, adding. “There is nobody more military than me.”

In the CNN interview, the senator was doubling down on pro-white nationalist comments he had made a few months earlier. In May, the senator defended white nationalists in the military, saying in a WBHM radio interview “I call them Americans” and arguing the military was losing in readiness and recruitment “because the Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists” and those who disagree with Biden’s agenda. He later doubled down and told NBC News, “I look at a white nationalist as a Trump Republican. That’s what we’re called all the time.” (Tuberville would later concede that white nationalists are “racists” without elaborating, and he refused to apologize for his earlier comments.)

Let’s cut to the chase. Sen. Tuberville, whose main claim to fame and qualifications for the U.S. Senate stem from his role as a college football coach at Auburn, is dumb as a sack of grits. But it is also possible that he is following the Republican Party and the white supremacists’ handbook — and making a name for himself among folks in Alabama who like that sort of thing.  

(For the record, white supremacists believe white people are superior and should have political, economic and social control over other races. On the other hand, white nationalists believe in white supremacy and white separatism and support enforced racial segregation and the creation of a white ethnostate.)

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) looks on during a campaign rally at Minden-Tahoe Airport on October 08, 2022, in Minden, Nevada. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Aside from his recent comments, Tuberville has inserted himself into military matters when he singlehandedly blocked hundreds of military nominations, leaving a branch of the armed forces, the Marine Corps, without a confirmed head in over a century. The Alabama senator is holding up the process because of the Pentagon’s policies to ensure that servicemembers have access to abortion care regardless of where they’re stationed. That is interesting, considering Tuberville and the other Republicans always claim they support the troops. But we do know that white nationalists care a great deal about abortion, which, for them, is rooted in the Great Replacement Theory and fears of white people being outnumbered by melanated people.

The Coach walks in the footsteps of a long line of white supremacists. One lone racist white man can do much damage. Consider Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the segregationist who staged the longest filibuster in U.S. history on August 28, 1957. Taking a stand for white power, Thurmond blocked the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, talking on the Senate floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes. Although the legislation eventually passed and President Eisenhower signed it into law, you get the idea. A single racist white man, acting in the spirit of rugged individualism and buttressed by a movement of violent and evil white nationalists, can do a great deal of harm.

In the age of white nationalists normalizing white supremacy while gaslighting the nation about systemic racism and pretending it doesn’t exist, Tuberville reminds us of Donald Trump. Responding to the neo-Nazi rally held by Unite the Right in Charlottesville, Va, in August 2017, Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.”

And Tuberville sounds a lot like Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s pro-Trump state superintendent of public instruction, who said teachers could teach about the Tulsa 1921 race massacre, but cannot “say that the skin color determined it.”

“That doesn’t mean you don’t judge the actions of individuals. Oh, you can, absolutely. Historically, you should: ‘This was right. This was wrong. They did this for this reason,” Walters said. “But to say it was inherent in that … because of their skin is where I say that is critical race theory. You’re saying that race defines a person. I reject that.”

Benjamin Dixon connected the dots between Tuberville, Walters and the larger project of white nationalism at hand. “He wants to systematize all white people underneath the banner of white nationalism while making the responsibility of racism the individual’s problem,” Dixon said of Tuberville on his podcast, “The Benjamin Dixon Show.”

“What do both those individuals have in common? They want to individualize the problem of racism, the fruits that come out of white supremacy and white nationalism. They won’t let you identify anything as a system-level event,” Dixon said. “But you can call them out individually so long as you never look at the systemic nature of their evil.”  

Speaking of systemic evil, Sen. Tuberville said the quiet part out loud when he expressed his support for the white nationalists in the military. It is no secret that white supremacists are a big problem in the military. And because white supremacists are part of the Republican Party base, GOP politicians either cannot go against their base or they must actively support them. Domestic extremists and white nationalists are the greatest terrorist threat in the country, responsible for more deaths than any other groups. Now these domestic extremists are an internal threat to the military.

Active-duty servicemembers, veterans and police officers participated in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, with an overrepresentation of veterans with white supremacist beliefs. After all, as the Pentagon warned, white supremacist groups view military personnel as “highly prized” recruits and their leaders attempt to enlist in the services with the goal to obtain arms, skills and military legitimacy and swagger — all to advance their racist agenda.

The Oath Keepers, one of the major Jan. 6 insurrection groups, have had hundreds of active-duty soldiers and police officers in their ranks. At least 25% of militia members come from a military background, according to one estimate. And over one-fifth of applicants to the white supremacist group Patriot Front claim to have current or past military ties.  

According to a 2020 Military Times survey, more than one-third of active-duty troops and over half of minority service members had personally witnessed white nationalism or ideologically driven racism.

So, the military has a white nationalist problem that threatens to undermine it, just the way Tommy Tuberville likes it. One would assume he would like to see another Jan. 6. Chickens are coming home to roost, indeed.

David A. Love,

David A. Love is a journalist and commentator who writes investigative stories and op-eds on a variety of issues, including politics, social justice, human rights, race, criminal justice and inequality. Love is also an instructor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, where he trains students in a social justice journalism lab. In addition to his journalism career, Love has worked as an advocate and leader in the nonprofit sector, served as a legislative aide, and as a law clerk to two federal judges. He holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. His portfolio website is

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