Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, of Alabama, and his office are trying to clear up comments the former Auburn University football coach made late last week about white nationalists serving in the military.
In an interview that aired on NPR member station WBHM Thursday and was posted online Monday, Tuberville complained that military recruitment was down “because the Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists, people that don’t believe in our agenda, as Joe Biden’s agenda.”
WBHM’s Richard Banks followed up with a question about whether he believes white nationalists should be allowed to serve in the military.
“They call them that,” Tuberville replied, referring to the Biden administration. “I call them Americans.”
On Thursday, reporters in the Capitol pressed Tuberville on his comments. He told them that “you can’t have racists” on any team, and he claimed it’s Democrats who are the problem, accusing them of painting all Trump supporters as white nationalists.
“The Democrats characterize all MAGA Republicans in the military as white nationalists, wrong. Wrong. OK?” Tuberville told reporters Thursday. “We can’t get politics in the military. This has nothing to do with extremists.”
He continued, “My first day here was Jan. 6, [2021.] I had several senators stand up on the Senate floor and said, ‘we got too many white nationalists around here.’ What the heck is that? I mean, we all got different beliefs, you know. I’m a church of Christ. We’ve got Catholics, we’ve got different people. And we all have to make one military. We can’t start distinguishing different types of people.”
Pressed further on whether he believes white nationalists should be serving in the military, Tuberville demanded that the term be defined — although he had been the one who initially used the term in the WBHM interview.
“What is a white nationalist?” he asked.
A reporter told him that a white nationalist “is someone who propagates Naziism. Someone who doesn’t believe Black and Brown people are equal to White people.”
Tuberville asked her, “You think a white nationalist is a Nazi?”
“Well, that is one of their beliefs,” the reporter replied.
“Well I don’t look at it like that,” he said, adding, “I look at a white nationalist as a Trump Republican. That’s what we’re called all the time, a MAGA person.” Then he added, “I agree that we should not be characterizing Trump supporters as white nationalists.”
Tuberville’s office also sought to clarify his comments.
“Sen. Tuberville’s quote shows that he was being skeptical of the notion that there are white nationalists in the military, not that he believes they should be in the military,” said spokesman Steven Stafford.
Tuberville’s use of the phrase “white nationalists” came up during the radio interview as a part of a conversation about his actions blocking scores of military promotions that require Senate confirmation in protest of Biden administration policies ensuring that service members must be reimbursed for some abortion-related expenses.
The Alabama Republican argued that his actions are not affecting military readiness, and that it’s recruitment that’s the problem. However, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked about Tuberville’s holds on the promotions, he replied, “I don’t support putting holds on military nominations.”
Tuberville’s office noted that the senator believes extremism is not a serious problem in the U.S. military, pointing to a Pentagon report established by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that found nearly 100 service members engaged in extremist activity in 2021.
— Alan He contributed to this report