In the weeks following George Floyd’s death in 2020, a U.S. Air Force officer—currently awaiting promotion to brigadier general—accused his fellow “white colonels” of being the “biggest barriers” to addressing “racial injustice” in the military and being “blind to institutional racism.”
Col. Ben Jonsson’s 825-word commentary in the Air Force Times on July 1, 2020, recounts several examples of what he describes as “white defensiveness” in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. Jonsson concludes with an endorsement of critical race theory promoter Robin DiAngelo’s controversial book, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.”
“Dear white colonel, it is time to give a damn. Aim High,” Jonsson wrote.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden nominated Jonsson for a promotion. He’s currently one of more than 300 military officers awaiting U.S. Senate approval. Senate Democrats would like to rubber-stamp the promotions—including Jonsson’s—using an expedited Senate procedure known as unanimous consent, which bypasses consideration of each nominee individually.
Since March, however, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has objected to numerous unanimous content requests from Democrats, preferring the Senate instead consider the promotions individually until the Defense Department rescinds its divisive taxpayer-funded abortion policy.
Thanks to Tuberville’s hold, Jonsson’s promotion to Air Force brigadier general is receiving additional scrutiny. He is one of several military officers in line for a promotion who have espoused “woke” views that more closely align with the Left’s diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda than traditional American values.
“Col. Jonsson exhibited a toxic embrace of DEI policies that have no place in the U.S. military,” said William Thibeau, director of the Claremont Institute’s American Military Project. “His public characterization of ‘white colonels’’ blindness is inherently divisive and sends shockwaves through his command. When Jonsson addresses a group of airmen by race, he creates the exact boogeyman of racial tension he supposedly seeks to eliminate.”
The U.S. Air Force Academy, where Jonsson most recently served as vice superintendent, directed The Daily Signal’s questions for Jonsson to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, where he is currently stationed. Neither Jonsson nor the base’s public affairs office responded prior to publication of this story.
DEI Harms Military Readiness
Last year, The Heritage Foundation commissioned the National Independent Panel on Military Service and Readiness to study the effects of DEI on military readiness (among other issues). Chaired by Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., the panel recommended the Defense Department eliminate DEI programs and training. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of Heritage.)
The views Jonsson expressed in his commentary are consistent with DEI principles now espoused by Defense Department leadership and embraced by all branches of the U.S. military.
At the Air Force Academy where Jonsson served as vice superintendent, a “Diversity & Inclusion” slide presentation advised cadets to “use gender-neutral language and avoid terms such as mom and dad.” It also urged cadets to avoid the term “colorblind” and instead be “color conscious.”
Under Jonsson’s leadership, the academy faced criticism for promoting DEI and CRT.
Writing under a pseudonym for the Washington Examiner, one cadet recently documented his experience with “divisive teachings” at the Air Force Academy. “The leftist ideologies, including critical race theory and diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings, being forced upon us by academy leadership have divided the cadet wing from within, in a profession where unity is essential,” he wrote.
It doesn’t stop with training programs. Beginning during the Obama administration and accelerating on Biden’s watch, the military built a vast DEI bureaucracy. Those who questioned it, such as U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier, faced discipline.
Heritage’s military panel warned that the full-scale embrace of DEI is compromising military readiness and warfighting capabilities. “[T]he precepts of DEI distract from developing a well-trained, merit-based military, and some manifestations of DEI, such as the teaching of postmodernist theories, run counter to the foundational principles that define the United States,” the panel stated.
Taking Aim at ‘White Colonels’
Jonsson used his Air Force Times commentary not to address the military readiness or warfighting capabilities but instead as an opportunity to lecture “white people” about racism. He wrote:
As white colonels, you and I are the biggest barriers to change if we do not personally address racial injustice in our Air Force. Defensiveness is a predictable response by white people to any discussion of racial injustice. White colonels are no exception. We are largely blind to institutional racism, and we take offense to any suggestion that our system advantaged us at the expense of others.
At the time the commentary was published in July 2020, Jonsson was serving as vice commander of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, according to an article in the Tampa Bay Times and his LinkedIn profile.
In the commentary, he writes about making “white colonels” feel “uneasy” and references at least seven observations of seeing “white defensiveness play out” in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.
- During a discussion with white colonels about the Floyd’s death and the riots that followed, two of the attendees tried to “ameliorate” their “social discomfort” with humor.
- A white colonel raised concerns about a black officer’s portrayal of racial injustice. “Rather than considering the issue, we took a detour to question the methods and message,” Jonsson complained.
- On the topic of military discipline, another white colonel “deflected meaningful discussion of racial injustice” when discussing the “disproportionate rate” of Article 15 disciplinary infractions given to black airmen.
- A white colonel questioned a black enlisted leader’s account of an Article 15 disciplinary infraction for being boisterous, which “ended further examination of the role of cultural difference on discipline decisions by supervisors.”
- Another white colonel defended the Air Force’s culture, which Jonsson said “excused himself from the need to dig into the underlying issue of racial disparity.”
- When the topic turned to questions of racial disparities in the military justice system, a white colonel questioned the data. Jonsson said that tactic “obviated the need to consider how the Inspector General data might reveal actual problems with our biases.”
- One white participant suggested focusing on racial difference would jeopardize the Air Force’s mission. Jonsson called the critique a “false binary choice” that justifies “our lack of action in addressing or understanding race in our formations.”
Jonsson ends the commentary by endorsing a “good primer” by DiAngelo. Her book, “White Fragility,” soared in popularity after Floyd’s death and the subsequent riots. As businesses, churches, and the military rushed to embrace DEI training, DiAngelo profited handsomely from the exposure.
‘I Am George Floyd’
Institutions like the Air Force seized the moment to confront “the persistent problems of racism,” according to the Air Force Times. In the days after Floyd’s death, then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth Wright hosted a virtual town hall at which Wright declared, “I am George Floyd.”
Goldfein, in a June 1, 2020, memo, called Floyd’s death “a national tragedy.” He wrote: “We can no longer walk by this problem. We must look inward at our Air Force, and at every echelon of command, so we emerge stronger as a profession of arms.”
Jonsson quoted Goldfein’s words in his commentary, then added a message to his peers:
Dear white colonel, you and I set the culture, drive the calendar, and create the policies at most of our installations around the Air Force. If we do not take the time to learn, to show humility, to address our blind spots around race, and to agree that we are not as objective as we think and our system is not as fair as we think, then our Air Force will not rise above George Floyd’s murder. But we can rise above it, we can break these invisible barriers, if we choose to engage and stop excusing ourselves.
Heritage’s military readiness panel concluded that concepts like CRT—which are acted upon by leaders like Jonsson—conflict with the military’s core principles.
“The concept of CRT is anathema to the core principles of the U.S. military, an institution that depends on a team approach, one where every member must rely on one another and not have to worry that his leader or his subordinates doubt their abilities or decisions based on considerations of race, gender, or ethnicity,” the panel wrote.
Stalled in the Senate
With the Senate in recess until September, Jonsson’s promotion is on hold at least until then—and quite possibly longer if Democrats continue to insist on using the expedited unanimous consent process.
Tuberville has so far withstood attacks from the Left and even members of his own party, including a lack of support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
With the standoff now reaching its fifth month and new concerns emerging about the “woke” beliefs of the military officers who Democrats want the Senate to approve, the issue is moving beyond Tuberville’s initial objection to the Defense Department’s policy of providing three weeks of paid leave and reimbursement of travel expenses for military personnel and dependents seeking abortions. An estimate from Rand Corp. predicts the number of abortions in the military eligible for taxpayer-covered expenses would skyrocket from 20 to more than 4,000 each year.
Previously, The Daily Signal reported on another military officer awaiting promotion: Navy Capt. (now Rear Adm.) Michael Donnelly. He served as commanding officer of the USS Ronald Reagan from April 2016 to September 2018. During that time period, Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley was performing as a drag queen at military-sanctioned events on the aircraft carrier under the name “Harpy Daniels.”
Thibeau, a U.S. Army veteran and graduate of Army Ranger School, said conservatives should carefully examine who they’re promoting to leadership roles in the military.
“Jonsson’s recommendation of such a dishonest book as ‘White Fragility’ indicates his inability to lead without politicizing his service and the service of those in his command,” Thibeau said. “Conservatives rightly reject DiAngelo’s book, and her accompanying philosophy, for corporations and universities. As such, conservatives in Congress should reject any military leader who introduces such content into the conduct of the U.S. Air Force.”
Mary Margaret Olohan contributed to this report.
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