Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., is pressuring the Air Force to conduct an investigation of text messages to airmen warning against attending a conservative rally, according to a letter obtained exclusively by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
In leaked text messages Nov. 17, a master sergeant at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota urged leaders to caution airmen about the potential for violence against members of the military at the conservative rally and about participating in a political advocacy group, Fox News first reported.
Banks, who chairs a House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel and heads the chamber’s Anti-Woke Caucus, said the texts from an unidentified Air Force leader defamed a conservative organization and interfered in an airman’s right to free assembly and the political process, the letter stated.
“If Eighth Air Force and 5th Bomber Wing leadership do not carry out a full investigation of and take the appropriate disciplinary action against the servicemember who wrote the text message, it will, in essence, have permitted an airman to threaten servicemembers who hold conservative beliefs, to falsely smear a conservative organization as ‘alt-right’ and to interfere in the political process,” Banks wrote.
The original text message referred to a guest speaker who represents Turning Point Action, which the leader characterized as “alt-right.”
“Additionally, please remind them that participation with groups such as Turning Point Action could jeopardize their continued service in the U.S. military,” the text message read.
Tyler Bower, Turning Point Action’s chief operating officer and the speaker in question, is a “conservative activist,” according to Turning Point USA’s website. The group, which trains young leaders, has a history of support for former President Donald Trump.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point Action and Turning Point USA, raised an immediate outcry after screenshots of the text messages surfaced on an anonymously run Facebook page, The Associated Press reported.
An Air Force spokesperson earlier told Banks that “one of our Security Forces members identified a potential concern with Airmen participating in the event,” according to the letter. “Without appropriate coordination a Master Sergeant sent an unofficial message to his peer group—First Sergeants across the wing—to warn them of a perceived security concern related to the event.”
Banks demanded that Air Force Maj. Gen. Jason Armagost, commander of the Eighth Air Force, release more information about the circumstances behind the text messages and what justified the “potential concern” surrounding the rally at the center of the controversy.
Minot Air Force Base leadership acknowledged the message in a statement Nov. 21, but labeled it as “unofficial … based on incorrect data and sent outside of official base messaging platforms.”
“Once the error was identified, base security officials corrected the message traffic to categorize the event as a local political fundraiser, with no security concerns,” the statement said. “Further, the updated message communicated there were no issues with military members participating in their personal capacity—in line with their First Amendment rights. All Air Force airmen have a constitutional right to freedom of assembly.”
It’s common for military leaders to communicate with subordinates and lower-level leaders via group text messages. However, Air Force regulations designed to maintain the professional, apolitical character of the military forbid members of the U.S. armed forces from participating in political activities or attending openly partisan gatherings while wearing their military uniforms.
“Airmen may attend partisan political rallies or speeches when not in uniform, not on duty, and when solely acting as a spectator,” the regulation states.
Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation
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