Committee Chairman Mark Takano sought to cool some of the tensions in his opening statement.
“We’re not here to condemn or vilify veterans who engage with these groups,” the California Democrat said, “but rather to highlight the threats posed by them, including to their members.”
According to retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Joe Plenzler, militia groups often target for recruitment the most vulnerable veterans — those who are impoverished and isolated from others.
Plenzler, who has tracked extremist groups since 1999, said there is increasing concern that law enforcement officers, active-duty troops and veterans are all joining potentially violent militias.
And in some cases, veterans are seeking the groups out for themselves.
“Most militias are law abiding,” said Amy Cooter, a senior lecturer at Vanderbilt University. “But what is concerning, however, is veterans seeking out militias without being recruited. These men are searching for a way to serve their country after their service and want a community.”
Cooter explained that some veterans who seek out such groups feel betrayed by the government, and thus seek those militias that are prepared for violence.
Militia groups, which usually decrease in size during Republican administrations, have increased in size and intensity over the past several years, Cooter said.