Right-wing media figures are using the ongoing crisis in Ukraine to attack “wokeness” in the U.S. military, claiming acceptance of LGBTQ service members and a drive for inclusion have provided an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to start a war.
Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a crisis that itself threatens the lives of LGBTQ Ukrainians, conservative outlets took aim at President Joe Biden’s repeal of the ban on transgender service members and other inclusive policies, including the military’s diversity training, which they have falsely labeled “critical race theory.”
Right-wing pundits continue to promote a culture war narrative that advancing LGBTQ rights poses a threat to America’s international security. After the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, right-wing figures blamed “woke ideology” and pushed the false claim that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul flew a LGBTQ pride flag on its rooftop ahead of the Taliban's takeover.
Conservative pundits are once again using the war on Ukraine as a political cudgel to attack LGBTQ people:
- On February 23, Fox News host Tucker Carlson denigrated “trans rights,” saying they’re one of the “values” White House press secretary Jen Psaki was referencing when she discussed the “costs” of “standing up for our values” regarding Russia’s attacks on Ukraine.
- Appearing on The Five, Fox News host Pete Hegseth claimed Americans were “running around talking about genders and reparations” and “as a result, [Putin] thinks this is his moment to make an aggressive move.”
- National Review senior writer Michael Brendan Dougherty published an op-ed on February 22 criticizing the U.S State Department for pulling personnel from the Ukrainian Embassy ahead of Russia’s invasion, asserting, “The State Department spends an inordinate amount of time promoting progressive values, such as flying pride flags in the few European countries that have not yet legally recognized same-sex marriage, or holding seminars on diversity.”
- Far-right conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson posted a video to YouTube on February 24 discussing Russia’s invasion, with Watson mockingly saying, “It turns out that repealing Trump's ban on [trans people] in the military didn't deter Putin. Turns out that the Pentagon's effort to help nonbinary people who identify as they/them serve openly in the military didn't deter Putin.”
- An article from The American Spectator had a subheadline that read “A military that gives priority to climate change, LGBTQ+ issues, and the virtues of democratic socialism is surely inviting Putin to bite off even bigger chunks of Ukraine,” with the article asserting that military leadership was putting an “emphasis … on wokeness” and that Biden’s “tough talk doesn’t impress adversaries who know that a woke military is no threat to them.”
- Daily Wire podcast host Matt Walsh asked if the U.S. military had “recruited enough lesbians? Are our armed forces sufficiently trans inclusive?”
- Later on his podcast, Walsh said it was “not a coincidence that this has happened after Biden spent his first year in office focusing primarily on wokeness and intentionally making our military weaker and more feminine.” Walsh later played an ad from the Army featuring a lesbian couple, responding by saying, “How could Putin do what he's doing right now? Doesn't he know that western countries have the most diverse, equitable, tolerant, and trans-inclusive militaries in the history of the world? And he's still messing with us? Wow. I mean, it's almost like we're nothing but a joke at this point.” He later claimed that Biden was attempting to “fill our military with lesbians who can’t do three pushups.”
- Daily Wire editor emeritus Ben Shapiro tweeted that “Russia and China are focused on expanding their spheres of influence via aggressive action. The West is focused on expanding its national debt and exploding the gender binary.”
- During the February 24 edition of PragerU's Will & Amala Live, anti-LGBTQ pundit Dennis Prager denigrated Adm. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying, “under Democratic leadership the country's military is much weaker and is perceived as such by our enemies. Just the fact that -- is no offense against the individual -- but a transgender Admiral does not induce fear on the part of our enemies, it makes us look like we are more interested in woke than we are in power.”
- Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe asserted that Russia chose to capitalize off America being “weak” because “our focus is flying pride flags around the world.”
- On the February 24 edition of Newsmax’s Dick Morris Democracy, frequent Newsmax guest John Mills asserted that Russia’s invasion was “the fruit of wokeness and CRT training,” adding, “Putin and Xi of China are not impressed by this. In fact, it only emboldens them and encourages them to be adventurous. And this is what the fruit of the wokeness culture is delivering.”
- Fox News ran an article on February 25 headlined “Georgia GOP candidate, a retired Marine colonel, urges military to reverse transgender policy amid Ukraine war.” The article centered around an interview with Mitchell Swan, a Republican candidate for US Congress in Georgia, who claimed, “welcoming individuals with gender dysphoria into the ranks may weaken military performance and sends a message of weakness to America's adversaries in crises such as Ukraine and Afghanistan.”
- Retired Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold in a February 10 op-ed for Task & Purpose described what he called “critical military theory,” claiming, “Individuality or group identity is corrosive and a centrifugal force” in the military.
- In an article on Russia’s invasion, The Washington Times cited Newbold’s op-ed, stating that the “Biden administration efforts to promote social engineering and ‘woke’ diversity and inclusivity policies pose a danger to U.S. military warfighting capabilities, according to a retired three-star general.” The article went on to say Newbold’s criticism of “the Pentagon’s ‘woke’ policies” were a response to the Biden administration’s “efforts to promote climate change, gender identity politics and critical race theory in the ranks of the armed forces.”
- Right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza tweeted a segment from his podcast in which he cited Newbold, saying that “it’s really refreshing to hear from a Marine who is not in high heels” and claiming Newbold is taking a stand “in the face of all this kind of wokeness, this racial propaganda, this gender nonsense.” D’Souza later reiterated his support for Newbold’s position, claiming, “The only group that should matter is the military group itself. So the only group identity that works is patriotism -- love of country, we're all in this together. But any other group identity -- I'm Black, I'm hispanic, I'm gay, I'm Asian -- any of that is going to create sub-groups within the group [and] undermine military morale.”
- Far-right radio host Michael Berry warned Russia and China to not “get any idea,” mockingly adding, “We still have some badasses left in our military and some good high-tech missiles and shit we can hit you with, as soon as everyone gets out of the gender tolerance [meeting].”