On Thursday, March 31, START Director William Braniff will testify before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, raising awareness about the importance of a collaborative, cross-industry approach to building on the strengths of Veterans and military families to crowd out vulnerabilities to violent extremism and polarizing misinformation.
“There is a cyclical pattern in the United States in which after the end of wars, some small number of Veterans have served as a ‘shot in the arm’ to domestic violence extremist movements—this goes back to the swelling of the ranks of the KKK after World War I and World War II, and the fusing of anti-government extremism with white supremacy after Korea and Vietnam,” Braniff explained. “So the question that many ask is, ‘What is going to happen now, as we’ve wound down the two longest wars in U.S. history, Iraq and Afghanistan, unsatisfactorily?’”
As he’ll discuss in his testimony, Braniff hopes the country will take a more positive approach to addressing this issue; resorting not to criminal justice solutions that seek to punish Veterans after they’ve participated in such acts, but to multisectoral solutions that empower Veterans and prevent them from reaching that point.
“We think January 6 is a symptom of an erosion of American civic culture, and we are trying to channel the strengths of American Veterans and military families to bolster American civic culture,” said Braniff. “We think if we get more Veterans actively involved in that—including recognizing when a hostile foregin influence operation coming from an adversary overseas is literally trying to manipulate and undermine the United States—Veterans and military families will lead the United States back to a better place.”
By “we” Braniff, an Army Veteran himself, is referring to We the Veterans, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, solutions-oriented organization created in summer 2021 by Veterans and military family members seeking to focus specifically on civic engagement. We the Veterans works with START to get timely, data-driven insights into issues like domestic violent extremism, such as the fact that there has been a 400% increase in the number of individuals with military service backgrounds who have been arrested for acts of criminal extremism this decade versus the decade prior.
The power of a research-to-action model like that utilized by START and We the Veterans is another thing that Braniff hopes to highlight, particularly considering We the Veterans’ goal of partnering with the government, Silicon Valley, other Veterans service organizations and academics to ideate solutions collectively and get those ideas in front of funders in real time.
“We the Veterans is directly translating START research into practice, and because START is a research entity, it can do the measurement and evaluation of the programs that We the Veterans runs, so it can very transparently tell funders whether the programs are working, and better allocate resources over time,” said Braniff. “For the university this is a really exciting model; innovative partnerships like this allow us to fulfill our mission as a land-grant institution in the 21st-century, to contribute directly to society and address some of the grand challenges we have as a nation and a global community.”
Thursday’s hearing begins at 10 a.m. Braniff’s oral testimony will be livestreamed on YouTube during the first panel discussion, and his written testimony uploaded here.
This article originally appeared on the College of Behavioral & Social Sciences website.