Organization Trends

The Architects of the Woke U.S. Military: Common Defense

The Architects of the Woke U.S. Military (full series)
Military Woke Complex | Common Defense
Vets for the People | Service Women’s Action Network

Common Defense

The Biden administration has done its part to push the military toward being “climate justice” warriors. The president once told a group of U.S. airmen based in Britain that the Joint Chiefs of Staff determined that the biggest threat facing America was global warming:

You know what the Joint Chiefs told us the greatest threat facing America was? Global warming. Because there’ll be significant population movements, fights over land, millions of people leaving places because they’re literally sinking below the sea in Indonesia; because of the fights over what is arable land anymore.

Even then-Chairman of the Joint Chief Gen. Mark Milley—no foe of wokeness—was quick to make a course correction. Milley didn’t directly contradict his commander-in-chief, but he asserted that China and Russia posed the biggest global threat to the United States on the same day as Biden’s global warming gaffe.

Nevertheless, by the end of his first year in office, Biden had ordered the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to transition to pollution-free electrical generation by 2035. In 2023, the Pentagon spent $3 billion on addressing climate change concerns.

The Biden administration would be technically correct in claiming that military veterans are calling for a full-throttled focus on the climate and that the administration is not just relying on traditional green groups for these policies. But in this case it would be talking about a tiny percentage of veterans that is represented by the left-wing Common Defense network of nonprofits.

In 2022, the Common Defense Education Fund joined Critical Defense Civic Engagement to launch Vets for Climate Justice. The initiative said its mission is to lead campaigns on environmental issues, build political will for action, and pressure elected officials to transition to a green energy economy. The Common Defense Education Fund is part of the Common Defense network of nonprofits that began as an anti–Donald Trump organization and has since morphed into a catchall organization for woke policies in the military.

Common Defense was founded in 2016 as the Vets Against Trump movement in opposition to then-presidential candidate Trump’s policies. The group claims the Right “co-opted” the idea of patriotism. The organization has its roots among organizers of a large veterans’ rally that took place in 2016 outside the Trump Tower in New York City. The rally organizers continued as a group and incorporated in 2019 and gained tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service in 2022.

The network of organizations includes the Common Defense Education Fund, a 501(c)(3) that says it is for “training and organizing”; Common Defense Civic Engagement, a 501(c)(4) that says it is “for issue based and electoral advocacy”; and Common Defense Action Fund, a political action committee “for lobbying and electoral support.”

The organization’s website says:

Founded in 2016, Common Defense is the nation’s largest grassroots organization of US military veterans and the only one that invests in the leadership of its members through training and deployment in campaigns that connect directly to their history of service, including voting rights, climate justice, and anti-militarism.

The Common Defense network lists its priorities as lobbying and advocating for legislative bills and issues and making “endorsements of progressive candidates.” The group trains left-of-center veterans to engage in get-out-the-vote efforts. The Common Defense umbrella of groups also promotes social justice issues, such as critical race theory in military training, and opposes what it calls “forever wars.”

The network has seen some movement on its goal of more “equity” in the military. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Judicial Watch found that training materials for West Point now teach on the problems of “whiteness.” One of the instructional slides said, “In order to understand racial inequality and slavery, it is first necessary to address whiteness.”

Members of Congress obtained curricular materials from West Point showing lectures titled “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage” and slides labeled “White Power at West Point.” When asked about these during a congressional hearing, Milley defended the woke curricular. “I want to understand white rage, and I’m white,” Milley said. “I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist.”

After it was incorporated, Common Defense—though having expanded its menu of advocacy—was still out to get Trump and strongly advocated for the 45th president’s impeachment in 2019. In the lead up to the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Common Defense asked candidates to sign a pledge ending “forever wars.” Seven Democratic candidates signed the pledge, and it was adopted into the party’s platform at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. This marked a significant win, and proved the organization could flex it muscle.

The Common Defense Education Fund runs the Veterans Organizing Institute, which supports leadership development of left-of-center military veterans for a network of “highly diverse, former service members, with sophisticated political analysis and practical organizing skills to play an important role in reshaping the long-term American political landscape.” The institute also says it wants to create “training opportunities for all veterans,” especially those who represent directly impacted communities, including women, people of color, Indigenous, Muslim, LGBTQ+, and disabled veterans.”

Donors to the Common Defense network have included, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the David Rockefeller Fund ($27,500 for climate advocacy), and the Fund for Nonviolence ($20,000 to support the Veterans Organizing Institute). The Ford Foundation, a primary funder of left-of-center causes, gave a $100,000 grant to the Common Defense Education Fund to organize a multiracial, multi-generational, and inclusive movement to get veterans to advocate for a “healthy and participatory democracy.”

Common Defense Civic Engagement, the 501(c)(4), had revenue of $2.9 million and spent $2.7 million in 2021. One of the biggest funders for the lobbying arm is the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a passthrough for the Arabella Advisors network, which gave $1.06 million to Common Defense Civic Engagement—almost half of the group’s revenue. It has also received donations from major left-wing funders such as the Tides Foundation, the George Soros–connected Open Society Policy Center, the Clinton-aligned Onward Together, the group Need to Impeach, the Arabella-aligned North Fund, and the Communications Workers of America.

Jose Vasques is the Common Defense executive director. Vasquez, a 15-year Army veteran honorably discharged in 2007, was previously the director of Iraq Veterans Against the War and was a member of the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice.

The board of directors for Common Defense Civic Engagement includes several activists on the left, including screenwriter Billy Ray; human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid; Shailly Gupta Barnes, policy director of the Poor People’s Campaign; Jeff Blum, former executive director of USAction and founder of Pennsylvania Citizen Action; and Jeff Quiggle, a supporter of Texas Democratic politician Beto O’Rourke and co-founder of “Veterans for Beto.”

In the next installment, numerous organizations are advocating for LGBTQ policies in the military.

Fred Lucas

Fred Lucas is the author of Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump (Bombardier Books, 2020). He is a journalist who reports for the Daily Signal,…
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