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Military Veterans in Journalism’s Work on Tackling Disinformation and Extremism

By August 25, 2023Resources

The spread of malicious information and extremist narratives within veteran and military communities presents a pressing challenge. Groups involved in spreading these narratives target military and veteran community members, hoping to use their voices to normalize extremist ideas and bolster their perceived credibility, patriotism and professionalism – and it is working. Experts in domestic terrorism and law enforcement analysts “estimate that veterans and active-duty members of the military may now make up at least 25 percent of militia rosters.”  

As these groups gain support within the community via targeted disinformation, the narratives they perpetuate undermine public trust in our nation’s institutions and pose significant risks to national security and the well-being of those who have served. 

I have spent much of my career deeply involved in countering disinformation and extremism. I’ve developed counter-narratives against ISIS and Al Shabaab propaganda in collaboration with the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and contributed to NATO research on Russian disinformation in the Central African Republic, among a variety of other opportunities. I have also had the privilege of putting my knowledge to use as an adjunct professor at NYU teaching about disinformation. As the executive director of Military Veterans in Journalism, these experiences in tackling disinformation have provided me the expertise to lead our organization’s efforts in safeguarding the integrity of information within military and veteran communities.

Launched in January 2023, MVJ’s Counter-Disinformation Program aims to tackle this issue by providing investigative, nonpartisan reporting, countering false narratives, and actively engaging within our military and veteran community to prevent recruitment to these violent extremist groups. This program is a demonstration of Military Veterans in Journalism’s dedication to supporting the welfare of our military and veteran communities while building public trust in American institutions, including the news media, through veteran voices.

We have been honored to partner with a variety of well-known, expert organizations in support of our program goals. Program partner newsrooms include Military Times,, Task & Purpose and The Associated Press. We have also collaborated with The Poynter Institute, PolitiFact, Task Force Butler Institute, the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Project Over Zero and the Solutions Journalism Network on training initiatives to ensure our reporters are putting out the best journalism possible. Advisory collaborators include the University of Alabama’s Veterans and Media Lab, We the Veterans and Military Families, and START at the University of Maryland. Through these collaborations, we have equipped the program team with the knowledge and skills to effectively tackle the issues at hand.

With the program now underway, we want to take a moment to emphasize our organization’s objectives and values regarding how we are approaching this complex challenge. 

Our focus is on combating violent extremism and protecting our nation, irrespective of political affiliations. We are aware of the efforts by certain extremist groups to exploit the military veteran community and capitalize on its perceived credibility. This exploitation undermines the values we hold dear and poses a threat to our country. It also weakens the broader community when veterans are painted and characterized as extreme.

This is not a partisan issue for us at MVJ. For us, this is an issue of the potential extremist propaganda has to turn the freedom of belief veterans have sacrificed to protect into negative, harmful action. It’s about the actions these groups are driving veterans to take that harm our nation.

Countering disinformation is a complex and ongoing challenge. We are dedicated to refining our approach in collaboration with partners and experts in the field. Our program advisory board, established to guide our reporters in their coverage, consists of 11 such partners and experts. They will help us establish baselines for success, provide advice throughout implementation and guide coverage toward timely and pertinent issues within the malicious information space.

Our approach also involves engaging with the veteran and military communities. By employing veteran reporters and journalists, we aim to enhance trust and authenticity in our reporting. We recognize that trust is crucial in challenging disinformation and fostering meaningful dialogue, and that’s why we’ll be implementing a variety of tactics across social media and other online forums to directly engage with community members. We’ll be aggregating reporting in an online portal separate from newsroom sites.

While it is important to address the presence of extremism within some veteran groups, we want to emphasize that the vast majority of veterans and military members are not violent extremists. However, we know that those limited few who do turn to the extremes have an outsized influence, so we have an obligation to prevent their numbers from rising. We will continue to work with our partners to safeguard our nation, protect our community, and empower veterans and military members against the influence of violent extremist groups.

We welcome your questions, thoughts and suggestions on this effort. Feel free to email me at [email protected]. For more information and updates on our counter-disinformation program, please watch our website for updates as we navigate this complex challenge.