Former white supremacist

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Coming just a few weeks after the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin feels like another blow to our country. Too much violence, too much hatred, and too many innocent people hurt.

The thing that strikes me, though, is the way the news media manage to work in “former military” and “veteran” into every description of the shooter.  The guy was discharged back in 1998; more to the point, he had been involved with the white supremacist movement for over a decade. There is no way to know exactly which of those two life experiences led him to this point, but my money would be on the group that taught him to hate people with brown skin.

When James Holmes opened fire on a theater of innocent people, the storyline  wasn’t “neuroscience grad student gone bad.” Jared Loughner, Seung-hui Cho, and David Koresh also committed horrifying acts of violence, but not one of them had been in the military.

Lots of men and women serve their country with honor, then go on to lead peaceful, productive lives. So what’s the fascination with intoning “former military” when senseless violence occurs? Maybe it is a result of the shrinking number of Americans who are shouldering the burden of service:

This lack of familiarity has serious consequences.  Although there have been plenty of “support the troops” stickers during the last decade of war, those troops face significant employment discrimination when they come home.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that

Young male veterans (those ages 18 to 24) who served during Gulf War era II had an unemployment rate of 29.1 percent in 2011, higher than that of young male  nonveterans (17.6 percent).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that

Many human resources and recruiting personnel have limited experience with servicemembers and veterans. As a result, some have erroneous perceptions about veterans and the impact their combat service could have in the workplace and with other employees. This includes misperceptions about PTSD and TBI. One employer expressed concern about the risks of the veteran “exploding” at work. Easter Seals employment specialists have reported that many veterans who have recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan do not put their combat experience on their resume due to employer stereotypes. (emphasis added)

Navy veteran Dan Honig, COO of www.MilitaryVetJobs.com, says

The economy makes it difficult for anyone looking for a job right now and it’s gotten worse for those who are or were in the military. Our troops face discrimination from companies on many fronts now. It used to be just a perception issue for returning soldiers — a lack of understanding of what trained service people can bring to the table as an employee or how military skills can be utilized in a civilian workplace. Increased media attention around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has made some employers more concerned about the stability of those who have served in a combat zone, and now organizations are discriminating in hiring those who haven’t been deployed yet as well, the reservists and National Guardsmen.”(emphasis added)

Sticking “former military” into headlines about a white supremacist’s shooting isn’t just lazy, grab-bag journalism — it also hurts active-duty service members and veterans.