Military Should Distro Mikey Weinstein “Lessons Learned”

The miniature scandal involving Michael “Mikey” Weinstein complaining about a human interest story of an Airman’s missionary trip revealed an important insight to how Weinstein’s money-making attacks on US military Christians work. With emphasis added:

The command began reviewing the article on Jan. 27 after the watchdog group Military Religious Freedom Foundation demanded it be taken down. MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein, in an email to 433rd AW Vice Commander Col. Aaron Vangelisiti, called the article a “shameless and incredibly prominent and public promotion” of religion on official Air Force websites…

Over the course of emails back and forth, Vangelisiti assured Weinstein that his concerns were pushed up the chain to Command headquarters…

Weinstein said Vangelisiti said a formal response was being readied on Thursday and would be released Friday after being approved by the wing commander, Col. William W. Whittenberger Jr.

Perhaps more so than the other branches, the US Air Force thrives on “lessons learned.” In every debrief, pilots discuss the successes and failures in the sortie and identify “focus points” or “lessons learned.” While there is debate over the terminology, the basic premise is that ways to improve are identified and shared among the group to prevent the repetition of errors and improve the success of the unit — and, thus, of the mission.

The question here, then: Why are military commanders corresponding in “emails back and forth” with Mikey Weinstein at all?

The Air Force learned long ago that corresponding with Mikey Weinstein was not wise. As early as 2010 the Air Force JAG Corps cautioned commanders against engaging with Weinstein, yet it would seem some commanders continue to do so. In many cases, commanders have subsequently found themselves in the national news — and even had to reverse themselves and undo their response to Weinstein’s demands after public outcry.

Congress has even become involved and demanded to know why Weinstein has seemingly unfettered access to the US military. After all, does Sam Jones of Toledo really think he’ll get a personal reply from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force if he sends him an email?

Yet that’s precisely what Weinstein received, and so unlikely did it seem that even Weinstein didn’t believe it was General Welsh replying at first.  The personal attention was used to grant the appearance of legitimacy to Weinstein’s cause, to the Air Force’s detriment.

Many military commanders have received Weinstein’s demands.  A few have engaged with him and taken action based on his accusations — and then not only had to reverse themselves, but then figure out how to stop Weinstein from spamming them forevermore thereafter.  Indeed, General Welsh, after a few emails (“back and forth,” like Vangelisiti), ultimately told Weinstein to stop emailing him; yet Weinstein continues to send the Air Force CSAF regular emails making demands and accusations, as if the top General in the US Air Force has nothing better to do — or no one more important with whom to speak.

Many commanders — and many Generals — have learned this. Those who have taken the lesson to heart now ignore Weinstein, despite his incessant emails. (This is a technique the Army has used quite well, which may explain why Weinstein focuses on the Air Force.) Yet Weinstein still manages to find commanders who have apparently never heard of him, and many commanders still engage with him — despite the significant black eye the military receives when it does.

Given that military engagement with Weinstein garners congressional attention, commanders would do far better to treat him like every other citizen: Thank him for his interest in national defense, and tell him to have a nice day.  That’s it.  Anything more threatens not only the reputation of the military, but also the liberties of US troops.  In this case, for example, the appearance that the Air Force was legitimizing Weinstein’s complaint might be enough to stigmatize public expressions of faith such that Airmen might self-censor in the future, despite the fact they don’t need to.  Of course, that very stigmatization is one of Weinstein’s goals.  He doesn’t have to fight an expensive court battle if he can win the war of perception.

Importantly, while Weinstein’s ability to get a reaction from the military in this incident made the news, the fact that the Air Force Reserve Command hasn’t bowed to Weinstein has been far less publicized.  As far as much of the public is concerned, Weinstein “won.”  And given that publicity (and fundraising) is as much his goal as anything else, that may actually be true.

That’s a “lesson learned” it seems many commanders don’t know.

Given that General Welsh has personally experienced Weinstein (though he is likely now shielded by his staff), he could potentially solve much of the problem by enlightening his commanders about the dangers of engaging with Weinstein — an extremist who represents a religious hatred inconsistent with the character of the US Air Force, making him unworthy of being granted special attention by Air Force personnel.

That would be an effective use of a repeated “lesson learned.”

(As an aside, its worth noting the problem of external agitators isn’t new to the US military, which makes the issue of Weinstein’s apparently “successful” agitation so interesting.  One unique issue with Weinstein, and which may explain his staying power, is that he has ideological allies within the military itself… and some of them are very well-placed.)

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