Yes, White Rage Is Real

And why it’s inherently destructive.

angry white man STILLFX & Vulp / Shutterstock

Editor's Note: This was originally published in June 2021.

During a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed back against criticism from Republican lawmakers that the military’s efforts to understand and reduce white extremism is “woke.”

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Responding to several lines of questioning from Reps. Matt Gaetz and Michael Waltz about the teaching of critical race theory and white supremacy in the military, Milley gave an impromptu and impassioned speech about the importance of understanding the driving forces behind violent acts of extremism, much like the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.


“I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read. I want to understand white rage, and I’m white, and I want to understand it,” Milley told the committee. “What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out. It’s important that leaders now and in the future do understand it.”

Milley then went on to indirectly criticize Gaetz for his previous claims that the military is forcing troops to study Marxism. “I’ve read Mao Zedong, I’ve read Karl Marx, I’ve read Lenin — that doesn’t make me a communist,” he continued. “So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are personally here to defend?”


“I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our non-commissioned officers of being quote ‘woke’ because we are studying some theories that are out there.”

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Milley’s comments come in the midst of a nationwide, conservative-led effort to whitewash American history and vilify critical race theory —an academic concept based on the premise that racism is a social construct that is embedded in America’s laws and institutions.

Republican politicians, like Gaetz and Waltz, however, have stripped the legal framework of its original meaning and turned it into the latest moral panic, using it instead to refer to any mention of race and racism in any academic setting.


Despite the fact that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin informed the committee earlier in the hearing that the military is studying extremist behaviors and not critical race theory, Milley went out of his way to defend the legal theory anyway, noting that it is important to teach military personnel about the ways in which institutional racism and the legal system have intersected throughout history.

He even made a point of specifically mentioning the ways in which Black Americans have been legally discriminated against and disenfranchised, citing the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws enacted after the Civil War and the amount of time and effort it took to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

According to Milley, learning about the history of racism and white supremacy in America can help troops better understand and combat white rage and extremism.

Since the hearing, however, white conservative pundits and commentators have gone on the offensive and are now claiming that white rage was not responsible for the attack on the Capitol because it doesn’t exist. This assertion is as false as it is ludicrous.


This is not exactly the first time someone has rightfully blamed the insurrection on white rage or white grievance. Dozens of scholars and writers have autopsied the Capitol attack and the months leading up to it and found that it was fueled by white identity politics and former President Donald Trump’s racist dog whistles.

The 2020 election cycle saw record voter turnout, especially among Black Americans and other people of color.

That kind of voting power is perceived as a threat to those who wish to maintain their position in the social hierarchy. White Trump supporters roamed through the halls of the Capitol waving Confederate flags and shouting racial slurs at Black police officers guarding the building.

All the while, white Republican lawmakers, like Sen. Josh Hawley, waved and cheered them on. Not to mention, the sheer eagerness and willingness expressed by white conservatives to overthrow democracy just because it is no longer serving them — and them alone.


Despite the outrage and objection, white rage is real and it’s inherently destructive. 

Nearly months after the insurrection, white Republicans are destroying trust in the electoral process by continuing to lie about the results of the 2020 election and are using this distrust to make it harder for people of color to vote, even at the expense of disenfranchising members of their own party. If that’s not white rage, I don’t know what is.

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Catherine Caruso is a freelance writer with a focus on culture, politics, and LGBTQ+ rights. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Global Citizen, Liberal Currents, Medium, and more.  follow her on Twitter.