Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., appeared to defend white nationalists in a recent interview by suggesting they should not be barred from serving in the military, prompting his office to clarify the remarks.
In an interview published this week by Birmingham-based radio station WBHM, Tuberville criticized the state of the military and said Democrats were to blame.
"We are losing in the military — so fast — our readiness in terms of recruitment," said Tuberville, a member of the Armed Services Committee. "And why? I can tell you why. Because the Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists, people that don’t believe in [President Joe Biden's] agenda."
Asked whether he believed white nationalists should be allowed in the military, Tuberville said: “They call them that. I call them Americans.”
A spokesperson said Wednesday that Tuberville’s comments were an expression of his skepticism that white nationalism was an issue among service members.
"Sen. Tuberville’s quote shows that he was being skeptical of the notion that there are white nationalists in the military, not that he believes they should be in the military," Steven Stafford said in a statement first shared with AL.com.
Stafford separately told NBC News that Tuberville "has kind of a sarcastic sense of humor" and that "he was expressing doubt about this being a problem in the military."
"I think if people hear his tone of voice, it’s clear what he’s saying," Stafford said, adding that Tuberville was "referring to this specific training issue that lots of other people, lots of other senators have talked about."
The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.
Tuberville has expressed opposition to training that aims to rid the military of extremists. At a March 28 hearing with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Tuberville suggested Austin had put service members through "hell" by requiring "a mandatory training to root out extremists."
Austin responded that the military has "always had regulations against extremist behavior."
A Pentagon report from 2020 that was made public the next year detailed examples of white supremacy in the military without providing an estimate of the number of white supremacists in the services and called for changes in recruiting methods to identify any applicants’ possible ties to domestic terrorism. Months later, Austin ordered new steps to address the threat posed by extremism in the military.