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Tim Steller's opinion: Space Force commander from Tucson earns consequences for speaking out — again
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Tim Steller's opinion: Space Force commander from Tucson earns consequences for speaking out — again

Matt Lohmeier’s removal from his position as a Space Force commander made him a cause célèbre among some conservatives and earned him an appearance on Sean Hannity’s show on the Fox News Channel.

Matt Lohmeier knew that taking a stand could lead to discipline.

He spoke out anyway and faced the consequences.

“It was simply the result of taking a stand for what I had come to believe was the truth,” he said.

Lohmeier, 39, was a Tucson kid who became an Air Force fighter pilot and rose to lieutenant colonel, joining the new Space Force in 2018. This month, his steep upward trajectory came crashing down.

Lohmeier was removed from his position as a Space Force commander because of statements he made after self-publishing a book. In the book, “Irresistible Revolution,” he argues that Marxism is spreading in the U.S. military through training sessions about diversity, equity and inclusion and threatens to undermine the services.

The firing made him a cause célèbre among some conservatives, with Republican congressmen labeling him a whistleblower, and Lohmeier scoring an interview Tuesday on Sean Hannity’s show.

But the comment Lohmeier made about taking a stand for what he believed was the truth? That actually came years ago and did not concern his recent decision to speak up in the military.

It turns out, Lohmeier’s decision to write the book was the second big choice he made in recent years that challenged the authorities of an organization he belonged to, putting himself at risk of discipline.

In 2014, Lohmeier spoke out forcefully against teachings he disagreed with in his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He was passionate about his faith, but he disagreed with church doctrine that told members to take the word of church leaders as if it were from Christ himself.

“I felt an obligation to take a stand for the truth in the face of the teaching that we can’t be led astray by our leaders,” he said.

As in the military, Lohmeier’s taking a stand for his truth had consequences. Whether his choices were brave conscientious stands or naively self-involved — that’s another question.

‘It was clarity,

and it was peace’

As a teen on the east side, Lohmeier was torn between two big religious institutions, the Catholic Church of his father’s family and the LDS Church of his mother’s family. He was a freshman attending Catholic high school when he chose the Mormon faith. The next year he switched to Sahuaro High School.

Lohmeier explained his background and religious experiences in minute detail during a six-hour podcast published in 2017 on a series called Mormon Stories. He did not respond to my request for an interview, and his parents, who live in the Tucson area, said they could not speak for this column.

In the interview, Lohmeier told host John Dehlin that in high school he carefully analyzed the arguments of skeptics of the LDS Church. Finally, he prayed for an answer to a question that would make or break his faith — was Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, a true prophet of God?

“It was the first time I can remember in my life having a sure, clear answer come to me,” he said. “It was clarity, and it was peace.”

When I asked a Facebook group for the Sahuaro High Class of 2000 their memories of Matt, they uniformly applauded him as a “stand-up guy.” He was humble despite his good looks and athletic stardom, he treated people with respect, and he clearly had a bright future, they said.

Lohmeier led the Sahuaro boys basketball team to the state championship in 2000, playing under the same coach, Dick McConnell, who had coached his father.

He was a great player. That, Lohmeier told Dehlin, is why he ended up at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It wasn’t his grades or his upstanding behavior. He remembered himself as much less of a standout guy than his classmates on Facebook did. He recalled himself swearing a lot, egging cars, not wanting to read assignments and getting in trouble.

But his basketball skills gave him a chance to fly.

‘Given a gift

of discernment’

In Colorado Springs, Lohmeier became focused on the idea of meeting Jesus in this life, he told Dehlin. But when he tried, it didn’t happen, and when he went off to Taiwan to serve a mission, the opposite did.

In the podcast, he told the story of being rousted from a late-night work session at the mission office in Taipei by a buzz of the doorbell. Several stories down at the front door, he and his fellow missionaries and mission leaders encountered a woman they concluded was possessed by the devil.

“We were mocked and jeered and verbally attacked by the voices of men coming out of this woman,” he said.

They tried and tried, and eventually were able to drive the demon out, he said.

“As a result of that experience I was given a gift of discernment between light and darkness,” Lohmeier said. “Every time I shook someone’s hand, every day of my mission after that, I’d look in their eyes and I’d shake their hand, and I’d tell instantly whether or not the light of Christ was the guiding influence in their life or whether Satan was the guiding influence in their life.”

“I can’t explain it, and I don’t have the gift today.”

Upon his return from the mission, Lohmeier graduated from the Air Force Academy and eventually married Sara McConkie, the granddaughter of a prominent LDS leader. He became a pilot and instructor, eventually flying F-15s.

Active and enthusiastic church members, the Lohmeiers were also inquisitive. And their reading and questioning led them eventually to the writings of an increasingly prominent LDS dissident thinker.

Denver Snuffer Jr. teaches that the church has clouded Joseph Smith’s vision by becoming a sort of corporate bureaucracy, and that anyone, not just the top church leadership, can have revelations allowing them to communicate with God or Jesus. He was excommunicated in 2013. But a movement of snuffer's followers formed, many considering him a prophet.

The Lohmeiers were among them. And in 2014, approaching a crucial step in his church life called a “Temple recommend,” Matt Lohmeier wrote a letter to his stake president declaring his relevant beliefs. (The stake president plays a role similar to what the bishop does in a Catholic diocese.)

Citing a lecture at the church’s general conference, Lohmeier wrote, “Once again, the premise of his talk is that members of the church should focus their attention on the leaders of the church; that our eyes should be on the leaders, and that they will not and cannot lead us astray.”

“These teachings which were clearly and unequivocally taught in general conference, are unscriptural,” he wrote. “They point to men instead of Christ. They are anti-Christ. To preach these ideas in the name of Christ, is to take the name of the Lord in vain.”

“I will stand on the side of truth even if I stand alone; though I am not alone,” he wrote.

The next year, the Lohmeiers were subject to a church trial. They ended up excommunicated.

‘Rhetoric

of genocide’

That traumatic experience was only five years past when, in November 2020, Lohmeier began to work on his book. He was motivated by a similar righteous urge to tell his truth.

“I’ve done it to be true to myself, to fulfill the obligation that was resting with me, and to honor the oath I have taken to defend the Constitution of the United States,” he wrote in the book’s afterword.

I read “Irresistible Revolution” last week. Lohmeier has a good point to make, I think, deep in the layers of recitation and argument about American exceptionalism, Marxism and genocide. Yes, genocide.

I would summarize his good point this way: If the military is going to train people in cultural and racial inclusion, the training sessions should help move service members toward a common purpose, not divide them and undermine cohesion.

He goes so much further, though. Lohmeier argues the critical race theory-based sessions he has seen in recent years are Marxist and deliberately attempt to divide and undermine the military. Critical race theory is an academic framework that argues racism is embedded in American society and law, and that the country requires anti-racist actions to achieve equitable outcomes.

He also reasons that anti-conservative rhetoric in society after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot — a riot he blames in part on “Antifa agent provocateurs,” something investigators reject — could naturally lead to genocide against them.

Citing an episode of the “Tucker Carlson Show” on Fox News, Lohmeier wrote, “The Progressive Left’s appalling invective had reached an unbelievably low, mean and accusatory state. I recognized that kind of speech. It was the ideologically possessed rhetoric of genocide.”

Lohmeier did not seek permission to publish or offer his book for review to the relevant authorities. He told Military.com reporter Oriana Pawlyk that he consulted with base legal counsel and the public affairs office, and that he was told he had the option to have his book reviewed prior to release, but that it was not required.

Professional

consequences

He should have had somebody review it — preferably someone who disagrees with him. We all need an editor. With one, he might have avoided the book’s illogical leaps and noticed his own blind spots.

The key one is his view that the motive for the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and the racial equity trainings he’s seen constitute an attempt by Marxist movements to divide the country and undermine the military. He doesn’t give a passing thought to the possibility that the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 provoked sincere outrage about police violence and racism and a drive to address those problems.

Almost as important, Lohmeier has repeatedly said he considers his work nonpartisan, but that is simply untrue. It is a thoroughly political tract that treats politically conservative thought as default neutrality and anything else as political partisanship.

In a passage of astonishing hypocrisy at the end of his book, Lohmeier counsels fellow service members this way, “To the best of your ability, strive to remain apolitical in your speech in the current hyper-politicized environment. This means that partisan policy discussions fall outside your sphere of activity.”

Despite all those problems with the book, a military spokesman said it was not the book itself, but Lohmeier’s statements on a podcast — they did not state which of a couple of podcast interviews — that convinced them to remove his command. On an interview with L. Todd Wood, he accused an unnamed Pentagon spokesman of saying there were too many white pilots — something the Pentagon denied and that I could not find in the record.

He also said, “In recent American history, neo-Marxist thought has found a welcome home in the Democrat party, or in left domestic politics. What you find in the U.S. military is that if you’re a conservative, then you’re lumped into a group of people labeled extremists.”

Matt Lohmeier has the right to make all these statements, of course, and he has benefited from doing so: The book was a top seller on Amazon before going out of stock. But it is arguable that military guidelines required him to submit the book for review.

Beyond that, for an active-duty officer to imagine that making these highly charged, partisan arguments would not lead to professional consequences shows either naivete or borderline narcissism. Claims of his martyrdom ignore this.

Based on his recent experience in the church, Lohmeier should have known what would result. And maybe he would have known if he still possessed that ability he says he once had — the gift of discernment.

Tim Steller is an opinion columnist. A 25-year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his conclusions.

Contact him at tsteller@tucson.com or 520-807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Tim Steller is an opinion columnist. A 25-year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his conclusions.

Contact him at tsteller@tucson.com or ​520-807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter


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