An Independent Investigation of Racism at VMI?

As one pastor in his sixties mentioned recently, “I would have thought VMI [Virginia Military Institute] to be one of the last bastions,” meaning, of course, among those institutions most committed to preserving the best of Western civilization, including the rule of law, freedom of expression and religion, and the traditional values that every generation of Americans took for granted until the 1960s. All this and more is under assault as part of the ongoing sociocultural revolution in our land, one that divides citizens based on race or other identities to the empowering of those seeking political advantage. We witness daily an activism that purports to establish a perverse sameness of outcome (a form of Marxism) irrespective of one’s knowledge, competence, character, or diligence – in reality, it aspires to a shared misery – except, that is, for those whom prodigious, conservative scholar Thomas Sowell refers to as the “anointed” ones at the top of the heap, who, in time, will liquidate (or “cancel” in today’s parlance) those naïve souls whose labors put them there. For any doubters, take a cursory read of the miserable records of Lenin circa 1920 (Soviet Union), Mao circa 1960s (Communist China), and Maurice Bishop circa 1980 (Grenada), whose deceptions, lawlessness, and brutalities harmed, or carried off, countless victims among their own countrymen.[1]  

In early 2021, after about six months of agitation on the part of a small number of individuals – some of them graduates of VMI – assisted by members of the media interested mainly in advancing The Narrative of the day, an investigation of structural or systemic racism (terms used interchangeably in the literature) at VMI is underway as we write. To say that the investigation is “independent” from Richmond, however, is akin to saying that private Chinese manufacturers of military equipment are independent from Beijing.       

For background, in July 2020, following allegations of racism at VMI – accompanied in some cases by calls for the removal of the school’s statue of “Stonewall” Jackson – the superintendent announced initiatives which, if given some time, could have helped resolve any legitimate racial concerns at the oldest state-supported, four-year military college in the nation. General J.H. Binford Peay III directed that the Institute was to shift focus from its first century’s record to its second century – in essence, devoting less attention to the school’s roots in the Confederacy but without disparaging those who served that government with honor and competence. Peay directed a varied approach including a new American civics course to be required for all second-year cadets.[2] Further, VMI was to add course offerings in non-traditional, ethnic fields, including African history and the African-American experience. Unfortunately, neither the governor nor a number of other political leaders in the Commonwealth were willing to wait for these measured steps to take effect. (For more details, see the Abbeville Institute article, Jan. 7, 2021, linked here.  

On October 19, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam wrote to VMI’s Board of Visitors to announce an impending investigation, the opening line of which reads like a preemptive nuclear strike: “We write to express our deep concerns about the clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism at the Virginia Military Institute” (linked here is Northam’s letter, Oct. 19, 2020).[3]

Note the governor did not state his “deep concerns” about certain reports “of ongoing structural racism” at VMI. Why not? Is not innocent until proven guilty still one of the basic principles of law and culture in our country and throughout the West? Well, not if Critical Race Theory (CRT) takes hold generally in the culture – as appears to have happened already in Richmond. Does the fact that Gov. Northam and no less than ten other State political leaders – including the Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Speaker of the House, Senate President pro tempore, House and Senate finance committee chairs, and House and Senate majority leaders – explicitly declared that VMI is guilty of structural racism prejudice the investigative process in the least? (An investigation that will cost Virginia taxpayers at least $1 million.) We think to ask the question is to answer it.  

In defining CRT, mathematician and cultural critic author James A. Lindsay refers to a leading book, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, which states: “[CRT] assumes that racism is present in everything under a doctrine known as ‘systemic racism.’” The authors (Richard Delgado, Jean Stefancic) declare systemic racism to be “the ordinary state of affairs in society, present in all interactions, institutions, and phenomena, and effectively permanent in society (short of a full sociocultural revolution that puts them in charge).”[4] An essentially Marxist ideology, CRT views all relationships in terms of oppressors (whites) and the oppressed (non-whites). (Note that CRT is intellectually incapable of handling historically oppressed white groups such as the Jews or Southern white tenant farmers; their theory falls apart.) Lindsay refers to another CRT authority, Robin DiAngelo, who writes that according to CRT, “The question is not ‘Did racism take place?’ but ‘How did racism manifest in that situation?”[5]

To make a point, a third writer – not a tall man – recalls others having commented on his stature over the years. Wisely, he has come to view such incidents as occasional shortism – unkind behavior related to stature on the part of certain individuals – rather than what he calls, hypothetically, “systemic shortism,” by today’s illogic. Professor T. David Gordon continues:

I believe referring to “systemic” racism where it does not exist is not only untrue, it is dangerous. It permits some people to feel free to destroy anything – public or private –since, after all, such things are “part of the system,” and “the system” is fundamentally unjust. Anarchists do exist, though in a relatively small number. But they can do greater damage than their number suggests, the way one angry child can destroy in seconds a sandcastle that other children took several hours to build. The language of “systemic racism” or “systemic injustice” is therefore quite different in its effect than that of “occasional racism” or “occasional injustice,” either of which is to be expected in an imperfect world.[6]

Today’s pure-in-their-own-eyes CRT theorists look “Critically” for racism until they find it. Irrationally and indefensibly, there is no need for any evidence of racism. Neither does CRT allow for any neutrality. The theory demands that one devote oneself to its tenets – or else one is part of the problem, thereby ensuring incessant turmoil, divisiveness, even violence for any organization it touches. One is not wrong to view CRT as a kind of works-based religion, with race-related works the only good works that merit salvation. The CRT ideology is a pernicious poison for an individual, an institution, or a culture to adopt.[7]

Returning to the governor’s assertion of a “clear and appalling culture” at VMI, on what basis or authority is such language and verdict to be accepted? An answer is demanded by any civilization or culture that hopes to survive. But, alas, the theory of “Critical Race” requires one to accept that racism is “baked-in to all of society,” as another expert writes.[8] Actual evidence is entirely beside the point – and the point is a reordering of all of society, indeed, the creating of a new reality (we’ve seen this several times before – with the anointed in charge, and disastrous outcomes). If Richmond accepts this newer version of an older secular religion, then it’s game-over for any investigation. And this stuff appeared on the official letterhead of the “COMMONWEALTH of VIRGINIA, Office of the Governor”? As Israel’s David mourned, “How have the mighty fallen….”[9]

In the present writers’ view, every one of those eleven individuals – each of whom has affixed his or her signature to the governor’s letter, beginning with Gov. Northam himself – has demonstrated their unfitness for public office and should be called upon by Virginia’s citizens to resign. Furthermore, the fact that Ralph Northam, a VMI graduate and former President of the Honor Court, appears to have abandoned time-honored values is troubling, to say the least. 

The organizations promoting CRT are frighteningly clear about what they believe. Sensing victory, they do not hide their intentions. The best known among them, Black Lives Matter (BLM), boasts, “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” (a traditional Marxist aim). The Movement 4 Black Lives (M4BL) – a partner organization of BLM – openly states, “WE ARE ABOLITIONIST: We believe that prisons, police and all other institutions that inflict violence on Black people must be abolished [emphasis added] and replaced by institutions that value and affirm the flourishing of Black lives.” BLM joins the demand for police defunding. Much more of their hideousness is out there for the reading. As The Heritage Foundation rightly observes,

The goals of the Black Lives Matter organization go far beyond what most people think. But they are hiding in plain sight, there for the world to see, if only we read beyond the slogans and the innocuous-sounding media accounts of the movement.

The group’s radical Marxist agenda would supplant the basic building block of society – the family – with the state and destroy the economic system that has lifted more people from poverty than any other. Black lives, and all lives, would be harmed.

Theirs is a blueprint for misery, not justice. It must be rejected.[10] 

Three millennia ago, wise Solomon wrote, “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied.”[11] So it is with CRT and its foot soldiers today, accentuated at the start of February by an apparently serious slavery reparations bill that passed the Virginia House of Delegates. Noted historian Walter McDougall asks (borrowing from Malcolm Muggeridge), why is it “that the quest for heaven on earth always ends in a gulag?”[12] (Note that gulag, in essence, is tantamount to the present-day “reprogramming” that some radicals are calling for; for people like us, that is.)

VMI and Virginia’s voters have a tough decision to make: immediately reject in toto the pernicious poison of CRT and call into question the objectivity of the investigation flowing from it, or lose VMI in any historically recognizable form. At the very hour that our culture is struggling to find present-day examples of honor, discipline, duty, and diligence, the Institute should be held up as a beacon for a brighter future, not the object of scorn by Richmond politicians – regardless of how pristine they think themselves. 

And for readers who are not associated with the Virginia Military Institute or the Commonwealth of Virginia, rest assured. If CRT destroys this bastion of traditional values – which remains a big if – it will be coming to an institution near you.

Forrest L. Marion, VMI Class of 1980, with Carmen D. Villani, VMI Class of 1976, Former President of VMI Honor Court


[1] For the best overall work covering the short operation on Grenada in 1983, see Mark Adkin, Urgent Fury: The Battle for Grenada (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1989); for a single chapter overview, see Forrest L. Marion, Brothers in Berets: The Evolution of Air Force Special Tactics, 1953-2003 (Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.: Air University Press, 2018), chapter 5.

[2] Forrest L. Marion, “Virginians must assess the new VMI civics course,” Roanoke Times, Oct. 11, 2020.

[3] Letter, Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, et al, to Mr. John Boland (president) and members, VMI Board of Visitors, Oct. 19, 2020 (accessed at link, article, Rich Griset, “Northam calls for VMI racism probe,” Virginia Business, Oct. 20, 2020).

[4] James Lindsay, “What Is Critical Race Theory?” New Discourses, Jan. 10, 2021.

[5] Ibid.; James Lindsay, “Wokeness Threatens the Rule of Law,” New Discourses, Nov. 18, 2020.

[6] T. David Gordon, “Systemic Racism?” The Aquila Report, Nov. 11, 2020. This was part 3 of a three-part series.

[7] Lindsay, “What Is Critical Race Theory?” New Discourses, Jan. 10, 2021.

[8] Ray M. Sanchez, “Critical Race Theory and New Racism: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here,” The Aquila Report, Oct. 1, 2020.

[9] 2 Samuel 1, several references.

[10] “ABOUT US, WHO WE ARE,” m4bl.org, [Jan.] 2021; Mike Gonzalez and Andrew Olivastro, “The Agenda of Black Lives Matter Is Far Different From the Slogan,” The Heritage Foundation, Jul. 3, 2020.  

[11] Proverbs 27:20.

[12] Walter A. McDougall, . . . The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997 [1985], 451 [emphasis in original].

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