The three-star general in charge of strategy for the Air Force issued a grim warning for the United States on Thursday after extremists attacked the Capitol: The nation is now under a greater threat than it was after 9/11.
“To be clear: It is my personal opinion we are in danger of losing our republic,” Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements, wrote on Twitter. “Real danger.”
In a series of tweets posted Thursday afternoon, Hinote described the numbness he felt, then grief and depression, that followed the 9/11 attacks. He feels the same today, he wrote.
That attack, however, came primarily from an external threat.
“Today, our internal division is our biggest threat, and it is being exacerbated skillfully by state and non-state actors that want to see us weakened & discredited,” Hinote said.
What’s more, Hinote said, 9/11 came largely as a surprise. Yesterday’s attack at the Capitol, however, came after many indications that violence was coming, he said — “Yet we still couldn’t stop it.”
The internal divisions plaguing the United States pose a threat to the nation that 9/11, as horrible as it was, never did, he said.
“Only we can be the authors of our last chapter, and we are well on our way,” Hinote said.
It does not seem likely that the nation can now come together the way it did after 9/11, he said, “Yet we must.”
“The test of leadership in our generation is now sharply focused: will we rise above our personal interests & political divisions to find a way to rise above?” Hinote concluded. “We have to, or this experiment will fail. I’m going to try...”
In response to a question on Twitter about how to bring the nation together when some of those fostering divisions espouse racist or white supremacist ideas — including cases where white supremacists have been in the military’s own ranks — Hinote said, “I would like to think that our military can help to lead cultural change in the broader society.”
“At a basic level, we [the military] bring together a diverse group of citizens & mold them into a cohesive force,” Hinote said. “When it comes time for them to return to society, they can take the experiences of caring for people that are not like them.”
Hinote is a decorated F-16 and F-117 pilot and Air Force Academy graduate who helped patrol the no-fly zone over Iraq as part of operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch. He holds a doctorate in military strategy from Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, and became deputy chief of staff last June.
Valerie Insinna contributed to this report.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.