A group of alumni of the Virginia Military Institute has launched a political action committee attacking its first black leader over what they say is a “woke assault” on school culture — blasting efforts to make the oldest public senior military college in the US more welcoming to women and minorities.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins, 60, became superintendent of VMI in October 2020 after serving in an interim capacity when Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III resigned amid allegations of a racist culture at the venerable school.
Then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat and VMI alumnus, ordered an investigation into racism and the school board voted to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson from the campus in Lexington.
The probe found that VMI had long tolerated a “racist and sexist culture” and needed to change.
But ever since VMI introduced new diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, a group of well-funded, mostly white conservative alumni from 1985 — the year Wins graduated — has led an all-out assault on the woke efforts, according to the Washington Post.
Ex-Marine Matt Daniel, 60, a fellow “brother rat,” as VMI classmates are known, founded the political action committee dubbed “Spirit of VMI” to fight the 183-year-old school’s new progressive efforts.
“Reject the woke assault on VMI. Close ranks,” one of the PAC’s websites declares, the newspaper reports.
Spirit of VMI has questioned why the school’s Board of Visitors awarded Wins a $100,000 bonus on top of his annual salary of $656,000 – despite a 25 percent drop in enrollment.
The PAC has posted cartoons on Facebook mocking Wins’ initiatives and published one in a newsletter showing a woman stuffed upside down inside a garbage can with a “DEI” sign, for diversity, equity and inclusion, the paper reported.
The school’s DEI office, which will be renamed the Diversity, Opportunity and Inclusion office, is led by two black women — Jamica Love, who is on a leave of absence, and acting chief Briana Williams.
Daniel, who once served as the cartoonist for the student paper, is believed to have created the mocking illustrations, according to the Washington Post.
He declined to answer when the paper asked him about his role in the cartoons.
In November, Wins reportedly reacted to a cartoon by writing on Facebook that Daniel was “looking desperate and racist,” but later deleted the post and apologized to his “brother rat.”
The Spirit of VMI also said in a statement that its criticism of Wins was not racially motivated.
The PAC recently posted an essay on its blog that DEI’s “purpose is to cow Americans into agreeing with the fundamental premise that white people are inherently and irredeemably racist,” according to the outlet.
“Many of the people appointed in DEI departments act like gangsters, employing the Cancel Culture tactics of fear and intimidation to control their minions,” it reportedly added.
The Spirit of VMI also ran ads in the student paper showing QR codes for conservative videos by advocacy group PragerU claiming DEI “is ultimately about only one thing: advancing those who are not White, heterosexual and male at the expense of White, heterosexual men, regardless of their respective qualifications,” according to the Washington Post.
The clash between Daniel and Wins has upset many fellow alumni.
“I am brokenhearted,” former Army Capt. Palmer Hamilton, a white 1985 classmate who worked with Daniel on the student paper, told the outlet.
“I am witnessing something analogous to what is happening in our country with red and blue divisions. Matt loves VMI, and Cedric is the same way. They love what VMI can do for our country,” he said.
“Matt’s afraid that’s going away — and that DEI promotes differences and erodes the way the school strips away your identity. Cedric’s burden is, ‘How do I keep the train on the tracks?’” Hamilton added.
Terrace “Terry” Thompson, 60, a black ’85 grad, said Daniel was one of the nicest cadets at VMI, adding that he still has one of his old cartoons.
“If you lined up 100 of my brother rats — all of them white — and asked me which one would turn on the future black superintendent, he wouldn’t be the one I’d say. Not Matt,” the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel told the paper.
“One question I would ask him is, ‘Do you want VMI to go back to something? If so, then what?’” he added.
Spirit of VMI, which has 800 followers on its Facebook page, has raised more than $273,000, according to the Washington Post.
The PAC has held meetings with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and gave his gubernatorial campaign $25,000, the newspaper reported.
In July, it boasted that it had recommended two of VMI’s four new board members appointed by Youngkin.
Daniel did not respond to the Washington Post, but the PAC shared the newspaper’s questions in a blog post.
The group accused the paper in a fundraising appeal of defending “the political jihad” against VMI and vowed not to be “slowed or intimidated by weaponized journalism.”
Wins, who also declined comment, has maintained strong support from VMI board President Tom Watjen, who told the paper in November: “Every time he gets attacked, I feel attacked.”
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