Joe Kent: Our Generation’s War

The Populist Interviews: Joe Kent on the Republican Party, America First, holding Washington accountable, and more

Joe Kent is an Army veteran and Congressional candidate for Washington’s 3rd district. Born in a cabin in Sweet Home, Oregon, he grew up in Portland and spent his formative years in the Cascades and Columbia River Gorge, thanks to the Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts. 

At the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the Army as an infantryman and graduated into the Ranger Regiment and then Special Forces. After 9/11, he volunteered for combat, and served for twenty years and more than eleven combat deployments. His world was turned upside down on January 16 2019 when his wife Shannon Kent was killed fighting ISIS in Syria, approximately one month after President Trump attempted to pull American troops out of Syria.

Kent returned home to be with his two young sons, initially in Portland, and then Yacolt, Washington. Seeing the Establishment’s hubris and contempt for President Trump, he decided to get involved in electoral politics. Like other candidates including Blake Masters and J.D. Vance, he is a strong advocate of America First policies. He won a Republican primary in the Washington state against Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler in August of this year. 

For our series of interviews with dissident thinkers and populist politicians, we decided to reach out to Mr. Kent. What follows is an exclusive interview between Kent and writer Lafayette Lee, recorded on August 24, 2022. The transcript has been edited for clarity.

— The Editors

“We thought our war would just be overseas and that we would all come home and finally relax a little. But that’s just not the case. Our country is in a downward spiral, and we have been given a special gift of clarity.”
— Joe Kent

Lafayette Lee: Joe, can you tell me how you went from being a Boy Scout in the Pacific Northwest to a Ranger and Green Beret, and then to running for the United States Congress?

Joe Kent: I believe God has a plan for everyone. I always felt a call to fight, whether it was physical or what we’re both doing now in the political arena. It’s always really appealed to me, the challenge. I think a lot of this is God’s plan, but a lot of it just breaks my heart, too. There were still many great institutions like the Boy Scouts when we were growing up. Seeing what happened to them, it almost seems like so much of what we’re talking about now could be captured by that meme of the little girl standing in front of the World Trade Center, “The world you knew no longer exists.” I didn’t grow up in a small town in the South or Midwest, I grew up about a mile from downtown Portland. I had a pretty normal childhood, two amazing parents with traditional Christian values and a Boy Scout troop that was just really great. My troop showed me hard work, leadership, and initiative. From there I was blessed enough to go into Ranger Regiment right before 9/11. They gave me some good training, and then I was on my way to Special Forces. So I was born in 1980 and just old enough to already have some skills when 9/11 happened, and then to be in the right spot — Special Operations — and go to 5th Special Forces Group when Iraq was hot. There were multiple times when I thought I was going to die, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t ask myself why my wife got killed. Why didn’t I get killed? But again, it all goes back to faith. And as long as the country is in crisis — and we are in a huge crisis now — I feel like it’s on me to use all the skills and experiences I’ve gained to do something meaningful. When you have kids everything changes. You have a lot more skin in the game. Would I be doing this if I didn’t have kids? I don’t know. But my kids have really propelled me forward. 

Lafayette Lee: You’ve been dubbed a “Class Warrior” as part of a new coalition of pro-working class Republicans. What do you make of that? 

Joe Kent: We are in an interesting spot right now where the conservative movement and Republican Party are realigning with the working class. The American working class has been left behind, and the Republicans are just as guilty as the Democrats. For a long time, most Republicans held to a more libertarian way of thinking, believing that if something was good for the market then it would benefit everyone who participated in it. So, if it was cheaper to ship our jobs overseas to access foreign labor markets, then it was seen as a net positive for the country. But we didn’t think about the catastrophic effects that would have on our people. Pat Buchanan and some of the early America First Republicans hit on it, but I don’t think anyone articulated it as bluntly and honestly as President Trump when he came onto the political scene. I don’t know if Trump will ever get enough credit for shifting how Republicans talk, but I think it’s slowly and painfully becoming the mantra of the Republican Party. We need to realize that those who benefitted most from globalization did so on the backs of the working class, and so we owe it to our people to make sure they have jobs that can afford them to support and raise families. We have to admit that American labor will never be able to compete with certain foreign labor markets. We don’t use slave labor here as they do in China, and so it will always be cheaper to make things elsewhere. Therefore, we are going to have to start going against what has almost been a religion of the free market.  

Lafayette Lee: If you were to imagine a completely and successfully reformed Republican Party ten years from now, what would it look like? 

Joe Kent: I think we have to have a vision that we’re striving towards, just like we would in the military. Our mission statement should be that we are a nationalist party that fights for working-class families. And that covers what we have to do for the economy, like bringing back manufacturing. We’re blessed here in America. There are many countries that aren’t blessed with our natural resources, and so they will always depend on some form of global trade. I don’t think we have to, especially with energy and manufacturing. So let’s bring that back, but then let’s also make family formation our goal. People need to have the ability to leave high school and get a good-paying job that allows them to get married, purchase that home, and basically live the dream of our G.I. Generation. When that generation came back from war, they were able to do these things because they were rebuilding our country. We still had a manufacturing base, and there was government assistance. This is another spot where traditional Republicans will have some heartburn, but I think we need to be doing everything we can to set up an economy for working families. I think tax deductions are a really good idea. I don’t want the government giving people money for simply having kids, but if you have families that are living within their means and not taking any kind of social assistance, I think they should be getting some form of tax deduction — a reward that will incentivize them to have a parent stay home. I think that would be a net positive for the economy and for our culture, as well. I think that’s the direction we need to go.

Lafayette Lee: Do you feel optimistic about the future of the “America First” movement? 

Joe Kent: I am optimistic. I think we have an opportunity to save our country, but I’m also realistic, this isn’t going to be easy. We passed up all the easy decisions 10, 15, maybe 20 years ago, and right now we only have difficult decisions to make. I think it’s going to get quite ugly, but we can’t back down from that. We have to keep steady pressure on. There are still well-established, vested interests in Washington D.C., but overall, the America First movement is winning. Look at how much of a departure everything from economics to immigration to foreign policy is from where the Right and the Republican Party were a decade ago. A decade ago the Republican Party ran Mitt Romney. We still have a lot of work to do, but things are changing. And the left is exposing itself over and over. The dissident Left no longer exists. All the most interesting left-wing dissidents, even if they don’t want to admit it, are slowly coming over to our side. The Right is just so much more self-aware, and dissent is essentially dead on the Left. I think that self-awareness appeals to most honest people today, even if they don’t agree with certain policies.

Lafayette Lee: From your earliest experiences in the Boy Scouts of America to the US Military, you have been passed through several important rites of passage. A common observation today is that American youth, particularly young men, have less access to such growth opportunities. What can young men do in a world where these kinds of rituals are increasingly scarce?

Joe Kent: Unfortunately, young men coming up now have to be much more deliberate than our generation was. Now that I have sons of my own, I’m finding that it’s very hard to find these traditional, masculine institutions that were so available while we were young. You need to go out and find them. I think parents from our generation have to be more deliberate in seeking these things out for their children. I don’t know if there’s a policy solution here. Obviously, I think we need to restore our military into being a lethal meritocracy again, where we are more worried about closing with and destroying the enemy than pronouns and Critical Race Theory. But we need to have a major shift in our culture. I talk about bringing back our manufacturing, and there’s always an economic angle to everything, but I think we need to make every effort to bring back the culture of hard work being a honorable thing. Not everybody is going to be an Instagram influencer or sit behind a computer in the laptop economy. And for a lot of people, it would make them miserable. There’s a lot of value in just going out there, working really hard, and building something or providing a critical service. If you listen to our ruling class, Americans are just too dumb to do STEM but also too lazy to go out and work hard. I don’t buy it. I think we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. It’s going to be really hard, especially for those of us raising young men. Without healthy rites of passage they’ll find themselves in a horrible place, and the problem will manifest itself in everything from school shooters to hollowed-out men addicted to pornography without a moral compass or the skills necessary to start a family. If we don’t get control of this, I believe technology will outpace us and we will risk losing everything. We have to make a concerted effort to retain and restore our culture.

Kent (left) talks with two people who attended his speech in Longview, Washington. (October 2021)

Lafayette Lee: In recent years conservative lawmakers have expressed frustration with the size and scope of the administrative state. Many on the Right insist the federal bureaucracy is where the American regime’s true power lies, and that Congress and even the Presidency are mostly ceremonial offices. What are your thoughts on this? And what can a newly-minted Congressman do about it? 

Joe Kent: I agree that the Administrative State is accountable to no one. Technically, we can vote the bums out of Congress every two years, every six years in the Senate, and every four years for the Executive, but no voter elects people like Merrick Garland or Anthony Fauci. These figures just linger in government. What we can do is use the appropriations process in Congress and take control of the budget to demand accountability and reform. But we need to come in with some teeth. We’ve had these hearings before. And while we haven’t had a specific hearing yet on the FBI kicking in Trump’s door at Mar-a-Lago, we’ve had years of Russiagate. We need to be willing to defund and reform these organizations. We can’t just continue rubber-stamping their budgets. I feel this way about the vast majority of our government agencies, especially our intelligence services, law enforcement agencies, and the IRS. The biggest power we have in Congress is defunding these organizations. I think it’s going to be a knife-fight over the next two years, but if we can get an America First president in there, we will be able to enact some serious changes like Schedule F and begin impeaching some of these unelected bureaucrats. This is really important for us, for those on our side – America First and the Dissident Right – to capitalize on the ways the Administrative State has exposed itself. The Mar-a-Lago raid is one of those things. Same thing with the Afghanistan withdrawal. We simply need to go after the Security State, the DoD, and the Intelligence Community and demand accountability.  

Lafayette Lee: You have called repeatedly for accountability for the failures of the Global War on Terror. Who should be held accountable, and what would accountability look like to you? 

Joe Kent: If I had my way, we would go back to the very start of the War on Terror and hold people accountable. I would like accountability for the Iraq War. I would like to know why we decided to stop pursuing Osama Bin Laden when he crossed the border into Pakistan. There were critical points where conscientious decisions were made that went against the best interests of the American people and had nothing to do with vital national security interests. But I have to be realistic. When we go to Congress in 2023, we have to start holding people accountable for the Afghanistan withdrawal. The way it happened was so horrible that we have strong grounds to start there and then work our way backward. So far no one has been held accountable for the strategic blunders made on our way out the door. A lot of this is due to Biden’s lack of leadership and the fact he opposed the peace negotiations Trump fought for in Afghanistan. But the military is also responsible. The reason why Milley, Austin, and McKenzie have done such a good job making all this go down the memory hole is they were lying to the Biden Administration, just like they lied to Trump, just like they lied to Obama, and just as they lied to Bush. Thirteen to fourteen months ago, we were hearing that the Afghan Army was going to fight because they were a well-trained fighting force we had invested 20 years of blood and treasure into — and it all unraveled within just a couple of months. You also have the tragedy at the Kabul airport. I think we have to start right there. Who was making the decisions to leave Americans behind? What about the strike that killed those aid workers? That stuff does happen on the battlefield, but I think there was a deliberate narrative operation to make it look like the Taliban was our partner and we were going to reach some sort of intelligence-sharing agreement. That way we could leave a footprint there and fund them just like we did the Shia militia groups in Iraq. There were a lot of backchannel machinations taking place throughout the Military Industrial Complex. We need to look into the Summer of 2020, when Trump was attempting to pull our troops and the Russian Bounties issue suddenly came up. I mean, we now have members of the Intelligence Community basically bragging that they lied about the entire thing and colluded with the media. We also have members of Congress who moved heaven and earth to prevent Trump from pulling our troops out. At the bare minimum, we shouldn’t have lost those thirteen servicemembers. It’s very similar to the way my late wife lost her life, along with three other Americans. In both situations, there were people behind the scenes working to prevent Trump from pulling our troops out. So we should start there and work backwards. And I do think criminal charges are appropriate when it comes to individuals like Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley. At the very least they should be made to resign in disgrace.

Lafayette Lee: Like other Republicans, you have accused the Biden Administration of purging conservatives from the US military through federal vaccine mandates. Assuming Republicans regain power in Washington, what should be done about the recent dearth in recruitment?  

Joe Kent: This is one of the hardest questions I get on the campaign trail, usually from young men around 17 or 18. I had to go speak at a high school recently, and some of the kids there were interested in joining the military. Several told me they had always wanted to be a Green Beret, another wanted to be a SEAL. I could really see myself twenty years ago in some of these young guys. And they asked me, “Should I go in now?” I told them that it was a really uncomfortable question for me, because of everything I know about what has happened to the military, my answer would be “no, don’t do it.” But every fiber of my being as a warrior makes me want to say that it’s the best thing in the world and a great adventure. I want to talk their ears off and tell them how to train for it. So on a personal level it really breaks my heart to see what’s happening to the military right now. You and I realize this, but I don’t think a lot of people recognize the fact that the military Joe Biden inherited on January 20, 2021, is the most battle-hardened military America has ever had. Every other time we’ve had to go fight a war we drafted people, and then when the war was over, we demobilized and lost our combat effectiveness. But never has America had an all-volunteer force that’s been consistently at war for so long. Especially when you look at the ground-pounding Army and the Marines, they’ve been over there fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a bunch of places in between for the past twenty years. So Biden was handed this amazing military, this heroic military, and rather than take care of these people and make the military stronger while learning from past mistakes, he decides this group is a threat. We know who goes into the military. These are hard-working kids that really believe in America. But to make sure they would be on board with his program, Biden conducts an “extremist purge” right away, and insinuates that at least half of these guys, if not sixty or seventy percent, are “white nationalists” and terrorists. The government goes through their Facebook profiles in search of secret insurgents, and then the Special Operations Community gets put under the microscope. That had a major demoralizing effect on them. People felt targeted, and for good reason. Then came the vaccine mandate, which I always thought was a more effective way to finish the “extremist purge.” It’s one thing to know someone’s political ideology, it’s another to know they’ll do exactly what you say, when you say it. That’s control, and control is what it’s always been about. Biden followed a tactic used by authoritarians the world over, and it’s had a catastrophic effect on our ability to fight. Many of the individuals leaving the military now are highly skilled with years of experience and training. These are the types of people we need to stay in the military for twenty years and build up the organization. It’s really no shock that recruitment numbers are down. Again, who joins the military? In many cases, it’s a hard-working Type-A who loves his country, might be slightly skeptical of the vaccine, and is probably a little conservative. But they simply aren’t showing up. You can throw all the signing bonuses and free college money at these guys, but most of them aren’t going to join. They have other things they can do. 

Lafayette Lee: I’d like to ask you a question I was asked recently. As a veteran, how do you reconcile your patriotism and love of country with what is happening? How do you deal with this feeling of free fall? And what do you say to other veterans who are struggling with this? 

Joe Kent: That’s why I got into politics. I look at the direction we are headed, and I know if we don’t take action now, we are not going to be able to answer that question for our kids. Of course, when we were over there fighting the War on Terror, there was a point when I realized we were all dancing to the tune of the Military Industrial Complex and our ruling class. But initially, especially after 9/11, the country really came together. There was a reason we were going overseas and fighting. That motivation right there is the same reason guys kept signing up for multiple deployments year after year. People were still joining the military at the height of the surge, all because they believed in their country. That is what built this nation. It’s the same spirit our forefathers and grandfathers had. And so what do I say to our generation, the GWOT generation? I say our fight’s not over. We thought our war would just be overseas and that we would all come home and finally relax a little. But that’s just not the case. Our country is in a downward spiral, and we have been given a special gift of clarity. We saw things clearly in 2020 with the COVID lockdowns and the riots, especially the riots and the violence. Thankfully, most Americans don’t have much experience with violence. But violence is a very real feeling to those of us have experienced it. We especially know how political violence unfolds. And so I think we need to use the clarity we gained overseas and help steer our country back on course. The stakes are just too high. And it’s true that our generation already did a lot of heavy lifting in their 20s and 30s, but here’s the deal, it’s still on us. These other generations, by no fault of their own, just don’t have the life experiences to equip them for this fight. They just simply don’t. So older millennials and Generation X, this is on us. 

Lafayette Lee is a writer.

Read also:

The New Republicans: An Interview with Blake Masters, by Mark Granza

Requiem for The ‘Stan, by Samuel Finlay

Country Party Reprise, by Lafayette Lee

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