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For veterans, toxic rhetoric and political polarization are a new source of division.


After surviving some of the bloodiest combat in Afghanistan, the men of the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment stayed connected on social media for support at home as they grappled with the fallout of war.

Those close online connections offered something the veterans’ health care system did not: common ground, understanding, friends ready to talk day or night.

But those connections have been frayed to breaking by the partisan rancor of 2020. The Facebook group the men once relied on for support is now clogged with divisive memes and partisan conspiracy theories, disputes over policing and protests, and, of course, strong views on the president.

The din has driven a growing number of members to log off in dismay. Many say they still want to support their fellow Marines but cannot stand the toxic political traffic.

“It hurts my soul to see all this childish drama,” said Keith Branch, a former infantryman of the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment. “Brothers that formed bonds in war, I see them becoming broken over childish arguments. I disconnect from it — I’m already dealing with post-traumatic stress. It hurts too much to look at it.”

Party strategists and analysts tend to treat veterans as a homogeneous voting bloc, conservative-leaning and focused mainly on defense and benefits issues. In 2016, exit polls showed that veterans backed Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton by nearly two to one. Demographics are part of the reason — veterans skew old and male and white, and so does the core of Mr. Trump’s support.

But veterans are increasingly diverse in their outlook, and deeply divided over the coming election. Younger veterans and active-duty troops, who tend to include more women and are less white than older veterans, are especially split. And with those splits have come the same type of infighting among veterans that is now so common at family gatherings.

“There are many stories of battle buddies that fought together in combat together, and now they won’t talk because of politics,” said Alex McCoy, a former Marine who is now political director of Common Defense, a political action group working to mobilize veterans to vote against Mr. Trump. “It’s heartbreaking.”



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