Fact Check

No, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Isn't Considering 'Defunding, Maybe Disbanding' US Army

A meme shared on Facebook was mocked up to look like a screenshot of a news article.

Published Jan. 25, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Defense, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin testifies at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee at the U.S. Capitol on January 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. Previously Gen. Austin was the commanding officer of the U.S. Central Command in the Obama administration. (Photo by Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images) (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)
Image Via Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin considered "defunding, maybe disbanding" the Army and leaving national defense to China.

In late January 2021, readers sent Snopes a meme circulating on Facebook that was mocked up to look like a screenshot of part of a news article that falsely reported newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin planned on "defunding, maybe disbanding" the Army, and relying on China to provide national defense.

This is not a screenshot of a real news article. Rather, it appears to be an altered image spread around Facebook for the purpose of sharing misinformation. The screenshot included the byline of Joe Gould, a reporter for the military-oriented news website and magazine Defense News. No such article penned by Gould or any other reputable journalist exists.

Austin was confirmed as the first Black secretary of defense by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote in the U.S. Senate on Jan. 22, 2021, with 93 Republican and Democratic senators affirming his position. It is hard to imagine Austin would have gained such resounding support from members of the Senate from both parties had he proposed such an outlandish policy as replacing a branch of the U.S. military with Chinese forces.

During his confirmation hearing, Austin talked about maintaining the American military's strategic advantage over, and countering any potential threat posed by, China.

It appears that the meme is meant to exploit racist and xenophobic sentiments by using the term "defund" in reference to the military to falsely link Austin's leadership with unrelated Black Lives Matter protests over the spring and summer of 2020. During those protests, activists participating in civil rights demonstrations against police killings of Black Americans had called for defunding of police departments.

It also leverages baseless conspiracy theories about links between U.S. President Joe Biden and China, which were promoted by Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for ... read more