Why Did the DIA Invite a Left-Wing Activist to Give a Lecture?

The speech by Christopher Miller, who heads up Ben & Jerry’s social justice efforts, has been canceled.

Ordinarily, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s semi-regular “MasterMinds” lectures are an unremarkable affair: a simple professional development opportunity for the employees of the Defense Department’s agency specializing in military intelligence. The lecture series features speakers with experiences likely to be useful to the career officials and active-duty military who make up the DIA workforce: decorated former Navy SEALs, former special ops commanders, actors with military backgrounds, the DEA agents whose hunt for Pablo Escobar was fictionalized on Narcos. But this week, the agency was scheduled to hear from someone different: Christopher Miller, a leftist activist who serves as “head of global activism strategy” at politics-happy ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s. 

A self-described “rabble-rouser,” Miller’s left-wing credentials are sterling: He cut his policy teeth as a staffer for then-Rep. Bernie Sanders before moving to Greenpeace, where he spent years directing its U.S. climate campaign. In his current role, his speaking bio says, he is tasked with “advancing social justice through the day to day operations of an ice cream company.” He is the driving force behind much of the company’s current aggressive social justice advocacy: the author, this summer, of its widely read “Silence Is Not An Option” statement following the death of George Floyd, which proclaimed that “we must dismantle white supremacy,” accused President Trump of “using his Twitter feed to normalize and promote” the “ideas and agendas” of the white supremacists and nationalists who support him, and called for Congress to establish a commission on reparations.

An internal DIA announcement about the event obtained by The Dispatch made it clear that these were the issues they’d invited Miller to discuss: “He will address Ben & Jerry’s current involvement and initiatives in combating inequality and pressing social issues.” In anticipation of the event, attendees were encouraged to watch a pre-recorded video “where he discusses the history and foundation of Ben & Jerry’s role in social justice issues” as well as the “Silence Is Not An Option” statement.

Miller argues that in fraught times such as these, no one has the option of sitting out politics or not taking sides. That’s the case he makes as a public speaker, arguing that it no longer behooves brands to attempt to remain ideologically neutral. “Grappling with issues of white supremacy, grappling with issues of slavery and legalized segregation … We need to dispense ourselves with the idea that there is a mushy middle here through which either individuals or companies and brands can thread some metaphorical needle,” he said in a June interview with advertising trade publication, The Drum.

All of which seemingly made Miller an odd choice for a government-sponsored lecture to an audience of the military’s top intelligence officials. Didn’t such an invitation run the risk of at least appearing to betray ideological bias among personnel at a key military agency? And wasn’t it strange to see that military agency openly promoting statements explicitly going after the commander-in-chief?

When we reached out to the DIA, they disputed the way the talk had been characterized in their own internal announcement. Miller, they said, was not planning to discuss social justice at all: Rather, DIA Public Affairs Officer LCDR Kevin Chambers told The Dispatch, “Ben & Jerry’s is considered a corporate thought-leader on diversity, and we asked them to share with DIA their corporate communications approach.”

There was no mention of canceling the speech. Instead, Chamber said the agency was expanding its original plan. “However, instead of presenting one or two speakers on the topic,” he said, “we are now developing a strategy for a comprehensive series of speakers and events.”

About an hour later, we received an update: The scheduled talk had been canceled.

A DIA official we spoke to later told us DIA had decided over the weekend to cancel Miller’s presentation over the weekend, and that they had not requested Miller specifically, but had simply asked Ben & Jerry’s to provide them with a speaker. What’s more, he said, “the original invite was about diversity and inclusion and Ben & Jerry’s specific policies about how they incorporate diversity and inclusion in their hiring practices.”

But that claim is hard to reconcile with the original DIA announcement or with Miller’s role at Ben & Jerry’s—he’s a public-facing policy and advocacy guy, not a human resources officer. And, of course, it was a talk on advocacy, not hiring practices, that the DIA announced internally in the first place.

While that announcement said that Miller’s prerecorded video covered “social justice issues” and his company’s support of Black Lives Matter, the official insisted that wasn’t true: “We asked him to make a video that we could show the workforce to kind of promote the event, essentially talking about diversity and inclusion and the efforts at Ben & Jerry’s, and so that’s what the video was about.” The DIA declined to provide us with a copy of the video in question to support that assertion, however. (Miller and Ben & Jerry’s did not respond to requests for comment.)

President Donald Trump’s public promotion of conspiracies about an antagonistic Deep State embedded in the U.S. intelligence community can sometimes make him sound like Alex Jones. But an incident like this, with an agency inviting a prominent left-wing activist to address the staff about that activism—which happens to be explicitly anti-Trump activism—plays to those concerns and does a disservice to all of the hard-working, apolitical national security professionals who work to keep us safe.