Utah Sen. Mike Lee calls for defunding the U.S. military amid abortion policy debate

Lee, without evidence, accused Pentagon officials of spreading misinformation about a U.S. senator.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee — who has used his personal “BasedMikeLee” X account to claim the flooding that trapped thousands of people at the Burning Man festival was “God’s judgment” and to spread conspiracy theories about COVID-related lockdowns — is now taking aim at the Department of Defense.

In a Thursday night social media rampage, Utah’s senior senator called for cutting off funding to the U.S. military.

Lee has vigorously defended Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s month-long blockade of hundreds of military promotions to force the Biden administration to rescind a policy to provide leave and reimburse travel expenses for service members and their families to travel to other states for abortions. Service members cannot choose where they are stationed and may be stationed in a state that does not allow abortions after the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade last year.

Tuberville’s hold on promoting military leaders is now entering its eighth month.

Lee’s frenzy of social media posts on Thursday appears prompted by comments from Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, saying Tuberville’s hold was “aiding and abetting communists.”

“As someone who was born in a communist country, I never would have imagined that actually one of our own senators would actually be aiding and abetting communist and other autocratic regimes,” Del Toro, who was born in Cuba, said in an interview with CNN.

Del Toro’s comments came after he, along with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, penned an op-ed in the Washington Post calling on Tuberville to back down.

Lee posted to X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, more than 25 times on Thursday to condemn the attacks on Tuberville.

“(Del Toro) is a good man, but what he said was indefensible,” Lee posted, adding the hashtag “Apologize.”

In a subsequent post tagging Del Toro’s official account, Lee again demanded an apology.

Lee calls the military’s abortion policy “a novel trick” since federal funds, generally, cannot be used to pay for abortions. Lee took his criticism a step further to claim that the policy “encourages” military members to seek abortions. The Pentagon says the reimbursements and travel allowances are not specifically for abortion since they are for service members seeking other reproductive medical services, like in-vitro fertilization, according to Military.com.

Responding to a post from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announcing new military assistance for Ukraine, Lee said Thursday night, “Stop funding abortion travel. And stop demonizing @SenTuberville for calling you out.”

Lee also called on Austin to either rescind the military’s abortion policy or resign.

The senator’s tirade later took on a more conspiratorial tone, citing a Washington Post report that the Pentagon was reviewing clandestine military influence operations to shape public opinion, with Lee suggesting without evidence that those systems may have been turned against Tuberville.

“I’m not willing to assume the Pentagon hasn’t used this domestically — to influence political opinions they don’t like,” Lee posted. “@SecDef, have you used this against @SenTuberville?”

“Who else have they attacked, whether overtly or covertly? Who will be their next victim? Do we really want a military that attacks American citizens — just to win their own political battles?” Lee posted.

Springboarding off his speculation that the Pentagon was targeting Tuberville, Lee pivoted to a topic he frequently posts about on social media — the plight of U.S. Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis, who is serving a three-year sentence in a Japanese prison after pleading guilty in a car accident that killed two Japanese citizens.

Without offering any evidence, Lee claimed that the Pentagon spread misinformation about Alkonis.

“While I can’t prove it with certainty — perhaps because the Pentagon is really sneaky (as it should be when fighting our enemies, but not us) — I’ve got reason to believe that the Pentagon spread misinformation about Lt. Ridge Alkonis,” Lee said.

In March, Lee’s account was temporarily suspended when he issued empty threats of reprisal against Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida if he did not immediately release Alkonis from prison.

Lee, who does not sit on any committees overseeing the military, then called for defunding the military in response to his claims of overreach.

“@SecDef flouts the law to encourage military abortions. Then he uses his vast resources to defame those who call him out for it. It’s time to de-fund @SecDef,” Lee said.

Lee’s office did not respond to a request for comment about his calls to cut military funding or what evidence he had to back up his claim the Pentagon had spread misinformation about Alkonis.

Correction, 4:50 p.m. • The spelling of Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro’s name has been corrected.