The Department of the Air Force plans to rename two of its bases in Florida from Air Force Bases to Space Force Bases. While the move is not new, the timing has raised eyebrows, since US President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the Pentagon’s 2021 spending bill over controversial provisions for rechristening US military bases named after Confederate figures.
Several US officials anonymously informed Defense One on Monday of the Air Force’s plans, which they said will unfold at a Wednesday ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Atlantic coast. The two bases to be renamed are Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which will become Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, respectively.
Patrick was due to be renamed earlier this year, but the Air Force put off the move until after the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the decision to rename it now, amid the worst phase of the pandemic yet, seems strange.
However, the more controversial aspect of the name change is that it reportedly violates a “gentleman’s agreement” not to push ahead with the move until Trump signs the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Objecting to two parts of the massive spending bill that funds the Pentagon, Trump has promised to veto it if it crosses his desk without his demanded changes.
On the one hand, Trump has called for a line that would repeal Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which protects internet companies from liabilities created by content users post. Trump has called it “So bad for our National Security and Election Integrity,” and presumed US President-elect Joe Biden told the New York Times last year that it should be revoked as well. If the section were revoked, it would make sites like YouTube and Twitter legally the publishers of content users post on their sites, prompting them to tightly police that content, lest they be potentially sued for it later.
The other issue in the NDAA is a proposal for renaming US military installations named after heroes of the Confederacy, a short-lived breakaway state that lost the 1861-1865 US Civil War. The Richmond, Virginia-based rebellion was spearheaded by members of the white Southern planter aristocracy who feared the imminent abolition of slavery and the freeing of 4 million enslaved Black persons.
While slavery was abolished after the war, the planter class wasn’t, and their rapproachement with the Union heralded the return of white supremacy in the form of Jim Crow and a downplaying of the role Confederate political and military leaders had in defending or participating in slavery, resulting in several US bases being named after them on the basis of them being American generals.
The nationwide uprisings against racism and police violence that rocked the United States in the summer of 2020 brought forth new demands for an end to positive remembrances of the Confederacy, such as the naming of streets, public buildings and military bases after Confederate figures, as well as the removal of public statues of those figures. Trump has called the efforts an erasure of history and an aspect of “cancel culture.”
However, neither base is one of the 10 named after Confederate figures. Patrick AFB is named after Maj. Gen. Mason Patrick, the first commander of the US Army Air Corps, and Cape Canaveral’s name dates to the 16th century, when Florida was a Spanish colony.
Patrick AFB is also one of six finalists in the race to host the future headquarters of the US Space Force, which is part of the Department of the Air Force. The Space Force was officially formed in December 2019, and the christening of its first dedicated military bases is intended as part of a birthday celebration for the force, Defense One noted.