Targeting Extremism in the Military, Defense Department Overlooks Veterans

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While the Defense Department has issued a military-wide “stand down” for troops to discuss the problem of weeding out possible active-duty extremists among the ranks in the wake of the capitol riot, a more difficult problem for the U.S. military to address is that data from the riot shows that allegedly criminal participation in the insurrection on Jan. 6 was far more prevalent among veterans than active-duty forces, reports the Washington Post. Of the nearly 380 individuals federally charged in connection with the riot, at least 44 are current or former members of the U.S. armed forces, according to service records and data, and at least three other veterans are among more than two dozen people charged in D.C. Superior Court for crimes like trespassing and curfew violations. Apart from two Army reservists and a National Guard soldier, all the defendants with military ties are veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs has no dedicated program to combat extremism among former members of the military and has resisted calls to address other factors that contribute to domestic radicalization, such as online disinformation that targets veterans to inflame political tensions.

The Department of Homeland Security is stepping up its efforts to counter domestic extremism under the Biden administration but hasn’t announced any initiatives specific to veterans. The Defense Department can bring certain retired officers back to active-duty status to hold them accountable for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the set of rules that governs the American armed forces, Kirby said, but such recalls are rare and apply only to a limited category of retirees. A report this month from the Program on Extremism at George Washington University and the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy recommended creating a new combined government task force to be led jointly by the Defense Department and VA to deal with the issue by collecting data on criminal and noncriminal extremism-related incidents among service members and veterans and using that information to refine, expand and target current U.S. government warnings on the topic. The report also found that that the percentage of male veterans who have been charged with crimes in relation to Jan. 6 so far is roughly akin to the portion of male veterans in the U.S. population overall, raising questions about whether veterans should be singled out for prevention efforts.

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