Pentagon Sets New Rules to Flag Extremists in the Military

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Photo by Joel Rivera-Camacho via Unsplash

The Pentagon has issued new guidelines regarding social media usage and online behavior as a way to root out extremism in the U.S. military, noting that “liking” content related to white nationalism and extremist content and its likeness could result in disciplinary action, according to the New York Times

The announcement comes nearly a year after the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, which saw dozens of current and former military personnel participate. Just a few weeks ago, Congress ordered the Defense Department to do a better job reporting and tracking extremist behavior among troops.

Under the new rules, reposting or “liking” extremist content will be viewed as advocacy and thus subject to military discipline.  The Pentagon is also updating its screening of recruits and will look at how to prepare troops who are retiring from being targeted by extremist organizations after leaving the military, Defense Department officials said. 

“The overwhelming majority of the men and women of the Department of Defense serve this country with honor and integrity,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in the memo. 

“They respect the oath they took to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

He added, as quoted by the New York Times, “We believe only a very few violate this oath by participating in extremist activities, but even the actions of a few can have an outsized impact on unit cohesion, morale and readiness, and the physical harm some of these activities can engender can undermine the safety of our people.”

Meanwhile, Chief Pentagon spokesperson John F. Kirby points out that the new rules on social media activity do not give the Defense Department the ability to monitor the personal accounts of every armed services member.

Instead, under this new ruling, commanders will be expected to talk to their troops to determine whether further steps were needed when problems are exposed through “various streams of reporting.”

Additional Reading: Ranks of Neo-Confederate Group Include Politicians and Military Officers

Extremism Among the Ranks

The Military Times details that as authorities were investigating the January 6 riots, the FBI uncovered a “disproportionate” number of participants had military connections. Roughly 100 service members were identified as being involved in extremist activity in 2021, but some experts suggest the number of sympathizers is greater.

The investigation found that the Army reported 33 allegations of “racially motivated violent extremism,” while the Navy had 30, the Marine Corps had seven, and the Air Force reported none.

In the anti-government/anti-authority extremist-support category, there were 34 Army reports, 14 Navy reports, 25 Marine Corps reports — despite Marines making up about 10 percent of the total force ― and none from the Air Force.

To that end, Air Force reported 102 allegations of “domestic violence extremism participation,” which is not clearly defined, while the Marine Corps recorded the most allegations of anti-government beliefs. 

Taking an overhead view of this data, Defense One reports that research shows that the number of people with military backgrounds who committed criminal acts motivated by extremist views has jumped during the last 10 years. 

Even when participants in the January 6 Capitol riots are remembered from the data set, University of Maryland researchers found that “the average number of people with military backgrounds who engage in those criminal acts has jumped from 6.9 to 17.7 per year.” 

This report was prepared by TCR Associate Editor Andrea Cipriano.

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