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Defense Secretary Austin announces measures to combat extremism within military


Secretary Lloyd Austin announced new actions Friday that the Defense Department will take to combat extremism within the military. 

Republicans in Congress are concerned that targeting extremism could mean singling out conservatives. 

Among those moves is establishing a definition of extremist behavior, training on how to identify when service members are being contacted by extremist groups and screening questionnaires for information about current or past extremist behavior.

The Pentagon chief, in response to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, ordered all military leaders to gather with their units by the first week of April to discuss what extremism within the armed services looks like and how to report it. Thirty-seven military veterans and active-duty service members were charged for their involvement in the riot. 

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“I’m very concerned that we’re seeing people through all walks of society lose their jobs and other things simply because of a Facebook post or some other post that was made when somebody was mad,” Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the matter weeks ago. 

Some Democrats have also expressed concern that the military could inadvertently target members for their political or religious views. “It is not the case that extremism is simply anyone who disagrees with your political views and I think increasingly I’ve seen some who sort of take it to that level,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. “People who serve in the military are entitled to have political views. Those views will undoubtedly be different from each other.”

Other Republicans say the problem of extremism in the military is overblown. 

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“We lack any concrete evidence that violent extremism is as ripe in the military as some commentators claim,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the committee’s top Republican. “While I agree with my colleagues that these numbers should be zero, this is far from the largest military justice issue facing our armed services.”

Some Democrats also expressed concern over the military inadvertently punishing troops for their political opinions or religious views. “It is not the case that extremism is simply anyone who disagrees with your political views and I think increasingly I’ve seen some who sort of take it to that level,” said Smith. “People who serve in the military are entitled to have political views. Those views will undoubtedly be different from each other.”

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An internal briefing compiled by the Defense Department Insider Threat Management and Analysis Center, and obtained by Politico, divided extremism into three different kinds — “patriot” extremism, anarchist extremism and ethnic or racial supremacy.

“Be aware of symbols of far right, far left, Islamist or single issue ideologies,” the briefing warned. 



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