Pentagon Efforts To Root Out ‘Extremism’ Almost Entirely Ignore The Left

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently released a “Report on Countering Extremist Activity Within the Department of Defense,” an outgrowth of Austin’s January 2021 call for a worldwide “stand down” on extremism in the military.   

Critical race theory (CRT) advocate Bishop Garrison, Austin’s senior advisor for human capital, diversity, equity, and inclusion, heads the Countering Extremist Activity Working Group (CEAWG), which produced the 21-page report. Garrison’s panel included several representatives of the leftist American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), but conservative attorney Michael Berry, general counsel of the First Liberty Institute, was summarily removed.

The resulting CEAWG report recommended updates to a Defense Department Instruction (DoDI 1325.6), which defines and prohibits “active participation” in “extremist activities.”  These include, “Advocating, engaging in or supporting terrorism” [or] the “overthrow of the government of the United States.” 

The Pentagon also forbids, “Advocating or engaging in unlawful force or violence to achieve goals that are political, religious, discriminatory, or ideological in nature.” New regulations add, “Military personnel are responsible for the content published on all personal and public Internet domains, including social media sites, blogs, websites, and applications.”  

The devil here is not in the details; it will be in interpretations. Would a soldier’s “like” on a post “Joe Biden is not the president,” for example, be punishable as extremist behavior?

Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin asked that question at a Pentagon briefing. Spokesman John Kirby dodged the “hypothetical,” but referred to updated rules against posting, liking, sharing, re-tweeting, or otherwise distributing content [including emojis] when such action is taken with the intent to promote or otherwise endorse extremist activities.” 

Kirby added, “If you’re advocating for, as I said, the overthrow of the government, or you’re actively undermining the oath that you took to the Constitution . . . then all that fits.” 

With the politicized, woke culture taking hold in the Pentagon, actions reflecting independent thought could jeopardize careers. Advocates of voter identification measures, for example, have been accused of “threatening democracy” and “promoting election sabotage.” 

Former FBI assistant director Andrew McCabe has put conservatives in the same category as Islamic terrorists, and some partisans see military “extremism” everywhere. In a Washington Post op-ed, three retired general officers hyperventilated about their fears of another attack on the U.S. Capitol, writing, “We are chilled to our bones about a coup succeeding next time . . . a military breakdown could lead to civil war.” In a still available 2019 tweet, Garrison himself accused Trump supporters of “normalizing” the actions of “extremists,” and “racists.”

Under the new rules, local commanders will be responsible for reviewing individual cases and punishing anyone “Advocating widespread unlawful discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

Definitions of unacceptable activities are extremely broad and could apply to situations that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment. As with COVID vaccination mandates, accommodations for religious liberty are unlikely.

So, if a female Naval Academy midshipman opposes biological males in her own or other women’s swim teams, is she advocating “unlawful discrimination” based on gender identity?  The Supreme Court’s 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County ruling expanding transgender employment rights did not apply to the military, but some will argue that it did. 

Extremism of any kind is unacceptable, but Austin’s obsession with radicalism in the ranks has not been proportionate or even-handed. Out of two million military members, the CEAWG report admits that incidents are “rare . . . fewer than 100 over the past year.”

Griffin asked Kirby for a breakdown: “What portion if any, [were] members of the sort of groups that you might consider white supremacist groups or were there also some who may have been present at a Black Lives Matter protest?”

Kirby said he had no specifics, a peculiar response since the Defense Department tracks everything from bullets to battleships. Four research contractors are working on DOD anti-extremist projects, but training materials concentrate on extremists on the far right of the political spectrum, not the far left.

This makes no sense because, as Mollie Hemingway noted in her book, “Rigged,” the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) tracks incidents of violence instigated by extremist groups of both the right and the left. Kevin Roberts of the Washington Examiner cited ACLED in reporting, “of 1,101 violent incidents across 97 days, 933 of them directly involved Black Lives Matter. That’s 84.7% of the civic violence in America across summer 2020.” 

You would never suspect such a disproportionate ratio looking at last year’s “standdown” discussion guides, which included four examples of “problematic behaviors” – all of them referencing neo-Nazi and white supremacy groups.

The CEAWG report includes a passing reference to the “Fort Hood shooting” in 2009 but missed the opportunity to educate military personnel about warning signs of violent extremism. This was not, as the report suggests, an example of poor “recruit screening.”

Officials at Walter Reed Medical Center, where Army Maj. Nidal Hasan had been a resident, knew that the failing psychiatrist was espousing jihadist threats. “Flashing red light” warning signs, including a lengthy slide presentation that defended suicide bombers and fratricide, clearly indicated that Hasan was a “ticking timebomb.”   

According to an NPR report, however, colleagues “worried they might be ‘discriminating’ against Hasan because of his seemingly extremist Islamic beliefs.” The self-described “Soldier for Allah” was transferred to Fort Hood, where he murdered 13 adults and one unborn baby. 

Presaging today’s “woke” military, Army Chief of Staff General George Casey said, “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.” 

There have been many jihadist attacks in the military, but the Pentagon’s blinders remain firmly in place. Regulations should forbid unlawful force, violence, or gang activities that endanger lives, but those rules should apply at both ends of the political spectrum, not just one.


Elaine Donnelly is President of the Center for Military Readiness, an independent public policy organization that reports on and analyzes military and social issues.



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