Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed the department to have a one-day “stand-down” within the next two months to address extremism in the military and ensure “service members, DoD civilian employees, and all those who support our mission” work in an “environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment.”
Austin’s Friday memo to senior Pentagon leaders, Defense agency and DoD field activity directors says that Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1325.06, “Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces,” will give leaders “the core tenets to support such discussions.”
“Such discussions should include the importance of our oath of office; a description of impermissible behaviors; and procedures for reporting suspected, or actual, extremist behaviors in accordance with the DoDI,” Lloyd wrote. “You should use this opportunity to listen as well to the concerns, experiences, and possible solutions that the men and women of the workforce may proffer in these stand-down sessions.”
Some extremists across ideologies who have launched attacks were utilizing skills they learned or honed in the military, and extremist movements have recruited active-duty service members and veterans. More than a third of those polled in a 2019 Military Times survey said they had personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism within the ranks.
With current and former service members among those under investigation for the Capitol riot, a senior defense official recently told reporters that “we clearly recognize the threat from domestic extremists, particularly those who espouse white supremacist or white nationalist ideologies,” and “know that some groups actively attempt to recruit our personnel into their cause, or actually encourage their members to join the military for [the] purpose of acquiring skills and experience.”
After the FBI vetted thousands of National Guard members from around the country who came to D.C. to help secure last month’s inauguration, a dozen were removed from the detail for either having ties to extremist groups or posting extremist views online.
Austin wrote that “without question, the vast majority of the men and women of this Department serve with honor and uphold our core values.”
“We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies,” he said, adding that “it is incumbent upon each of us to ensure that actions associated with these corrosive behaviors are prevented.”
The stand-down will be “just the first initiative of what I believe must be a concerted effort to better educate ourselves and our people about the scope of this problem and to develop sustainable ways to eliminate the corrosive effects that extremist ideology and conduct have on the workforce,” Austin wrote.