On 6 January 2021, a protest in Washington, D.C. turned into an assault on one of our fundamental institutions, the U.S. Capitol. The event shook our country, and the aftermath galvanized the need for change in our military.
The most alarming, and heartbreaking lesson learned is derived from realizing the roles that current and former military members, who have allegiance to extremist groups, played in the assault. Extremist organizations actively recruit from both the active and retired military population in order to gain an understanding of weapons employment and operations planning skills. The advent of social media and mainstreaming of the World Wide Web have given extremist organizations an effective platform through discussion forums and chat rooms to spread their ideology, to recruit, and to encourage violence.
After the assault on the U.S. Capitol, I sent a message to every Timberwolf in the 104th as a reminder of our duties, rights and responsibilities. Our service is a privilege and we are trusted by the American People to protect lives, sensitive information, and to secure our Nation. Involvement in extremist groups destroys that trust and has no place in the military. Involvement could be as simple as liking a social media post that is inconsistent with Army values. Such actions may seem harmless but they have no place in the Army. In light of this, it remains crucial that you always remember that you represent the Army, on-duty and off-duty.
The Pentagon recognized that it had a problem with extremist groups even before the assault. Last December, the Acting Defense Secretary directed a review of “current policy, laws, and regulations concerning active participation by services members in extremist or hate group activity.” Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, the recently confirmed Secretary of Defense, wasted little time in identifying the influence of hate groups, racist propaganda and anti-government sentiment in the officer corps and enlisted ranks as an immediate concern. “We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies,” Secretary Austin stated. “It is incumbent upon each of us to ensure that actions associated with these corrosive behaviors are prevented.” To drive this point home, Secretary Austin ordered a 60-day stand-down across all services to receive training on the incompatible nature of extremism in the military.
In addition to this training, we need to be cognizant of warning signs that someone may be involved in an extremist group. Dr. George Reed, a retired Army colonel and military policeman, who investigated extremist groups for the Army Criminal Investigative Division and has spoken on the topic of extremists in the military. He noted that the individuals exhibited warning signs in nearly every instance in which extremist activity has been identified. “In every case that I’ve been aware of, there were plenty of signals that there were problems,” Reed said. “Those signals range from statements to tattoos and symbology and subscriptions to certain publications to internet activity.” Recognizing the signals and addressing any issues up front will help us purge and prevent extremism from our military.
Leaders at all levels must set the example and take action to address extremist behaviors. Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1325.06, Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces (https://go.usa.gov/xsYGw), is a key resource for addressing the issue of extremist behavior within the ranks of our Soldiers. The DoDI states, “No commander should be indifferent to conduct that, if allowed to proceed unchecked, would destroy the effectiveness of his or her unit,” Enclosure 3 of DoDI 1325.6 specifies the procedures each command will take to both identify and address extremist behaviors, as well as to protect the rights of our Soldiers, including their right to complain and request redress of grievances against the actions of their commanders. It also reinforces the utility of a solid open-door policy, a policy I maintain and expect of each of my leaders at every level to maintain.
Extremism has no place in the Army, and it is not congruent with the Seven Army Values. As we support Cadet Summer Training at Ft Knox, Cadet Basic Training at the United States Military Academy and Initial Entry Training, be on the lookout for not only extremist behaviors, but also discriminatory or inappropriate behaviors or comments that divide as oppose to unite. Remember in many cases the example that you set will stick with these Soldiers for the rest of their lives. Make it a good one.
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