Senate defense bill signals opposition to Pentagon’s extremism efforts

The Pentagon is seen on Thursday, November 4, 2021 in Arlington, Va.
Greg Nash
A view of the Pentagon on Nov. 4, 2021, in Arlington, Va.

The Senate Armed Services Committee signaled opposition to the Department of Defense’s efforts to counter extremism in the military in a report on its version of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The committee released the text of the bill this week, after voting 23-3 to advance the measure last month.

In the accompanying report, the committee says “the vast majority of servicemembers serve with honor and distinction, and that the narrative surrounding systemic extremism in the military besmirches the men and women in uniform.” 

“The committee believes that spending additional time and resources to combat exceptionally rare instances of extremism in the military is an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds and should be discontinued by the Department of Defense immediately,” the report continues.

The language in the bill’s report was approved by a vote of 14-12, with Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who typically caucuses with Democrats, joining all Republicans voting in favor of the language.

Republicans have been open about their opposition to the Pentagon’s efforts, essentially saying it creates problems where there aren’t any.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a force-wide “stand down” to address extremism in February of 2021, amid the revelation that some defendants charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol had some connection to the military.

The committee’s language cited a report from the Pentagon’s Countering Extremist Activity Working Group released in December, which says that available data showed cases of prohibited extremist activity among service members was rare. However, that report also said that even a small number of cases could pose problems for the military at large. 

The language in the committee report is not legally binding. Even then, it remains to be seen whether such language will be included in the final version of the defense bill that will have to be negotiated between the House and the Senate in conference committee.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) offered a similar amendment to the House version of the NDAA, which would express the sense that rooting out extremism was not a “top priority” of the Pentagon. The House Armed Services Committee turned down that amendment on a party-line vote.

The Democratic-led House did include an amendment to compel government officials to prepare a report on white supremacy and neo-Nazi activity in the military and law enforcement.

Tags Angus King Department of Defense Lloyd Austin Matt Gaetz NDAA Pentagon Senate Armed Services Committee

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