Pentagon: Extremist groups recruit from military

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Extremist groups “very aggressively recruit” military service members to leave the ranks, the Defense Department’s top spokesman said Monday.

“Some of these groups are very organized. They very aggressively recruit soon-to-be veterans,” spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.

Veterans are a major recruitment pool for far-right militia movements due to their experience with weapons, organization and leadership skills.

Pentagon leaders have long struggled with rooting out such thinking in the military and preventing service members from entering extremist groups, though the issue came to the forefront after the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol by supporters loyal to former President Trump.

Nearly 1 in 5 people charged in the insurrection were either active-duty service members or veterans, according to an analysis based on court cases. 

To tackle the problem, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last week ordered a militarywide “stand-down” to address extremism in the ranks, directing commanders to select a date within the next 60 days to conduct a one-day pause to discuss the issue with their personnel.

This is “an opportunity for leadership to listen to the men and women they lead and to their concerns, to their experiences and maybe even their possible solutions for how to tackle this problem,” Kirby said. 

Austin also last week met with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and the service secretaries and chiefs to discuss possible solutions, including potential new training for troops before they enter the military, while they are actively in the service and before they leave.

“We certainly need to take a look at how we’re educating potential recruits when they’re still civilians and before they sign on the dotted line, clearly. There’s probably education that we need to do while people are in uniform and in service about the pull of some of these extremist groups,” Kirby said.

That training would inform them of “what’s waiting for them on the other side and who might be waiting for them on the other side,” he added.

Kirby stressed that the stand-down is just one step in what Austin believes will be a “very deliberate process to try to tackle this problem.”

“[Austin] understands a one day stand down across the force isn’t going to solve everything, but it might bring to light concerns and experiences [of which] we’re otherwise not aware,” he said.

He added that information gleaned from the effort “will inform later procedures, policies or actions the secretary puts in place going forward.”

Tags Capitol breach Donald Trump Extremism extremist group John Kirby Lloyd Austin Mark Milley Pentagon Veterans
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