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Top admiral condemns extremism after noose, hate speech discovered

Top admiral condemns extremism after noose, hate speech discovered
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The Navy’s top admiral called on the fleet Tuesday to come together to root out extremism in the ranks after two incidents where “symbols of hate and violence” were found aboard ships.

“Shipmates, I am certain the vast majority of men and women in the United States Navy serve with honor, character and integrity. But we cannot be under any illusions that extremist behaviors do not exist in our Navy,” Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, said in a message to the fleet.

“Just in the past few weeks, there have been two separate incidents where symbols of hate and violence were anonymously left in living areas aboard ships in our fleet,” he said. “The chain of command took both of those incidents seriously and immediately launched investigations, which are ongoing.”

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Gilday did not elaborate on the incidents, but a Navy official confirmed he was referencing recent incidents involving the discovery of a noose and hate speech graffiti.

Late last month, a Black sailor aboard the USS Lake Champlain guided missile cruiser found a noose above his bunk, sparking a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) probe. A sailor later confessed and was removed from the ship, the Navy official confirmed.

The other incident involved hate speech graffiti discovered in a bathroom aboard the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier within the past week, the official said. NCIS is also investigating that incident.

The U.S. military has long struggled with rooting out extremist thinking from its ranks, but the issue has come to the forefront after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol carried by supporters of former President TrumpDonald TrumpWhat blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Trump's former bodyguard investigated in NY prosectors' probe: report MORE

Nearly 20 percent of people arrested in connection with the insurrection were found to have military histories, according to an analysis of court cases. 

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In the wake of the attack, Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure Biden to host Afghan president at White House on Friday Biden struggles to detail post-withdrawal Afghanistan plans MORE has made tackling extremism one of his top priorities. As part of that focus, he has ordered a rare military-wide “stand-down,” where commanders will pause regular activity for one day before April 6 to address the issue with their troops.

On Monday, Adm. John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, flew from his headquarters in Hawaii to San Diego to meet with crews from the USS Lake Champlain, USS Carl Vinson and others in the fleet for a stand-down, according to a Pacific Fleet news release.

“I have policies in the Pacific Fleet that we do not care what race you are, what creed you are, what god you pray to, what sexual orientation you are, or what gender you are,” Aquilino said in the release. “We are all sailors, we are all shipmates, and we are here to serve our nation and defend the Constitution. I owe you a safe place to work so that you can execute your mission and fulfill your oath.”

In his message to the fleet, Gilday said the stand-down will provide an opportunity to “listen, to learn and to improve,” telling sailors that “each of your voices matter.”

“We must better understand the scope of the problem, get after this issue, and eliminate conduct that is driven by extremist beliefs,” Gilday wrote. “No doubt, this is a leadership issue. We will own this.”

The Navy also has a responsibility to educate sailors at all stages  when they are joining the Navy, when they are in and when they are preparing to leave  that “extremist behavior is unacceptable,” Gilday said.

“If we don’t eliminate extremist behaviors from our Navy, then racism, injustice, indignity, and disrespect will grow and continue to keep us from reaching our potential  an inclusive, respectful, professional fighting force that answers the nation’s call,” he said. “If we must first question the intentions of our shipmate standing the watch with us, now, and especially, when taking fire, we will fail when the nation needs us most in combat.”

Gilday also reminded the fleet of their oath to support and defend the Constitution “above all else.”

“Simply put, we must demand of each other that we treat everyone with dignity and respect,” he concluded. “That is how we will become a stronger Navy.”