Pentagon releases training materials to address extremism
The one-day stand down, ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in early February, is meant to take place by early April and serve as a first step toward rooting out those who hold white nationalist or other extremist views.
The materials released Friday lay out four goals for commanders in broaching the issue, including a review of the meaning of the oaths to the Constitution taken by all service members; an assessment of actions prohibited under law or military policy; the responsibility to report to the chain of command when a prohibited action is seen or learned of, or certain behaviors cause concern; and planned listening sessions.
The goals mirror some already put out by the services, including the Navy, which last week said it would require its sailors to reaffirm their oaths to the Constitution.
“As public servants, we took an oath to the Constitution and we will not tolerate those who participate in actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, particularly actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies,” Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell said in a message to the force.
Austin, in first announcing the effort, also pressed service members to “revisit the oath that you took” when joining the military.
“Read those words again, consider what they really mean,” Austin said in a video message. “And think about the promise that you made to yourselves and to your teammates and to your fellow citizens.”
The documents also remind military personnel that while they have the right to free speech under the First Amendment, “speech that interferes with or prevents the orderly accomplishment of the mission or presents a clear danger to loyalty, discipline, mission, or morale of the troops may be restricted under some circumstances.”
In addition, “speech in the workplace that interferes with the mission, espouses extremist or discriminatory doctrine, or is disrespectful and harmful to colleagues, will have consequences.”
The materials also placed on emphasis on reporting extremist behavior or actions to the chain of command.
Defense officials have for years struggled to stamp out extremism among service members, though the problem was brought to the forefront on Jan. 6 when supporters loyal to former President Trump — including some active-duty service members and veterans — stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying President Biden’s election win.
Defense Department policy expressly prohibits military personnel from advocating for or participating in supremacist, extremist or criminal gang doctrine, ideology or causes, including fundraising or demonstrating at a rally as part of such groups, recruiting, training, organizing or leading members or distributing material.
But there is no consensus across the military on how to define extremism. Similarly, the Pentagon does not define whether extremism includes belonging to a racist or violent ideological group such as the Proud Boys — a relatively new organization — or if it includes believing in or spreading patently false conspiracy theories such as those pushed by QAnon supporters.
The stand-down is meant to help the Pentagon answer those questions.