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Overnight Defense: Pentagon pushes to root out extremism in ranks | Top admiral condemns extremism after noose, hate speech discovered

Overnight Defense: Pentagon pushes to root out extremism in ranks | Top admiral condemns extremism after noose, hate speech discovered
© Greg Nash

Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The Pentagon plans to be more aggressive in shutting down attempts by extremist groups to recruit service members to their cause.

Following the revelation that nearly one in five people charged in connection to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol had some connection to the military, the Defense Department is turning its attention to its ranks to try to stamp out dangerous and violent ideology.

Defense officials are hoping to use a series of steps announced in recent days, including a force-wide “stand-down” to address extremism, in order to prevent more troops from falling prey to ideologically driven groups including those that advocate white supremacy.

“Some of these groups are very organized. They very aggressively recruit soon-to-be veterans,” top Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday.

The roadblocks: Officials acknowledge that the task at hand is likely to prove difficult due to a lack of data on tracking incidents of extremism in the military.

“It’s not the kind of thing that we’re centrally tracking here — that [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] has a database that we can just go pull from — that’s not the case right now,” Kirby said.

Some of that data doesn’t exist at the department because it’s in the lane of civil law enforcement, he noted, "and there’s a limit to what we’re going to be able to obtain in that regard."

The little we know: The only data the Pentagon has revealed so far on the matter is information it received from the FBI last year. The bureau informed defense officials that 68 domestic extremism cases from 2019 involved former and current military members.

Veterans, who make up only 7 percent of all American adults, are a particularly attractive pool from which far-right militias seek to recruit due to their highly sought-after experience with weapons as well as their organizational and leadership skills.

Of the 190 people charged in the Jan. 6 riot, at least 30 are veterans and three are current National Guard members or reservists. The riot is the central focus of the Senate impeachment trial that began Tuesday accusing former President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE of inciting insurrection.

Other issues: Adding to the problem, current rules put in place in 2012 allow service members to be in groups with more extreme or violent ideology as long as they don’t actively participate in fundraising, recruiting,  demonstrating at a rally, training, organizing or distributing material — allowing such troops to go unflagged.

The services do screen incoming members, scrutiny that can include checking for tattoos of racist symbols and doing background checks for criminal records, gang affiliations or participation in extremist organizations. However, there is no uniform understanding for how to address incendiary or problematic comments and views made on social media as it runs up against First Amendment rights.

Tackling the problem: Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinCan a common bond of service unite our nation? Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees Pentagon releases training materials to address extremism MORE hopes to get a handle on just how deep the issue of extremism runs with his order last week for a force-wide stand-down.

Austin, who was confirmed by the Senate last month as the nation's first Black Defense secretary, directed commanders to select a date within the next 60 days to conduct a one-day pause to discuss the issue with their personnel.

Among the possible solutions are new training for troops before they enter the service, while they are actively in the military and before they leave.

The added 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,” said Kirby.

Concerns: Some have raised concerns that the effort will unfairly pinpoint service members who hold more politically conservative views.

“The argument that this amounts to some sort of political litmus test, that is absolutely unfounded and untrue,” Kirby said at the Pentagon on Friday.

“It's not about what you believe. It's about what you do with those beliefs. It's about how you act with those beliefs. ... When you violate good order and discipline, when you violate the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] or you violate civil laws, then we've got a problem. And that's what the secretary is trying to get after.”

 

NAVY NEWS:

Top admiral condemns extremism after noose, hate speech discovered

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,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday 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.”

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 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.

Read more here.

 

Pentagon sends ships into South China Sea amid tensions with Beijing

Amid condemnation from Chinese officials, two U.S. aircraft carrier groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea, the Navy said in a statement Tuesday.

The Navy said that the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group “conducted a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing interoperability between assets as well as command and control capabilities,” according to Reuters. The activity reportedly marked the first operations by two U.S. carriers in the region in about seven months.

China’s response: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the U.S. move constituted a deliberate “show of force” and undermined stability in the region.

“China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and security and work with countries in the region to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said, according to the news service.

The dispute: U.S. officials have accused Beijing of seeking to militarize the waterway and ignoring contradictory claims from smaller nations such as Malaysia and Vietnam.

“We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law,” Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, said in a statement, according to Reuters.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

President BidenJoe BidenBiden offers support to union organizing efforts Senate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Kavanaugh dismays conservatives by dodging pro-Trump election lawsuits MORE will visit the Pentagon in his first official visit to the building as commander-in-chief. The visit is expected to be streamed live here.

Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, will speak at the International Quality and Productivity Center's Defence iQ virtual 2020 International Armoured Vehicles Conference at 7 a.m. 

The Government Executive Media Group will hold a webinar on “Warfighter and Intelligence Mission Success," with retired Lt. Gen. Karen Gibson, former deputy director of national intelligence for national security partnerships in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; and Nand Mulchanandi, chief technology officer in the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, at 1 p.m. 

The Association of Old Crows will hear from Bruce Jette, assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, as part of its Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations Leadership series, at 1 p.m.

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: Head of Army War College suspended

– The Hill: North Korea continued work on nuclear program despite sanctions, UN says

– The Hill: Senate confirms Biden's deputy Defense secretary

– The Hill: Man charged in Capitol riot says he worked for FBI, holds top secret security clearance

– The Hill: Biden takes cautious tack on China as tensions simmer

– The New York Times: ‘Its Own Domestic Army’: How the G.O.P. Allied Itself With Militants

– The Associated Press: Iran may pursue nuclear weapon, intel minister warns West

– Federal Times: DoD has a blind spot for civilian employee sexual assaults

– Stars and Stripes: House Democrats aim to use coronavirus relief package to end GI Bill loophole