Defense Department and ‘Extremists’

New screening procedures follow a Department-wide stand-down.

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The Hill (“Pentagon takes step toward new screening procedures to weed out extremists“):

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is moving to set up new screening procedures at the Pentagon as part of an effort to weed out extremists in the military, according to a memo released Friday.

The immediate steps include setting up a working group tasked with finding ways to address the issue as well as launching a study on extremist behavior in the ranks, Austin wrote in the memo.

The Pentagon chief said he wants the working group to review and update the military’s definition of extremism, create standardized questionnaires to screen recruits with current or previous extremist behavior, and come up with new training and procedures for veterans to deflect and report the targeting of them by extremist groups after they leave service. 

“The vast majority of those who serve in uniform and their civilian colleagues do so with great honor and integrity,” the Defense secretary wrote, “but any extremist behavior in the force can have an outsized impact.”

The working group will be led by Bishop Garrison, Austin’s senior adviser on human capital and diversity, equity and inclusion. It will be made up of representatives from across the services and issue a report in 90 days.

Friday’s memo comes after Austin ordered a 60-day, forcewide stand down in early February to address extremism in the military after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Trump.

Nearly 25 percent of those who were charged in connection with the Capitol riot were current or former military personnel. But because the Pentagon has limited data on just how many service members believe or act on extremist views, the department has struggled to gauge the extent of dangerous and violent ideology in the forces or ways to address it.

POLITICO (“Pentagon orders new screening procedures to weed out extremists“) adds:

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday ordered a series of “immediate actions” to address the threat of extremism in the military, including a review of the armed forces’ definition of extremist behavior, standardizing questionnaires to screen recruits and developing procedures for veterans to report extremist activities after they leave service.


The group was empowered to identify further ways to improve screening of recruits and personnel currently serving in uniform, any modifications that are needed to the Uniform Code of Military Justice or additional training programs.


Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that Austin, who met with the heads of the military branches earlier Friday on the recent stand downs, said the Pentagon chief also wants the new working group to address whether the Pentagon needs to outlaw membership in specific militant groups.

“One consistent thing he heard is the force wants better guidance,” Kirby said, describing “a hunger for more information and context of what we’re talking about here.”

Of particular concern, Kirby added, is the role of veterans who leave the military and join militant organizations.

“What we need to do and focus on more is how we prepare the transitioning members to be aware of that interest in them and to know what it looks like and what it feels like, what it sounds like when these groups are trying to recruit them,” Kirby said.

It’s still not clear exactly what the extent of the “extremism” problem within the Department is.

Reading through the memo, the focus seems to be in figuring that out as well as taking prudent measures to screen out members of unspecified organizations. That strikes me as reasonably prudent but I have no idea whether the juice is worth the squeeze. That is, whether the problem is big enough to justify the manpower and expense required to implement the countermeasures. Additionally, aside from organizations know to engage in criminal conduct, there are serious First Amendment issues with banning mere association.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Not the IT Dept. says:

    They can start with weeding out anyone who belongs to or wears the insignia of any of the groups who took part in the January 6 attack on Congress, then go after the white supremists. Fortunately these guys can’t shut up about it so a good scanning of their social media posts should be enough for that.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    They can start with weeding out anyone who belongs to or wears the insignia of any of the groups who took part in the January 6 attack on Congress

    You’re going to weed all the Republicans out? Trump supporters?

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    The military is one of the few institutions to come out of the Trump tragedy with its reputation intact. They’re right to weed out the nuts. Had police policed themselves as the military is now trying to do, police wouldn’t be suspected and despised as they so often are. One bad Chauvin. . .

  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    You’re going to weed all the Republicans out? Trump supporters?

    Half of Republicans believe false accounts of deadly U.S. Capitol riot-Reuters/Ipsos poll

    Three months after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to overturn his November election loss, about half of Republicans believe the siege was largely a non-violent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists “trying to make Trump look bad,” a new Reuters/Ipsos poll has found.

    Six in 10 Republicans also believe the false claim put out by Trump that November’s presidential election “was stolen” from him due to widespread voter fraud, and the same proportion of Republicans think he should run again in 2024, the March 30-31 poll showed.

    And this is the central problem: nothing can be done about the problem with extremism in the ranks when one of the majors parties itself has become extremist.

  5. Teve says:

    I took Not the IT Department’s comment to mean ‘3 percenters’, Proud Boys, Michigan Militia-types.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    It’s still not clear exactly what the extent of the “extremism” problem within the Department is.

    I think “extremism” isn’t much of a problem. There is, however, a significant problem with extremism.

  7. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Yes, Teve, you’re right. That’s what I meant. I thought it was pretty obvious.