Defining ‘Extremism’ in the Military

It's harder than a looks, especially given the limited size of the problem.

Barbara Starr, CNN‘s Pentagon correspondent, reports “Pentagon extremism adviser lays out challenge facing military after two commanders deny a problem exists.”

One day after two four-star military commanders told Congress they did not have problems with extremists in their ranks, the top adviser on the issue to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin took a different view and stated plainly that he believes the opposite.

[…]

“I am very confident that the number of extremists in my forces is zero,” Adm. Charles Richard, head of the US Strategic Command, which oversees nuclear weapons, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Richard said the high level of security clearances required to work for his command means extremists would be identified through questioning, security interviews and peer monitoring. “So if there are any extremists in my organization, one, they hide it very well. And two, it’s just a matter of time until I get to them.”

Gen. James Dickinson, head of US Space Command, also strongly suggested he did not have a major issue with extremists in the ranks: “I would tell you right now that we have done everything that Secretary Austin has asked us to do in terms of training and awareness, but in my organization I would say that number is zero” and said he had never encountered extremists in the ranks during his career. “I believe it’s close to zero in my organization, if not zero.”

Neither the gotcha question nor the knee-jerk answer were helpful. Is there rampant extremism of the white separatist variety in the US armed forces? Probably not. The nature of the vetting process and the day-to-day forces these attitudes underground. But are there “zero” extremists in the ranks? Of course not.

But this isn’t helpful, either:

“It would be remiss if we didn’t admit that there is a problem with extremist behavior in the military. That is to say that one extremist is one too many,” Bishop Garrison on Wednesday told a Center for American Progress think tank seminar on ending White supremacist violence.”The George Floyd murder hearing and a lot of these other day-to-day issues that greatly affect communities of color whether or not they wear a uniform or work for DoD are vitally important for us to understand. If we’re going to be strong teammates we have to ensure that we’re being proper allies for those individuals going through a lot of difficult times within their own communities, so having an education and training line of effort that helps us better understand these gray areas and what we need to do to help address a lot of these issues is going to be of vital importance for us,” Garrison said. He is the first senior Pentagon official to speak about the Floyd case since the guilty verdict Tuesday against former police officer Derek Chauvin.

Garrison is a thoughtful person. He’s a 2002 West Point graduate who got out after his five-year obligation to go to law school at William and Mary and has since built a career in Democratic politics, mostly advising in the national security-social justice space. But, while he’s certainly right that it would be ideal if white servicemembers are good allies to persons of color in the ranks, able to see incidents like the George Floyd murder through their eyes, that’s a whole different plane than “extremism.” To be sure, a force where everyone met that objective would be free from one form of extremism. But conflating the issues confuses the process, sending the message that it’s about thought conformity rather than activity that’s prohibited under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Garrison is overseeing Austin’s effort to better define the scope of the extremist problem in the ranks and ensure that troops know what behaviors are not acceptable. However, it is not clear the military will be able to come up with a specific definition of what constitutes extremism, one senior Defense official told CNN.

The Pentagon has struggled to define the issue because while extremist activity — including White supremacist and hate activity — is banned, there are limits on the military’s ability to surveil the activities of the troops without violating their rights. Top Defense Department officials have said it’s a priority to determine the scope of the problem.

Short of active violence and terroristic activity, such as the Ku Klux Klan and criminal gangs, drawing a sharp line is next to impossible. While soldiers don’t enjoy the full protection of the First Amendment, they still have broad rights to think what they want to and to belong to organizations that engage in political expression. So, for example, former President Trump clearly expressed views popular with white nationalists. We’re certainly not going to ban everyone who supported Trump from the armed forces. Ditto even those who thought the election was somehow stolen—so long as they don’t openly advocate disobedience to President Biden.

But what about the Proud Boys and various “Patriot militia” groups like the Oath Keepers? There is movement in Congress to ban membership in these groups. But there’s also understandable resistance.

A retired Navy commander in Congress though, Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde, bristled at the idea of screening troops for extremist ties, as was done to National Guard members ahead of the mission to provide security on Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C.

“This smacks of the ‘Thought Police,'” Clyde said, referencing the secret police in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” that punished beliefs that weren’t government-approved.

And some argue that existing law is sufficient:

“The Uniform Code of Military Justice already offers all the tools necessary to prosecute service members who have committed violent offenses, including any criminal act a violent extremist would potentially commit, and I am confident the UCMJ can be used as needed to protect all members of the military community,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the former chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This kind of behavior directly undermines the ability of our armed forces to perform their constitutionally mandated role of defending the nation.”

The thing that set off this conversation was, of course, the 6 January attack on the Capitol:

The fact that as many as 33 service members or veterans were charged following the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, according to a CNN analysis, suggests the opposite is true. The involvement of those with military experience in the riots has raised fresh concerns that extremist groups are specifically trying to recruit former military members because of their firearms expertise and organizational skills.

There are some 1.4 million people on active duty right now and another 700,000 or so in the various reserve components. And more than 18 million veterans. So, that’s roughly 20 million people, only a tiny fraction of them currently on active duty. And, of those, 33 people had some role in the Capitol riots. That’s not even a rounding error.

Paul Szoldra, a former Marine infantryman and founder of Task and Purpose, rightly notes, “No one knows exactly how many extremists are in the U.S. military, but it takes only one to wreak havoc within the ranks.” He cites examples of those who have carried out actual terroristic plots. His investigation found “dozens of current and former service members sentenced for, discharged over, or identified in news reports as having ties to extremist activity in the past five years.” But almost all of them are either extremely young first-term enlistees, members of the Guard or Reserve, or both. And, frankly, most of the associations with extremism are tenuous. But, again, this is “dozens” over a span of five years in a force that’s 2.1 million people at any moment.

Should the Defense Department be aware of the growing problem of white nationalism in the United States? Of course. Should we be looking to root out people who are hostile to women and minorities? Of course. And, certainly, those who advocate violent, unlawful activity have to go.

But, goodness, let’s not imply that those who are insufficiently on board with the Black Lives Matter agenda are being targeted for separation. Keep the focus on violence, sedition, insurrection, and eliminationist beliefs.

FILED UNDER: First Amendment, Military Affairs, Race and Politics, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    33? If 33 actually showed up to invade the Capitol, multiply that number by a thousand to get an estimate of the size of the problem. Still just a fraction percentage-wise, but in absolute numbers that’s a lot of assholes, and it is definitely a problem.

    7
  2. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Sure. But this is 33 people with any sort of connection to the military. As best I can tell, it’s almost entirely veterans (including from the Vietnam era, where they were drafted) or members of the Guard (i.e., civilians in the state militia).

    6
  3. gVOR08 says:

    A quick back of the envelope. I assume the 33 military affiliated is from the pool of those charged, otherwise how would we know? IIRC about 400 have been charged. So 33 military affiliated is 8.25%. The adult population is something like 240 million. You say 20 million active, reserve and veterans, or 8.33% of the adult population. So no, military affiliated were not disproportionally represented on 1/6.

    Now, were I a conservative I might take the position I’ve heard expressed so often on vote fraud – one case is too many. But I’m not a conservative so I have to agree that extremism, while concerning, isn’t particularly a military problem. On the other hand, claiming there are zero people with extremist views in a large command sounds more like a statement of sympathy than a statement of fact.

    9
  4. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    An active duty solder wouldn’t really have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate, would she or he? I don’t know much about the military, but I’d think that leaving the base for a few days to engage in an insurrection would be impossible. You could sympathize with the rioters, but not join them.

    6
  5. MarkedMan says:

    The military (all militaries, everywhere) has the same problem as the police (all police, everywhere): they are going to attract violent people. That’s just a fact. I remember an anonymous quote from a police officer several years ago that he hated being assigned to the rich section of town where he had to be well behaved and polite because he, ‘hadn’t joined the police force to say please and thank you but to bust heads’, and he could only do that on the poor, brown side of town.

    So it’s disturbing to hear these guys say they have zero problems. The problem is continues and ongoing, so the solution must be continuous as well.

    5
  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    There are some 1.4 million people on active duty right now and another 700,000 or so in the various reserve components. And more than 18 million veterans. So, that’s roughly 20 million people, only a tiny fraction of them currently on active duty. And, of those, 33 people had some role in the Capitol riots. That’s not even a rounding error.

    You’re in desperate need of retaking a remedial stats course.

    Nearly 1 In 5 Defendants In Capitol Riot Cases Served In The Military

    Of more than 140 charged so far, a review of military records, social media accounts, court documents and news reports indicate at least 27 of those charged, or nearly 20%, have served or are currently serving in the U.S. military. To put that number in perspective, only about 7% of all American adults are military veterans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

    2
  7. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: You can’t introduce completely different numbers into the conversation as a basis for challenging my statistical acumen. (And the number charged is over 400 now, with 33 of them having any military connection.)

    Beyond that, the question at hand is How prevalent is membership in extremist organizations in the active-duty force? Almost all of the 33 are either former members, mostly low-level enlistees who washed out right away, or National Guard personnel who are, for all intents and purposes, civilians.

    4
  8. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    There are probably more extremists among active duty soldiers than we know. My point was that active duty soldiers have a lot smaller opportunity than wash-outs and veterans to act out their extremism.

    3
  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    Your core argument that you can estimate the number of extremists in the military by calculating the number of military arrested at one event as a percent of the entire military as though every single extremist in the military must have been there that day is bad. Laughably and obviously bad.

    Just admit it was a bad argument and stop digging yourself deeper trying to argue this was a reasonable line of thought.

    1
  10. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The entire reason we’re having this conversation is the notion that this single event proves that there’s a massive problem with white supremacist extremist affiliation in the active-duty military. Secretary Austin ordered a Department-wide stand-down on this basis. I’m simply arguing that there’s just very little evidence that this is the case.

    At the same time, the larger point here is that (1) we really have no way of knowing, especially because (2) we haven’t really defined the scope of the question. Relatedly, I argue it doesn’t help matters when the person in charge of executing the program is talking about allyship, which is really tangential and certainly can’t be a legal basis for targeting people for removal.

    4
  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Eh, I’m still a little troubled by the appearance that the goal of this is to root out badthink. I don’t have a problem with targeting people for removal based on what they DO, but I’m decidedly against targeting people for what they think (or are presumed to think).

    7
  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    If members of the military were joining Alqeda or ISIS cells, would you be arguing we should let them in remain in the military because they haven’t actually tried to commit a terrorist attack yet?

    6
  13. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    No, because joining ISIS or al-Qaeda is an action. It’s a DO. As distasteful as it might seem, I’m not going to get behind tossing people out for what they think or believe.

    Paraphrasing Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I:

    If my people break the law, they shall be punished. Until that day, they shall be protected. Fear creates fear. I am not ignorant of the dangers, sir. But I will not punish my people for their beliefs. Only for their deeds.

    6
  14. Andy says:

    This is nothing new. People have been looking for 5th column extremists in the ranks for years and have found nothing. Those that do somehow make it in typically wash out quickly because the kind of mentality that is prone to extremism typically is not compatible with the culture and hierarchy of military service.

    I’ve been complaining for decades about how the media dutifully notes any military affiliation in reporting when people do bad things, implying that the affiliation is somehow inherently relevant, while not doing that for pretty much every other profession/occupation. That, along with too many dumb Hollywood tropes, just breeds this misperception that the military and military service is some kind of gateway drug to extremist views or is somehow tolerant of the same.

    James is also correct to note that definitions matter. We shouldn’t judge “extremism” based on how a relative handful of activists on the commanding heights of progressive online culture define it. And, as a practical matter, no organization – not even the military – can police opinions, all they can do is police behavior. And there’s little-to-no evidence that the military is not doing that at an institutional and organizational level.

    4
  15. EddieInCA says:

    @Stormy Dragon: @HarvardLaw92:

    What if the Military members joined “Stormfront’ or the “Proud Boys”, yet didn’t participate in any violence? Is that a “Do?” Or is that still just “thinking or believing”?

    HL92, Seems your thesis is a distinction without a difference. I don’t see much difference between Stormfront or ISIS or Al-Queda.

    7
  16. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: It’s actually reassuring when we hear that these guys were low level and washed out right away, as it means the system is working. And I’ve also seen that these right wing terrorists, stretching back for years, have a tendency to tell their cronies that they were ex-military, served in combat areas, were SEALS or other Special Ops, yada, yada, yada, only to turn out that they never served or were dishonestly discharged after getting caught stealing from base stores or similar infraction.

    From my (very) outside perch, it seems James has it about right. The only thing I’m raising a flag on is when leadership becomes overconfident that they don’t have any problem. Based on my experience in everything I’ve ever been involved in, this is a sign of either a disconnected leadership or one that just doesn’t want to hear any bad news.

    6
  17. MarkedMan says:

    @HarvardLaw92: @EddieInCA: The difference between think and do for positions of responsibility is hazy. If I’m an independent plumber and I think all (insert group here) are drunken thieves and can’t be trusted, that’s one thing. But if that same person is, say, regional manager of a plumbing company and has fifty people working under them with ten being members of said group, then what they think IS relevant. If your beliefs prevent you from treating your employees fairly then you shouldn’t have that position.

    And I would imagine that in the military even amongst the lowest levels you have a problem if a soldier believes in the inferiority of certain people they may be serving with, given that those people’s lives may literally depend on the soldier acting responsibly for all.

    1
  18. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Sure. Membership in an organization requires taking direct action to accomplish it. Setting membership in an org as a bar to either joining or continuing to serve isn’t problematic at all. You’re penalizing an action, not a belief. On that note, though, you have to be careful what you wish for, because it’s just as easy to add BLM to that list as it is to add the ones you’ve listed. You can’t predicate that decision on “Well, I like these groups, so they’re ok” or perceptions of good/bad. They have to be based on concrete factors and actions taken by the groups which make them threatening (and which make membership, by association, threatening).

    I see no distinction. It is absolutely a no go to bar people based on what they think when they haven’t taken direct action in furtherance of those beliefs, no matter how reprehensible you or others might consider those beliefs to be. Deeds, not beliefs.

    5
  19. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    If your beliefs prevent you from treating your employees fairly then you shouldn’t have that position.

    Not to keep hammering the same point, but mistreating an employee is an action, not a belief.

    1
  20. EddieInCA says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Understood. Thanks for the response.

  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    You’re a private, Jewish. There are five other guys, all gentiles. Your sergeant tells you to run up that hill and take out that enemy machine gun. Your sergeant’s never done anything wrong, never called you a kike, but you know nevertheless that he’s an anti-semite. You going up that hill?

    There’s a lot of room between think and do. Speech, facial expressions, physical positioning, the books or magazines you’re seen reading. I agree, we can’t police thought crime, but at the same time it doesn’t take much to poison the trust in a platoon.

    4
  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    In truth? Yes, I am going up that hill. I would have sworn an oath not only to uphold the Constitution, but also to obey the orders of the officers appointed over me. I might not like it, but it’s not a democracy.

    And I agree with you, but we both also know what happens to bad leaders in a combat situation 🙂

    2
  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    Michael Flynn. Graduate of the Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course, Ranger School, Military Intelligence Officer Advanced Course, Army Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies, and Naval War College.

    Mike Pompeo. From 1986 to 1991, Pompeo served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer with the West Germany-based 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry in the 4th Infantry Division. He served as a tank platoon leader before becoming a cavalry troop executive officer and then the squadron maintenance officer.[20] Pompeo left the U.S. Army at the rank of captain.

    Steve Bannon. Bannon was an officer in the United States Navy for seven years in the late 1970s and early 1980s; he served on the destroyer USS Paul F. Foster as a surface warfare officer in the Pacific Fleet, and afterwards stateside as a special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.[57] Bannon’s job at the Pentagon was, among other things, handling messages between senior officers and writing reports about the state of the Navy fleet worldwide.[58] While at the Pentagon, Bannon attended Georgetown University at night and obtained his master’s degree in national security studies.[50]

    Louie Gohmert. Gohmert attended The JAG School at the University of Virginia and entered U.S. Army JAG Corps. He served in the JAG Corps at Fort Benning, Georgia, from 1978–82.[7][8] The majority of his legal service in the U.S. Army was as a defense attorney.

    3
  24. JohnMcC says:

    @HarvardLaw92: That’s a very worthy thought. That ‘it’s absolutely a no go to bar people based on what they think when they haven’t taken direct action in furtherance of those beliefs…’.

    Somehow it didn’t quite fit the military situation as I remember it from >50yrs ago. I imagined how a neo-nazi would imagine himself and I bet he’d think of himself as a missionary. He’d expect to find quite a few other young men who would probably be brought to agree with him. I bet he’d start a ‘cell’ if he could.

    If I recall correctly, there is a military crime that is the equivalent of ‘spreading dissention’ or ‘opposing good discipline’ or something. In other words, a hypothetical nazi would have to not actually DO anything. He’d have to keep his ideas pretty much to himself both on and off post.

  25. MarkedMan says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Not to keep hammering the same point

    Then I wasn’t clear. I was saying that the person’s belief, even in absence of any concrete discriminatory action, is sufficient to deny them the position.

    A practical example. At work my group is diverse. Immigrants from 3.5 different continents. Women engineers, one of whom is trans. If I find out that an applicant despises any of these (or even any group that is not listed but could well become part of my team or, indeed, the company as a whole) then I strike them consideration from the position.

  26. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JohnMcC:

    Sure, but again he has taken action based on his beliefs that are causing negative consequences. We’ve moved beyond the realm of thoughts to the realm of actions.

    If I recall correctly, there is a military crime that is the equivalent of ‘spreading dissention’ or ‘opposing good discipline’ or something.

    There are a lot of them. Off the top of my head, UCMJ 82, 89, 91, 92, 101, 104, and 117. Beyond that, 18 US … 1381, 2385, 2387, and 2388. Those all penalize action, however, not thought.

    I don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t be looking at this situation and actively targeting problems for removal. I just don’t want “problem” defined based on what someone believes. It has to be premised on what they have done. Doesn’t have to be an enormous action. Tiny ones can be fine to meet the condition, but it does have to be an action.

    2
  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    So what you are saying is that you actively discriminate against otherwise qualified applicants based solely on their beliefs. You’re a lawsuit waiting to happen. I wouldn’t let that practice be known.

    I get why you might, but I’m sure you can see where that path can go. Why can’t I refuse to hire you because you’re a Democrat, or because you support trans people? It’s why we have no business penalizing thought – because it’s not a big jump to somebody else penalizing you for yours.

    3
  28. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The only thing I’m raising a flag on is when leadership becomes overconfident that they don’t have any problem

    I will absolutely agree with you on this. My first thought was “they don’t want to know”, and that makes them unfit to lead.

    3
  29. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Membership in an organization requires taking direct action to accomplish it. Setting membership in an org as a bar to either joining or continuing to serve isn’t problematic at all. You’re penalizing an action, not a belief. On that note, though, you have to be careful what you wish for, because it’s just as easy to add BLM to that list as it is to add the ones you’ve listed.

    Actually, there is no real BLM organization to join, so that would be a poor example. Sure, bar card-carrying members of Antifa as well.

    (And, removing blacks from the military — which is what that ultimately would do — might be the military reductions the left has always wanted, other than the racist part of it)

    To the larger point, though, it’s pretty easy to set guidelines that distinguish dangerous extremists from regular folks — armed protests. The use of the threat of violence to try to effect political change.

    Keeping the list of banned organizations is going to be a game of whack-a-mole, always behind the times, but totally doable. PETA will probably get caught up in it — small price to pay.

    Yes, there is both a first and second amendment, but we have all sorts of rights that cannot be exercised simultaneously (you have a right to a public defender, and you have a right to a speedy trial, but you don’t have a right to both a public defender and a speedy trial at the same time) — and I don’t think there is a constitutional right to join the military anyway.

  30. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan: When I was interviewing candidates, I would would always make a point of mentioning the company’s benefits for same sex couples — if a candidate can’t keep their mouth shut, they’re going to be a problem.

    I don’t care what they think, I care what they do. If they think gays are going to burn in eternal hellfire, that’s fine. If, in an interview, they say gays are going to burn in eternal hellfire… fuck them, they aren’t capable of working with a diverse team.

    I ended up nuking about half a dozen otherwise qualified candidates based on this.

    Ask for preferred pronouns. Even if they’re an old guy with a beard. Good times. And by good, I mean it’s good to find out if this triggers a rant before hiring them.

    2
  31. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    To the larger point, though, it’s pretty easy to set guidelines that distinguish dangerous extremists from regular folks — armed protests. The use of the threat of violence to try to effect political change.

    Sure. If you want to condition removal on participating in armed protests or using the threat of violence (or actual violence, which would obviously include property destruction …) to try to effect political change, fine by me. Luckily we already have rules and laws against those ready to go.

    3
  32. MarkedMan says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    You’re a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    According to the HR departments of the last 4 companies I’ve worked for, it’s the opposite. If we put a person who we know to harbor ill will against a protected group in charge of a person in that protected group, THAT’S the lawsuit waiting to happen. It’s the reason why all four have formal policies in the manual that speak of corporate values and welcoming diversity.

    If someone has expressed an opinion outside the workplace that, say, gays are going to hell and they hope they find salvation, that alone wouldn’t stop me from hiring them. But, to cite a real example from my personal experience, a particular distributor’s technician I had worked and travelled with a half a dozen times must have finally felt comfortable enough in my whiteness despite being a yankee that he told me what was troubling him about the ”homosexual situation’. They can’t go about their lives quietly and be respectful of the Christian majority, so they should be rounded up in concentration camps and given a chance to repent. I didn’t ask him what would happen to those that didn’t take advantage of that chance as it seemed pretty obvious.

    He was an experienced technician, a senior guy, very patient, very helpful to customers and a good mentor to more junior technicians. At the time I had a position open for a senior support person who would oversee several other technicians. If he had applied for that position, before that conversation I might have considered him the perfect fit (assuming we could negotiate the difficulties of hiring a good person away from a distributor). But after? How could I put someone like that in charge of someone who might be gay? If the gay employee was harassed by the guy and I had to admit in a deposition he had told me that he endorsed violence against gay people, well, we may as well have just opened up the corporate coffers.

    5
  33. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    That these four served in the military and later became a-holes, criminals, or people with politics you hate after they left the military is exactly the kind of implication-by-association that lacks any actual substance that I was talking about. What actual evidence is there that would link any actionable conduct they did in uniform with what they did afterward?

    For example, Bannon left the Navy when I was in middle school. I joined the Navy a decade after he had already left, served a full career, and have already been retired for 5 years. So explain how the Navy was negligent in the 1970’s for failing to root out his radical views four decades later. Or explain how his naval service was at all relevant.

    I think these examples just reinforce everything I wrote in my first comment. If these are the best examples that one can cherry-pick from the last half-century, then it just shows the weakness of the 5th column allegations.

    @MarkedMan:

    The only thing I’m raising a flag on is when leadership becomes overconfident that they don’t have any problem. Based on my experience in everything I’ve ever been involved in, this is a sign of either a disconnected leadership or one that just doesn’t want to hear any bad news.

    Except there’s no evidence that there is a problem.

    It’s also disconnected leadership to go on fishing expeditions looking for missing strawberries.

    2
  34. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    I don’t care what they think, I care what they do. If they think gays are going to burn in eternal hellfire, that’s fine. If, in an interview, they say gays are going to burn in eternal hellfire… fuck them, they aren’t capable of working with a diverse team.

    This ^^^^^ *thumbs up*

  35. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Never take legal advice from HR. I get that it is tricky territory, but from a legal perspective you’re equally exposed – in fact I would argue much more exposed – to the candidate you rejected were he/she to become aware of it. He/she is going to assert that you discriminated on the basis of a legitimately held religious belief (and that is how it will be characterized), and they’ll have a better than average chance of prevailing. You’re juxtaposing his potential for discrimination with committing actual discrimination against a protected class. Like I said, I wouldn’t let that policy become known.

    1
  36. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Ask for preferred pronouns. Even if they’re an old guy with a beard. Good times. And by good, I mean it’s good to find out if this triggers a rant before hiring them.

    Not sure where you work and live, but there are a lot of people – probably the vast majority of people – who know next to nothing about trans social norms generally or things like pronouns specifically. So if you’re filtering candidates for that, I’d guess you must work in a very woke location and industry where that knowledge is expected. Also, the signaling works both ways.

    3
  37. Modulo Myself says:

    I’d be curious about how many people 18-24 going into the military are anything other than supportive or indifferent to standard social liberalism. So much of the conservative movement seems aimed at older people triggered and threatened by everything. There’s a huge difference between being prejudiced but capable of not being threatened by BLM and being some fake investment banker ranting about how BLM is heterophobic and anti-American and having an audience of 60-year olds who have the same burning anger.

    I suspect that if there’s an issue in the military it’s probably with older officers, none of whom are actual extremists, but who lap up a ton of right-wing stuff about how Hitler was a bit edgy but this is what we’re going to get if more reasonable solutions to being woke are not found. The author of that–James Lindsay–is an idiot and apparently believes that Hitler had solutions to an actual problem that existed outside of Nazi ideology. I don’t think that most conservatives who love this guy believe that. I do think that they are in over their heads, and no longer really have a grip on things.

  38. Modulo Myself says:

    Not sure where you work and live, but there are a lot of people – probably the vast majority of people – who know next to nothing about trans social norms generally or things like pronouns specifically. So if you’re filtering candidates for that, I’d guess you must work in a very woke location and industry where that knowledge is expected. Also, the signaling works both ways.

    That’s his point. If someone actually doesn’t know anything about pronouns a rant will not be triggered. They aren’t rating places by whether they are woke. They’re just a normal person who can handle dealing with other people on their own terms.

    1
  39. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    The data tells us that military recruits are (very) disproportionately

    1) the children of prior service members
    2) evangelical Protestants
    3) from the South in general and from military communities in particular.

    I think you may be making the understandable assumption (we all do it) that everywhere else looks like where we are, and that’s just not the case. Military recruits, by and large, tend to be more socially conservative than the country as a whole, and a great deal more so than their population cohort as a whole.

  40. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    I had to find this, sorry, or I would have included it above. I found it very enlightening.

  41. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: it could be a cultural thing. Maybe the brass wants to hear, “Sir, No Problems, Sir!”, no matter what, in order to project enthusiasm. But to my ears, saying we have zero problems sounds like someone who is not taking the issue seriously. I would have a lot more confidence in someone who says, “Here is what we do to ensure we don’t get the bad apples to begin with, here is what we do to detect someone we missed or who turns bad later, and here is what we do when we find them. I believe this system is a good one and we have had no significant incidents since we’ve put it in place. Nonetheless, I talk to my leadership team about this regularly to ensure we are not missing anything.”

    2
  42. MarkedMan says:

    @HarvardLaw92: If you are giving Michael’s comment a thumbs up, then I don’t think we are very far apart.

  43. MarkedMan says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Fair enough. Like Michael, if someone has religious belief but can “accept the sinner”, if not the “sin”, I don’t have a problem with that. But in the example I gave the person actually threatened violence. IANAL, but it seems a much clearer cut case.

    A similar case happened a number of years ago when the Software department hired a new engineer, a guy. The day he started all the women engineers walked into the department head’s office and said he had to go. They had googled his name (well, this predates Google, but you get the idea) and found a chat group where he expressed extremely misogynistic opinions about women. Aside from angry and insulting rhetoric about women in general, he had expressed a certainty that women just did not have the intelligence for programming. Given that he was a senior guy and would have junior women on his team from time to time and therefore have input into their reviews and be expected to mentor them, they cut him loose that afternoon.

  44. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    That’s his point. If someone actually doesn’t know anything about pronouns a rant will not be triggered. They aren’t rating places by whether they are woke. They’re just a normal person who can handle dealing with other people on their own terms.

    Things have probably changed since I did civil service interviews many years ago, but such questions would not be allowed. It’s akin to the historical practice of asking women if they should be called Miss, Ms. or Mrs. That question was also framed as a desire to know the proper and respectful form of address, but it was, in reality, more often a disingenuous proxy question to determine marital status.

    Again, perhaps things have changed, but asking about pronouns would have been a huge no-no, particularly when it’s done dishonestly as to learn information that one can’t ask directly.

    My experience in interviewing is quite a bit different and didn’t do subterfuge, but involved clearly laying out the behavioral and interpersonal expectations that applied to all employees and then asking candidates directly if the candidate would follow those policies. That’s a much clearer way forward than dubious fishing in my view.

    I’d be curious about how many people 18-24 going into the military are anything other than supportive or indifferent to standard social liberalism. So much of the conservative movement seems aimed at older people triggered and threatened by everything.

    I think HL92 is partly right as a rule of thumb, but it doesn’t explain everything.

    I think it’s important to remember that pretty much all military forces everywhere are small “c” conservative (traditionalist) by nature, with a visibly hierarchical structure with strong emphasis placed on the collective over the individual, which all serve to promote order and discipline. That more traditionalist structure that deliberately seeks to subsume individual identities into a service or military identity attracts certain types of people and repels others, and not always in ways that neatly template onto current ideological and culture war divides.

    4
  45. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher:

    (And, removing blacks from the military — which is what that ultimately would do — might be the military reductions the left has always wanted, other than the racist part of it)

    Given the numbers of minorities, young women, and minority young women I’m seeing populating the most recent “Join the Army” ads–the one’s with concerned mom or dad saying “I don’t understand; why this?”– it’s possible that the notion of the military as a stepping stone to some imagined middle class life and status is reaching it’s “pull by” date already. Jus’ sayin’…

  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy:

    That these four served in the military and later became a-holes, criminals, or people with politics you hate after they left the military is exactly the kind of implication-by-association that lacks any actual substance that I was talking about.

    This is where one of the disconnects between us comes up. I’m inclined to believe that they were probably a-holes before they joined the military. (Indeed, in the dark night of my abyss-dwelling soul, I’m as likely as not to go with being a-holes as the reason they joined the military in the first place, but I digress…) But I will agree that there’s no particularly compelling reason to believe that being in the military is the source of their criminality or their politics.

    And certainly not everybody who joins the military is an a-hole, but some researchers claim a connection between NPD and success in both the military and in business.

    2
  47. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I would have a lot more confidence in someone who says, “Here is what we do to ensure we don’t get the bad apples to begin with, here is what we do to detect someone we missed or who turns bad later, and here is what we do when we find them. I believe this system is a good one and we have had no significant incidents since we’ve put it in place. Nonetheless, I talk to my leadership team about this regularly to ensure we are not missing anything.”

    I didn’t listen to the testimony, but I’d guess they probably said something along those lines, assuming they were asked.

    Certainly, none of this is new, and there have long been systems in place to ensure the force and military personnel are loyal to the United States and act accordingly. After the Oklahoma City bombing, there was a similar moral panic because McVeigh was a veteran. It turned out there were no 5th columns then either.

    In a large and complicated bureaucracy that manages millions of individuals, there will inevitably be cases that fall through the cracks or were handled inappropriately. But again, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that those systems are failing, much less on any kind of systemic level. Rather, people are asserting that anything bad a veteran does after leaving the service is intrinsically tied to or the result of that military service, so therefore the military must have some kind of extremism problem. That tautology is flawed from the start, especially considering no comparisons are made to other professions.

    4
  48. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: How did they manage to cut him out so abruptly? Was he a probationary hire even though it was a senior position? Did he have a “termination without cause” condition for his hire? Curious.

  49. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    49 out of 50 states (Montana, of all places, being the sole exception) are employment at-will states. You don’t have to, and we encourage employers not to, supply a rationale for firing someone. It’s simply enough to say “this isn’t going to work out” and send them on their way.

    I do have to wonder whether the women in question were looking for a rationale for preventing a male from coming into the work environment, and found what they were looking for, but I’d probably have done the same thing. Once rancor enters the workplace, you can kill it or let it grow. There is only one right choice there.

    1
  50. MarkedMan says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: All new hires are probationary. And since this is America, any employee can be terminated without cause. If we had violated internal policy as outlined in the employee handbook, he would have had a case, but it is made very clear that the usual method of making a case for firing someone outlined in the handbook does not apply to employees in the probation period.

  51. MarkedMan says:

    @HarvardLaw92: From what I understand from the hiring manager, what the guy wrote gave him the willies. He was actually worried about the guy becoming unhinged when he let him go and had a couple of sizable guys in his office along with the petite HR person when he gave him the news.

  52. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    Rather, people are asserting that anything bad a veteran does after leaving the service is intrinsically tied to or the result of that military service, so therefore the military must have some kind of extremism problem. That tautology is flawed from the start, especially considering no comparisons are made to other professions.

    Police have an extremism problem. That’s a different profession. I’m willing to lump border patrol, and the rest of law enforcement under the general banner of police, but it’s very different from the military.

    We can tolerate a greater level of extremism from people who aren’t entrusted to deal out violence in the same of the state.

    (There’s also an extremism is the bakery profession, for instance, and it’s kind of dumb. And we make allowances for extremism in pharmacists)

    The military and law enforcement have the added issue that they train people to use weapons — so a former military extremist is a much bigger problem than a bakery extremist.

    1
  53. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Fair enough. Like Michael, if someone has religious belief but can “accept the sinner”, if not the “sin”, I don’t have a problem with that. But in the example I gave the person actually threatened violence. IANAL, but it seems a much clearer cut case.

    And, to be fair to you, I’m not saying don’t do it. I understand the rationale and I can’t say that faced with the same dilemma I wouldn’t do the same. Workplace dynamics are fragile enough as it is without knowingly introducing drama. I’m saying don’t ever let it get out that it’s what you did. Technically speaking, it’s illegal – in a federal court / civil rights violation big way. You don’t want that much propane in your life, trust me.

    2
  54. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    My experience in interviewing is quite a bit different and didn’t do subterfuge, but involved clearly laying out the behavioral and interpersonal expectations that applied to all employees and then asking candidates directly if the candidate would follow those policies. That’s a much clearer way forward than dubious fishing in my view.

    I’ve never met anyone who when asked if they can work in a diverse environment will answer anything other than “yes.” Even people who clearly can’t.

    I have had people go off on a 20 minute rant about how straight white men are being persecuted in this country when benefits for same sex couples came up. And I would just be handing them more and more rope.

    People lie in interviews. No one ever says that their greatest weakness is alcohol.

    4
  55. Mimai says:

    A terrible irony is that the military is one of the most fertile environments to REDUCE group-based stereotypes and prejudices. There’s a ton of research showing that intergroup contact can bridge divides (to put it mildly) between social groups. This has been shown for identity groups that range from race to religion to occupation etc. Police and community too.

    It doesn’t work to merely put people in contact and then let the magic happen. Rather, it requires that the groups be: equal status; work toward common goals; experience intergroup cooperation; and have support of authorities, laws, customs.

    I think it’s self-evident how the military satisfies each of these conditions IF there is adequate local leadership. So excluding people who have ugly thoughts, particularly at a critical developmental period, may have unfortunate consequences (e.g., anomie, radicalization, etc.).

    Note, I am not suggesting that the military should be used to address these societal ills, merely that it could (and does) have a salutary effect.

    3
  56. MarkedMan says:

    @Mimai: I’m no expert of course, but I am willing to bet a glass of good scotch that if you took a years worth of recruits and compared them with their social and economic clones who didn’t join the service, the service members end up far more open and much less bigoted than the ones who (mostly) stayed home. On balance I’ve come to the conclusion that service in the modern US military is a powerful force for equality, but since it’s a numbers came, lessening existing biases rather than creating saints, it’s harder to see.

    If we could get over this endless need to either lionize or demonize service members, we’d be a lot better off. People join the military for all sorts of reasons and I expect, like firemen and EMTs, most have more than one. I’m glad they are there, and they deserve to be decently treated and compensated, but they are not saints or devils.

    4
  57. Mimai says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Yes to all of this! I do have some expertise in contact theory (and its application), and your bet is a good one. Remains to be seen if you scotch is a good one. Please disclose.

    Also, your comment about neither lionizing nor demonizing service members very much resonates with me. I do a fair amount of work with veterans, and while there are quite a few who lionize themselves, the vast majority are acutely aware of (and willing to talk about) their imperfections…..as active duty, veteran, and civilian humans.

  58. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan:

    They had googled his name (well, this predates Google, but you get the idea) and found a chat group where he expressed extremely misogynistic opinions about women. Aside from angry and insulting rhetoric about women in general, he had expressed a certainty that women just did not have the intelligence for programming.

    Anybody who knows the history of programming knows this guy is a complete moron.

  59. Ken_L says:

    Points all well taken. On the other hand, we have vets like Allan West, Mike Flynn, Tom Cotton and Kurt Schlichter, who presumably didn’t suddenly become raving right-wing loons after they left the military. And if you spend some time reading Disqus comments threads, you’ll be struck by the number of aggressive Trump Republican commenters with an extraordinary number of US flags, eagles and guns squashed into their avatars, who claim to be serving or retired military. So yes the number of extremists is unknowable, but there is at least some evidence it’s not negligible.

    2
  60. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    I have had people go off on a 20 minute rant about how straight white men are being persecuted in this country when benefits for same sex couples came up. And I would just be handing them more and more rope.

    People lie in interviews. No one ever says that their greatest weakness is alcohol.

    It blows my mind a bit that anyone would be dumb enough to rant about anything, much less culture war topics, during a job interview.

    Of course people aren’t totally honest in interviews. That goes without saying. The difference is in what to do about it and how to get to the truth while also acting legally, honestly and ethically.
    Perhaps clever subterfuge will get the stupid ones to rant so you can safely eliminate them from consideration. But, at least in my experience, most people are smarter than that. This is why I think it’s better to be absolutely clear about expectations, the organization’s culture and values, etc. and get an affirmative assent from a candidate that they will adhere to those expectations. That gives you, as an employer, a sound foundation for future actions, should they become necessary, and it doesn’t rely on attempts at trickery that will only catch the dumbest ones. And the dumb ones who are prone to rants are probably going to rant or give you clues when you lay out the expectations and give them the opportunity to ask questions and get clarifications.

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand. This exceedingly stupid and ignorant Daily Beast article is a perfect example of how the media is so completely and dishonestly dumb on this topic.

    1
  61. Stormy Dragon says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Like Michael, if someone has religious belief but can “accept the sinner”, if not the “sin”, I don’t have a problem with that.

    As one of the “sinners”, I do have a problem with that. When people are actively trying to take away my right to have a family, a home, a job, etc.; the destruction to my life is the same whether they think they’re opposing me or just opposing my “sin”. The whole “accept the sinner, but not the sin” construction is just a bunch of passive-aggressive BS to absolve themselves of taking responsibility for what they’re actually advocating.

    3