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Austin Orders Military Stand Down to Address Challenge of Extremism in the Ranks

Feb. 3, 2021 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered a DOD-wide stand down to discuss the problem of extremism in the ranks, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said today.

Austin and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with service civilian leaders and service chiefs to discuss the problem of extremism. Kirby noted that some of the extremists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 were active duty service members and others were military veterans.

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An aerial view of the Pentagon, Oct. 28, 2018.
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Kirby was quick to say that "the vast majority of men and women who serve in uniform and the military are doing so with honor, integrity and character, and do not espouse the sorts of beliefs that lead to the kind of conduct that can be so detrimental to good order and discipline and in fact is criminal."

Still, Austin said in the meeting with military leaders that while the numbers may be small, they are not as small as anyone would like. "No matter what it is, it is … not an insignificant problem and has to be addressed," Kirby said during a press gaggle in the Pentagon.

The stand down will occur over the next 60 days, Kirby said. This is so "each service, each command and each unit can take the time out to have these needed discussions with the men and women of the force," he said.

There is much that needs to be hammered out including the details of the training that will go along with the stand down and what the secretary and all in the military want to accomplish. The stand down is similar to safety stand downs that units may have, Kirby said. 

Austin called extremism in the ranks a leadership issue, and "it's got to be a leadership issue down to the lowest levels, small unit leadership all the way up to him," Kirby said. "So if you consider it a leadership issue, then maybe there will be some potential solutions there to allow us greater visibility."

This is a thorny problem, one that has raised its head in the past. There is a DOD Instruction aimed at this very problem — DODI 1325.06 "Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces."

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The Pentagon Press Briefing Room, March 27, 2020.
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The DOD Instruction expressly prohibits military personnel from actively advocating for and participating in supremacist, extremist or criminal gang doctrine, ideology or causes, Kirby said.

There are questions that need to be answered, like what constitutes extremist activity? What is permissible in looking for extremists in the ranks? 

In the meeting today, Austin made it clear that he is still mulling over how  he wants to organize the effort to attack the problem from an institutional perspective, the press secretary said. 

The secretary may establish a task force to get after the problem or perhaps another way. "He hasn't ruled anything in or out," Kirby said.