The Pentagon stumped and unsure about how to address white nationalism and other forms of extremism in its ranks, announced plans for military-wide stand-downs that will pause regular activity at some point in the next 60 days to tackle the issue.

The decision to hold a stand-down was made by Lloyd Austin, who made history by becoming the first Black secretary of Defense after a long career rising in the Army’s ranks. In his confirmation hearing, Austin underscored the need to rid the military of “racists and extremists.”

Austin ordered the stand-down after a meeting with the U.S. military branch leaders, who are under pressure to show progress in combating extremism after current and former military servicemembers were found to have participated in the siege of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin gives an elbow bump to Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, upon his arrival at the Pentagon, Jan. 22, 2021. With them is Acting Defense Secretary David Norquist. Austin was sworn in as the 28th defense secretary shortly afterward. (Caitlin M. Kenney/Stars and Stripes)

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. 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.”

There is a DOD Instruction aimed at this very problem — DODI 1325.06: “Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces.”

Kirby said that the DOD Instruction expressly prohibits military personnel from actively advocating for and participating in supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes.

There are three specific requirements for the stand-down which must be addressed:

  • Discuss the importance of the Oath of Office and the responsibilities soldiers assume upon taking it
  • Personnel understands permissible and forbidden behaviors and speech in the contact of their rights, responsibilities, and limitations in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Hatch Act, and other laws and policies applicable to soldiers and Army Civilians
  • All personnel are able to recognize and report indicators of extremism

This must be completed by March 30, 2021.

For enlisted personnel, the oath reads, “I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me, God.”

Seems easy enough.

The Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, limits certain political activities of federal employees and some state, DC, and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. ​The law’s purpose is to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not on political affiliation.​​​​ ​​

Again, we should all know this by now.

Concerning recognizing and reporting extremism indicators, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has put out that an indicator is a behavior that suggests an individual has likely already radicalized to violent extremism and may require more timely intervention (e.g., from law enforcement). 

For example, an individual may have a criminal history, be socially isolated, or distant from one’s family (three identified risk factors for engaging in violent extremism), and never adopt a violent extremist ideology.

On the other hand, if an individual verbalizes their intent to harm others to family, friends, or on social media (an identified indicator of violent extremism), that person is likely in need of immediate intervention.

So that’s it. Doesn’t seem too difficult. And hopefully, this will empower those who see something to say something.