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.