Pentagon fears growth of extremists in the ranks after January 6th

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The most famous insurgent who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 was 14-year-old Air Force veteran Ashli ​​Babbitt. The police shot her trying to break a door to the speaker’s lobby.

Since then, Babbitt has been martyred for many supporters of former President Donald Trump, including some military veterans and, Pentagon officials fear, young people interested in military service. Yet a year later, the Department of Defense is still struggling to figure out how best to identify these potential extremists and prevent them from registering.

A month after the uprising, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin instructed every US military unit to take time to investigate the problem.

The most famous insurgent who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 was 14-year-old Air Force veteran Ashli ​​Babbitt. The police shot her trying to break a door to the speaker’s lobby.

Since then, Babbitt has been martyred for many supporters of former President Donald Trump, including some military veterans and, Pentagon officials fear, young people interested in military service. Yet a year later, the Department of Defense is still struggling to figure out how best to identify these potential extremists and prevent them from registering.

A month after the uprising, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin instructed every US military unit to take time to investigate the problem.

Since then, the Pentagon has Updated its screening forms to weed out recruits who belong to racially biased or extremist groups. It also updated lists of banned symbols like gang tattoos, which date back to the 1990s when gang violence was a leading concern. And it has encouraged recruiting commanders to keep in touch with local law enforcement and the FBI regarding potential conscripts.

However, experts say that many young extremists who want to sign up do not necessarily have external identifiers or police records.

“It has always been detrimental to recruiting someone who has a swastika tattoo,” said Katherine Kuzminski, senior fellow and director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think Tank.

“But there was not necessarily the same level of awareness for all types of domestic extremist groups.” She said, adding that young recruits who are prone to extremist views may not use similarly well-known symbols of hatred.

Concerns about the infiltration of the military by extremists – including white nationalists and white racists encouraged by the Trump presidency – dated back to the Capitol uprising last year.

In 2020, the Pentagon introduced new procedures to include FBI reviews of tattoos and branding by the Department of Cryptology and Law Enforcement Extortion into the recruitment process. Other eligibility verification steps include an in-person interview, Pentagon investigation, and FBI criminal background review. Recruits whose criminal history includes belonging to extremist groups will be disqualified from the service.

Despite military officials doing so, the Pentagon does not officially review applicants’ social media profiles, according to a spokesman for the Air Force Recruiting Service indicated that will probably come soon. But an updated Pentagon policy released last December prohibits liking, posting, or re-sharing extremist content on social media.

The directive does little to state which specific messages are prohibited and gives military units leeway to determine.

In all branches of the U.S. military, recruits must undergo a fingerprint test and FBI name verification, which is shared with city, county, and state law enforcement agencies. The Pentagon can also track possible extremist activity within the ranks through Inspector General and Military Justice databases.

Defense officials have insisted that the number of troops sympathizing with extremist groups is tiny. According to Cmdr. Devin Arneson, a Navy spokesman, said Foreign policy that less than 100 service employees were confronted with official measures in the last year.

Still, there are concerns that the number of extremists on active duty could increase. “[E]Even a small number of cases can be a significant problem, and the number could rise in light of recent data and evidence of an increase in domestic violent extremism, particularly among veterans, which could serve as a harbinger of a similar increase within the armed forces ”, said Arneson said.

Some lawmakers have suggested that the Pentagon be go too far and should focus on its primary role in protecting the country. Others have raised concerns about freedom of expression, arguing that a Facebook publisher like that of 18-year-old recruits shouldn’t rule their future.

“This is a particularly hairy problem,” said James Marrone, an associate economist at Rand Corp. who studies extremism in the US military. “You inevitably bump your head against freedom of expression.”

The problem of balancing freedom of expression and security risks becomes even more difficult with veterans. About 12 percent of those arrested after the January 6 uprising had military experience. according to on a joint study by George Washington University and West Point published in April 2021. Both the Army and Navy have taken steps in pre-segregation procedures to address the issue, instructing would-be veterans to continue to obey their Constitutional Oath and provide a list of FBI and state and local police tips.

But ultimately, the identification of extremists in the military will fall to lower-ranking commanders – at a time when American politics is increasingly polarized.

“I think the real challenge will lie with the unit commander,” said Kuzminski. “We know a swastika tattoo is out of range, but what about a Confederate flag bumper on your truck? You go to most of the posts in the United States and that’s a reality at least sometimes. Where is this line? “



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