DoD’s new rules on extremism still don’t have enough punch, lawmaker says

On Monday, the Defense Department clarified its policy for addressing extremism in its ranks and outlined some future steps; however, some say even the updated plan to address racism, violent political behavior and other forms of fanaticism in the ranks still aren’t quite right.

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) has been at the forefront of the issue of military extremism since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

In an interview with Federal News Network, Brown said DoD is moving in the right direction, but is still falling short, especially when it comes to data tracking of extremism.

“I don’t think it’s a step far enough,” Brown said. “I commend the department for better clarifying what prohibited activity is in terms of actively participating in extremist behavior. But I think it’s important that both Congress and the Pentagon take a clear position that membership with or without active participation in an extremist group would be grounds for disqualification for military service.”

The Pentagon’s report and clarification details specific banned activities, from advocating terrorism or supporting overthrowing the government to liking or reposting extremist material.

The rules also specify that commanders must determine two things in order for someone to be held accountable: that the action was an extremist activity, as defined in the rules, and that the service member “actively participated” in that prohibited activity.

“What we’re talking about is a case where, for instance, it came to light that an individual on social media openly advocated, forwarded or encouraged the dissemination of prohibited extremist material,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at the Pentagon on Monday. “That would have to come to light through various streams of reporting. It wouldn’t be something that the command or the department’s going to be actively fishing for.”

One of the biggest concerns Brown pointed out is that DoD does not have the proper channels to count and record extremist behavior in the military.

The DoD Inspector General report found that the military services investigated 281 instances of extremism from January to September 2021.

“The recommendations that were issued by the Pentagon are lacking in terms of a commitment to collecting data, analyzing the data, and then being able to adapt training procedures for identifying and, where necessary, removing extremists in the ranks,” Brown said. “Data was a big wall in the Pentagon’s report that was released yesterday.

DoD IG had similar feelings in its report.

“Until the DoD establishes DoD-wide policy for tracking and reporting allegations of prohibited activities, the DoD will continue to have inconsistent tracking of disciplinary actions for participation in extremist organizations and activities; problems identifying and collecting data from multiple, decentralized systems; and difficulty validating the accuracy of the data,” the IG wrote.

The RAND Corporation suggested in May that DoD can better track extremist behavior in the military by using artificial intelligence to find motifs that lead to service members violating policies. However, that would involve standardizing data collection.

Brown introduced legislation that was in the House version of the 2022 defense authorization bill that would have created a comprehensive database for tracking extremism and established an office of countering extremism in DoD. Those provisions didn’t make it into the final version of the bill.

Brown said he wants to see how DoD’s recommendations pan out before he reintroduces any new language.

“I had a really good conversation with Kathleen Hicks, the deputy secretary of Defense, in commending the department in issuing the DoD instruction and moving forward on some of the recommendations in the report,” Brown said. “I think it’s important that the DoD be given an opportunity to implement what they are proposing.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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