The Pentagon has unveiled a detailed set of new rules that are aimed at removing extremism within the U.S. armed forces — a concern that’s gotten renewed focus after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack and other incidents that have exposed radical service members.
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The Department of Defense announced the new rules on Monday, which entirely bars any service members from actively engaging in extremist activity.
The changes do not usher in much in the way of new policy, but they aim to make clear to service members precisely what they can and cannot do as a member of the U.S. military.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the rules clearly define lines for military personnel about their involvement in activities involving extremism, but not ideology.
He noted that the Pentagon has no interest in policing ideology, thoughts or political affiliation.
“The overwhelming majority of the men and women of the Department of Defense serve this country with honor and integrity,” Austin said in a statement.
“We owe the men and women of the Department of Defense an environment free of extremist activities, and we owe our country a military that reflects the founding values of our democracy.”
Security fencing and razor wire protect the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on March 3 amid concerns about possible violence by far-right militia groups loyal to former President Donald Trump. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI
The Pentagon said fewer than 100 service members are known to have participated in major extremist activity over the past year. But officials acknowledged that the figure could grow, particularly with a spike in domestic terrorism — which is largely associated with support for former President Donald Trump — among veterans.
The department said it’s taking Immediate action, including developing a comprehensive training and education plan on extremist activity, reviewing and updating policies and modernizing insider threat programs.
“These new updates provide increased clarity for service members and commanders on what qualifies as prohibited extremist activities,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
“The secretary heard from personnel across the force about the need to update and clarify this policy during the stand-downs that he directed earlier this year.”
Some of the activity that’s clarified to be banned under the Pentagon policy includes advocating terrorism or supporting the overthrow of the U.S. government and raising money for an extremist group.
The policy also, for the first time, specifically clarifies what behaviors are acceptable for service members on social media. It says that “liking” or reposting extremist views online is prohibited.
To hold service members accountable, the policy says commanders must determine that extremist activity occurred and that a service member was an “active” participant.
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