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Rooting out extremists

DOD issues guidance on plans to counter extremist activity in the force

Air Force airmen assigned to Task Force Liberty stand in formation at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Oct. 21, 2021. Photo credit: Air Force Airman 1st Class Kylee M. Warren

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On April 9, 2021 Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III established the Countering Extremist Activity Working Group to examine how the services are implementing these actions and reviewing and updating the definition of extremism in Department of Defense Instruction 1325.06.

The full report of the working group was released Dec. 20, 2021, as was the updated DODI 1325.06.

"The overwhelming majority of the men and women of the Department of Defense serve this country with honor and integrity. They respect the oath they took to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We are grateful for that dedication. 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," Austin said.

At a press briefing on Dec. 20, John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, addressed the outcome of the recommendations of the working group and the revised instructions.

The revised instruction prohibits active participation in extremist activities and clearly defines what is meant by the term extremist activities, he said.

As Austin has emphasized, the department is focused on prohibited activity; not on a particular ideology, thought or political orientation, he said.

The department has always maintained a distinction between thoughts and actions, he added.

"The new definition preserves a service member's right of expression to the extent possible, while also balancing the need for good order and discipline to affect military combat and unit readiness. These new updates provide increased clarity for service members and commanders on what qualifies as prohibited extremist activities," he said.

The secretary heard from personnel across the force about the need to update and clarify this policy during the standdowns that he directed earlier this year, so the department tried to do that with this new instruction, he said.

Kirby noted that a lot of latitude for interpreting what constitutes extremist activity will be left up to the local commanders who know their service members well and have their fingers on the pulse of what is going on in their units.

The working group report can be found here.

The updated DODI 1325.06 can be found here.

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