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Pentagon establishes working group to counter extremism in the ranks

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has established a working group to further study the scope of the problem of extremism in the ranks and outlined immediate actions in a memo he issued Friday.

The new directive calls for immediate actions like updating screening questionnaires and reviewing the definition of prohibited extremist behavior. The Countering Extremist Working Group will look at longer-term efforts like reviewing the Uniformed Code of Military Justice and better facilitating the sharing of information between law enforcement and the military. 

In the wake of the assault on the Capitol in January, the Pentagon has made countering extremism one of its top priorities. CBS News has reported at least 37 current or former military members have been arrested in relation to the attack on the Capitol on January 6. 

The services are also being immediately directed to include training for individuals separating or retiring from the military on the potential for targeting of service members by extremist groups. 

“There’s definitely a sense that more needs to be done to educate and inform transitioning members about who and what are waiting for them on the other side,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday. 

The new directive follows the stand down Austin ordered in February to enable the services to address extremism in the ranks and to hear from service members about the scope of the problem. 

Austin met with secretaries of the armed services Friday morning to receive feedback on the stand downs, according to Kirby. The secretaries said that their members acknowledged that it’s a problem and listened to stories of personal experiences with it. 

Kirby said the Pentagon is still reviewing what was learned in the stand downs but has identified critical initial steps, which Austin included in the directive Friday. One of the immediate actions is to create a commission to study the scope of the problem because of the lack of available data. 

The Countering Extremism Working Group in the Department will be led by the new senior adviser on Human Capital and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Bishop Garrison.  

Among the issues the working group will consider is whether to prohibit membership to an extremist group. Currently, active participation in extremist groups, which includes fundraising, rallying and recruiting, is banned.



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