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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Lloyd Austin calls on troops to help fight extremism in ranks

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called on members of the military to share their experiences with extremism in a 60-day push aimed at reducing the scourge in the ranks.

“We need your help,” Austin said during a five-minute training message while standing at the Pentagon press room podium.

“I’m talking, of course, about extremism and extremist ideology — views and conduct that run counter to everything that we believe in and which can actually tear at the fabric of who we are as an institution,” he said.

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Less than a month after the Capitol riots, which have seen the arrest of military veterans and active-duty service members, Austin called for the 60-day effort across the force to include a one-day listening session with leadership.


Across the globe, units began discussions while others waited for guidance and training material. The video released on Friday is meant as a tool to start discussion.

“Nobody’s debating whether it is or isn’t an issue,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told defense reporters on Monday. “What we don’t know is the extent of it. And what we don’t know is exactly and how best to go about eradicating that and the behavior that it inspires.”

One former Trump administration official is debating whether extremism exists in the ranks.

“They have self-admitted that the problem doesn’t exist to their knowledge, and that’s because it doesn’t,” said Kash Patel, the former chief of staff to acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, on Fox News Sunday.

“Their own spokesperson and their own secretary of defense, they have said they do not know the problem and whether it exists. They don’t have a name for it. They don’t have a solution for it. But they’re going to label it anyway,” Patel said. “That is a total Machiavellian approach.”

Kirby called the former Republican operative’s comments “interesting,” and he referred to an October Pentagon report that found that extremism does exist in the ranks. That report was conducted during the Trump administration, four months before the Biden team took over.

“I don’t think it’s debatable that it is or isn’t an issue,” Kirby added, underscoring that the 60-day effort does not seek to measure the extent of extremism.

“Will it lead to specific data?” he asked. “I doubt that. It’s not about counting heads. … It’s about getting a better grasp of the degree to which the problem exists.”

In his first public comments to the media Friday, Austin described two incidents of white nationalist behavior he experienced as a soldier.

As commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, he said he was surprised to find that he had skinheads in his unit who had committed off-base murders. He also referred to comments made by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley during the aftermath of a mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2014 in which a radicalized soldier killed three fellow soldiers and wounded 16.

“I’ve seen this before. I’ve lived through it as a soldier and as a commander,” Austin said, calling on service members to read and discuss their oaths to the Constitution.

The secretary also warned of the “aggressive, organized, and emboldened attitude” of extremist groups’ recruitment and operations. He said the increasing speed and pervasiveness of social media was allowing hate groups to reach and recruit service members more easily.


“It concerns me to think that anyone wearing the uniform of a soldier, or a sailor, an airman, Marine, a guardian, or Coast Guardsman, would espouse these sorts of beliefs, let alone act on them,” he said. “But they do. Some of them still do.”

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