The Defense Department on Thursday outlined measures taken across the force to prevent and root out extremism as an expected 20,000 National Guard members arrive in Washington to provide inauguration security.
“Members of the National Guard have undergone a background investigation, are subject to continuous evaluation, and are enrolled in an insider threat program,” Gary Reid, the Defense Department’s director for defense intelligence, told Pentagon journalists on a briefing call.
Reid said the department is doing everything possible to eliminate extremism, including working closely with the FBI to identify current and former service members who may pose a danger.
“DOD policy expressly prohibits military personnel from actively advocating supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes,” he said.
Senior defense officials on a background call refused to disclose how many former and current members of the military were known to have participated in the Jan. 6 riot that breached the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.
Instead, officials said it was cooperating with a Department of Justice investigation.
Several former and active-duty service members have already been identified, including former Senior Airman Ashli Babbitt, a 14-year Air Force veteran who was shot and killed by Capitol Police while attempting to climb into the House chamber.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Larry Brock was seen with zip-tie handcuffs, former Navy officer Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansley had neo-Nazi tattoos and a fur-lined headdress with horns, retired Navy SEAL Adam Newbold boasted on Facebook about breaching the Capitol, and Army Capt. Emily Rainey led a group of 100 protesters to the rally and is currently under investigation by officials at Fort Bragg.
A senior defense official said anti-government and anti-authority motivations are among those explored during both the recruiting phase for a potential service member and the regular reviews of current members of the military.
“We clearly recognize the threat from domestic extremists, particularly those who espouse white supremacy or white nationalist ideologies,” the official said.
The official said white supremacy in the ranks of the military has risen over the past 12 months, but not all individuals can be found.
“Bulk screening of all people of the entire internet, and particularly in dark web environment, is a challenge,” he said. “There’s always potential that people conceal these behaviors.”
The FBI sends some 200 notices of former and active-duty military members under investigation to the Defense Department, though not all are for extremism.
Another senior defense official said that the line for what constitutes free speech and what constitutes extremism must be investigated on a fact-by-fact and individual basis.
“Identifying that line for individuals is something DOJ is looking at with regard to Jan. 6,” the official said. “We’re relying on DOJ to provide their analysis of criminal behavior that took place and charges they may be taking for individuals who cross from potentially participating in protest activity to what clearly for many people became criminal behavior.”