US servicemembers gather for a group photo in Times Square, as part of ‘Fleet Week’ celebrations in New York on May 25, 2022.(ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)
A recent report by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) delving into studying extremism in the United States military has found little evidence to sustain claims that the issue poses a serious problem among service members.
It further nullified claims made by some officials of the Biden administration of increased levels of radicalism within the military, specifically in relation to the January 6 Capitol breach.
The report, released last month by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), commissioned by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, was initially put in motion after the Jan. 6, 2021, incident, following allegations that some of those involved had served in the military.
The report is based upon research conducted by three IDA teams from June 2021 through June 2022 and involved an analysis into an array of documents and data regarding extremist activities and related behaviors based on several dozen interviews of military and DOD officials. It also included information collected from site visits to multiple military installations.
“IDA’s review found no evidence that the number of violent extremists in the military is disproportionate to the number of violent extremists in the United States as a whole,” according to the institute’s executive summary of the report.
It goes on to say that despite this, “there is some indication that the rate of participation by former service members is slightly higher and may be growing.”
Upon further analysis, the IDA did not uncover any “evidence of violent extremist behavior by DOD civilians,” the report states.
It added that it would only require a relatively small number of violent extremists with military training or connections to pose a threat to national security. However, there appears to be a lack of clarity among service members as to what could be regarded as prohibited extremist activities.
This lack of clarity poses a bigger risk than any potentially radical service members, the report highlights, as it serves to increase the likelihood for division and polarization within the military.
Of the total number of people charged in connection with the Capitol breach, just over 10 percent were veterans. However, less than 10 of those charged were active service members at the time of the Capitol breach.
“Anecdotal accounts of military participation in violent extremist events, like the events of Jan. 6, 2021, draw public attention and may create the impression that the military has ‘an extremism problem,’” the report reads.
But such incidents simply highlight the actions of a few, without shedding light on the broader implications of the issue, it emphasized.
The report also delved into another pertinent issue, namely that accounts like those mentioned above fail to draw a distinction between veterans who may have left the military years earlier, either voluntarily or by dishonorable discharge, and those currently in active military service.
It further notes that there is no more violent extremism in the military than in the broader American society.
“As the Department responds to such events, it should remain cognizant of the fact that violent extremism does not appear to be any more prevalent among service members than it is in American society as a whole, and avoid steps that risk unnecessary polarization or division in the ranks.”
In early February 2021, less than a month after the Capitol breach, Mr. Austin initiated a 60-day stand down across the Department of Defense, with the purpose of establishing a deeper insight into what then-Pentagon press secretary John Kirby described as “not an insignificant problem” that “has to be addressed.”
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