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Biden SecDef Austin orders 60-day stand-down to address extremism in the military

New Jersey National Guard troops set up security positions in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)
February 04, 2021

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a 60-day stand-down to address the issue of extremism in the ranks.

Announcing the decision, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby noted the review comes after active duty and retired military veterans were found among those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Kirby said the exact details of the training during the stand-down are still being discussed, but he said the stand-down will be similar to safety stand-downs that units may have from time to time. He said there is already a DoD instruction manual aimed at addressing extremism in the ranks, but it was last updated in 2012. Questions also remain, such as what constitutes extremist activity and what methods may be used to look for and find extremists in the ranks.

Kirby said the 60-day stand-down period is so “each service, each command and each unit can take the time out to have these needed discussions with the men and women of the force.”

Kirby said, “The vast majority of men and women who serve in uniform and the military are doing so with honor, integrity and character, and do not espouse the sorts of beliefs that lead to the kind of conduct that can be so detrimental to good order and discipline and in fact is criminal.”

When Austin met with military leaders to discuss the review, he expressed that while the numbers of extremists may be small, they are not as small as the military would like, Kirby said.

“No matter what it is, it is … not an insignificant problem and has to be addressed,” Kirby told reporters Wednesday.

Austin said extremism in the ranks is a leadership issue, and “it’s got to be a leadership issue down to the lowest levels, small unit leadership all the way up to him,” Kirby said. “So if you consider it a leadership issue, then maybe there will be some potential solutions there to allow us greater visibility.”

The move comes after numerous current and former service members were identified in connection with the Capitol storming last month.

The incident at the Capitol saw violent clashes with police that forced the building to lock down and saw the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick and four more demonstrators in the building. Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer and was among the four demonstrators who died in the Capitol.

The incident at the Capitol triggered a massive security response and more than 25,000 National Guard troops were called into Washington D.C. between Jan. 6 and Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. During that mass troop deployment in the city, the Pentagon ordered all troops deployed in the city to be vetted. While then-acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller said there was no intel indicating an insider threat to the inauguration among the ranks, 12 guardsmen were removed from the inauguration support mission after the vetting process identified questionable behavior.

Austin has said that rooting out racism and extremism in the military is one of his top priorities.