In a video statement released Friday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called on troops throughout the U.S. military to report extremism they see in the ranks and share any ideas they have to “stamp out” the issue.
“We need your help,” Austin said. “Im 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.”
Austin thanked military commands for participating in stand-downs over a 60-day period, to address concerns about extremism in the ranks. The stand-down was among Austin’s first orders after his confirmation to the role of defense secretary.
“I’ve seen this before, I’ve lived through it as a soldier and as a commander,” Austin said of extremism in the ranks. “It’s not new to our country and sadly it’s not new to our military. What is new is the speed and the pervasiveness with which extremist ideology can spread today, thanks to social media and the aggressive, organized and emboldened attitude many of these hate groups and their sympathizers are now applying to their recruitment and to their operations.”
Austin called on troops to revisit the oaths they swore to the constitution when entering the service. Austin said, “Read those words again, consider what they really mean and think about the promise that you made to yourselves and to your teammates and to your fellow citizens.”
Austin’s recommendation came ahead of a U.S. Navy order to have all Navy personnel retake their oaths of enlistment and oaths of office during the 60-day extremism stand-down period.
“I also want you to share with your leadership your own personnel experiences with encountering extremists and extremist ideology in the military, should you have any,” Austin said. “And I want your leadership to listen to those stories and I want them to listen to any ideas you might have to help us stamp out of the ranks the dangerous conduct that this ideology inspires.”
Austin concluded his video message saying, “We have serious commitments around the world, and people depend on us, so we can’t afford actions and behavior that are at odds with our values and that undermine good order and discipline, that harm or harass and otherwise violate the oath that we share, and the bonds of trust upon which we all rely.”
Austin previously said extremism within the military is “probably more than we would like and less than the media depicts it as,” and during a Monday press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby was asked what data the military had about extremism.
Kirby said “[Austin], of course, would like to know with more granularity how big the problem is, and that would include, but not solely, but it would include getting a sense of the numbers of people who are in the ranks who espouse these beliefs and are acting, or willing to act on them. But he’s mindful that it’s a difficult dataset to get to.”
Addressing further questions about Pentagon data on the issue of extremism in the ranks, Kirby said, “There are, as you know and we’ve talked about it — I mean, there’s First Amendment rights here too that also — also have to be respected. This isn’t about, you know, trying to, you know, get into the, you know, brains of an individual member of the military but rather to make sure that we have a better sense of who we’re bringing in and that those who are in are ascribing and acting on our core values.”
Kirby said some commands have already acted on the extremism stand-down order and the Pentagon is preparing additional training materials, to go along with Austin’s video statement.