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Biden SECDEF Austin orders military to use new extremism questionnaires and more

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)
April 09, 2021

On Friday, President Joe Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the Department of Defense to create a new commission to study extremism within the ranks and ordered all U.S. military branches to update their screening questionnaires to question military recruits about their current or past links to extremist groups.

Austin announced the order in a memorandum provided to American Military News. The memo states, “The secretaries of the Military Departments will update and standardize accession screening questionnaires to solicit specific information about current or previous extremist behavior.”

The memo states the screening questionnaires are meant to both “gather actionable information in the short term to ensure that only the best qualified recruits are selected for services” and “to clarify that any demonstrably false answers provided in response could form the basis for punitive action for fraudulent enlistment.”

Austin wrote, “The health, readiness, and morale of the Total Force will always be one of my top priorities. The vast majority of those who serve in uniform and their civilian colleagues, do so with great honor and integrity, but any extremist behavior in the force can have an outsized impact.”

Austin’s order also calls on the military branches to update their checklists for service members leaving the military to include training on potential risks of recruitment by extremist groups and “create a mechanism by which Veterans have the opportunity to report any potential contact with an extremist group should they choose to do so.”

Austin also ordered the Department of Defense to form a Countering Extremism Working Group (CEWG) to study the extent to which extremism exists within the DoD. The CEWG will also evaluate changes to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other military policies to address extremism, as well as to improve its ability to screen for and track extremist activity and improve education and training on the issue.

The new order comes amid concerns extremist groups have been recruiting veterans and even active service members, or asking their members to join the military to obtain training.

On Feb. 4, Austin ordered a department-wide 60-day stand-down period to address extremism within the military. The push to route out extremism in the ranks comes amid concerns about the military becoming politicized.

Several Republican lawmakers questioned the addition of the book “How to Be an Antiracist” on the U.S. Navy’s official reading list. Several lawmakers said the book promotes using discriminatory policies to remedy past discrimination. Lawmakers also noted the book’s author Ibram X. Kendi has espoused racist views, such as saying Europeans are socialized to be aggressive and “raised to be racist,” and theories that white people are responsible for the AIDS virus and are actually aliens.

Last month, Fox News host Tucker Carlson questioned whether recent U.S. military programs, such as developing maternity flight suits for pregnant service members, were prioritizing social issues rather than force readiness within the military. Carlson’s commentary prompted criticism from several military officials. One Marine Corps account even called Carlson a “boomer.” The incident prompted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to say “Pentagon attacks on Tucker Carlson damage U.S. Military for the sake of leftwing ideology and political expediency.