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Pentagon banning ‘extremist’ tattoos, clothes, bumper stickers in new policy

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
December 28, 2021

Last week, the Pentagon unveiled new anti-extremism policies detailing banned “extremist” activities. Aside from banning service members from “liking” and “sharing” social media content deemed “extremist” in nature, the new policy also targets other forms of “extremist” displays like certain shirts, bumper stickers and tattoos.

The new anti-extremism rules define several different activities, displays and behaviors that the military will now consider as “active participation” in “extremist” activity. Those acts of “active participation” include “posting, liking, sharing, re-tweeting, or otherwise distributing content” on either personal or public Internet domains such as social media sites, blogs, websites, and applications.

The rule also prohibits the act of “Knowingly displaying paraphernalia, words, or symbols in support of extremist activities or in support of groups or organizations that support extremist activities, such as flags, clothing, tattoos, and bumper stickers, whether on or off a military installation.”

In a Dec. 20 memo explaining the new anti-extremism policies, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said, We believe only a very few violate this oath by participating in extremist activities, but even the actions of a few can have an outsized impact on unit cohesion, morale and readiness — and the physical harm some of these activities can engender can undermine the safety of our people.”

The Pentagon defined “extremism” as:

a) Advocating or engaging in unlawful force, unlawful violence, or other illegal means to deprive individuals of their rights under the United States Constitution or the laws of the United States, including those of any State, Commonwealth, Territory, or the District of Columbia, or any political subdivision thereof.
(b) Advocating or engaging in unlawful force or violence to achieve goals that are political, religious, discriminatory, or ideological in nature.
(c) Advocating, engaging in, or supporting terrorism, within the United States or abroad.
(d) Advocating, engaging in, or supporting the overthrow of the government of the United States, or any political subdivision thereof, including that of any State, Commonwealth, Territory, or the District of Columbia, by force or violence; or seeking to alter the form of these governments by unconstitutional or other unlawful means (e.g., sedition).
(e) Advocating or encouraging military, civilian, or contractor personnel within the DoD or United States Coast Guard to violate the laws of the United States, or any political subdivision thereof, including those of any State, Commonwealth, Territory, or the District of Columbia, or to
disobey lawful orders or regulations, for the purpose of disrupting military activities (e,g., subversion), or personally undertaking the same.
(f) Advocating widespread unlawful discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), gender identity, or sexual orientation.

While specifying various extremist views, the Pentagon has not developed a list of organizations it has determined hold those views. The Pentagon has also not published a list of the various symbols that may be used by these groups, which would be banned for display.

During a Dec. 20 press briefing, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said, “This isn’t about political leanings or partisan inclinations. It’s about activity. It’s about prohibited extremist activity and active participation in that activity.”

Kirby added that the new policies don’t include monitoring of all service members’ social media accounts. “There’s no ability for the Department of Defense to monitor the personal social media content of every member of the armed forces. And even if there was, that’s not the intent here.”

In addition to not providing a list of groups and symbols that the military would consider “extreme,” Kirby also said punishments for infractions will not be standardized.

“A lot of this is going to be the responsibility of commanders and commanders will have to make that call on their own in terms of what they believe is the right thing to do,” Kirby said. “That’s not something that the department would dictate at this level, and not everything has to be punished either. . . So it’s not just a knee-jerk reaction to immediately go to punishment. Each case will have to be looked at individually.”