On Monday, the Department of Defense, in an effort to further crack down on political dissent, is revising its previous definitions of “extremist behavior” in order to deter uniformed members from certain political affiliations, CNN reports.
The Countering Extremism Working Group, a panel that was created for the purpose of ostensibly investigating “extremism” within military ranks, issued a report outlining its findings, claiming that there are indeed some “extremists” in the military. The report alleges that there were roughly 100 instances of uniformed members who either had “extremist” beliefs or joined “extremist” groups in 2021, which the report claims is an increase from previous years.
Among other rules, the new guidance makes it harder for members to join alleged “extremist” organizations while serving. As one anonymous official said, “any way that someone could sort of actively become a member of an extremist organization, we’ve accounted for them. We don’t think there is a way to be a member of an extremist organization in any meaningful way.”
When reporters were briefed on Monday by Defense Department officials, it was clarified that the new rules are less about prohibiting certain behavior and more about more clearly defining what exactly Pentagon leadership considers “extremism” in the first place.
“We were very conscious of not focusing on any particular ideology or any political organization,” another official said, “but focusing exclusively on actions.”
The Pentagon’s press secretary John Kirby further explained that the new guidance intends to “preserve a service member’s right of expression to the extent possible, while also balancing the need for good order and discipline.”
The Defense Department’s increased focus on “extremism” is widely understood to be an effort to crack down on right-wing political opinions, such as support for President Donald Trump. Charges have been filed against at least 74 current or former members of the military as a result of their participation in the peaceful protests that took place at the United States Capitol on January 6th. In February, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered an unprecedented nationwide “stand-down” order so that all branches of the military could more closely investigate any possible “extremists” within its ranks. While testifying before Congress for his confirmation hearings, Austin infamously referred to members of the American military as “enemies” for holding different political beliefs than him.