It’s been more than one year since the Defense Department launched an offensive against extremism in the services, including a daylong standdown for the entire department and an updated policy against extremist activity.
But the services aren’t interested in fielding a new Uniform Code of Military Justice article that would specifically outlaw that activity.
That’s the recommendation from a report submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June, part of the department’s obligation under the most recent National Defense Authorization Act.
Instead, according to the report, DoD would like to give its previous efforts a couple of years to percolate before taking any more steps.
Commanders have a “wide variety of options to address concerning behavior at every point along the spectrum,” according to the report, and Pentagon leadership doesn’t believe that a new article would be a useful tool to respond.
They are, however, open to revisiting the possibility down the line, after a planned two-year review of existing efforts, the report said.
In December 2021, the Pentagon released an updated policy that deals with extremist activities, expanding what’s prohibited from organizing, fundraising and proselytizing in general to specifically banning social media activity that promotes extremist ideology.
For anyone who violates it, commanders have discretion over how to address it, which can include anything from an informal counseling to a referral for a criminal investigation.
The report argues that a specific UCMJ article isn’t necessary because already there are so many other articles that could address everything from extremism rhetoric to planning a violent attack, including a handful that deal with defying orders and policies in general.
Existing charges could include:
- Article 81 — Conspiracy.
- Article 82 — Soliciting commission of offenses.
- Article 88 — Contempt toward officials.
- Article 89 — Disrespect/assault toward superior commissioned officer.
- Article 91 — Insubordinate conduct toward warrant officer, noncommissioned officer or petty officer.
- Article 92 — Failure to obey an order or regulation.
- Article 94 — Mutiny and sedition.
- Article 108 — Military property: Loss, damage, destruction or wrongful disposition.
- Article 109 — Property other than military property: Waste, spoilage, or destruction.
- Article 114 — Endangerment offenses.
- Article 115 — Communicating threats.
- Article 116 — Riot or breach of peace.
- Article 117 — Provoking speeches or gestures.
- Article 118 — Murder.
- Article 119 — Manslaughter.
- Article 126 — Arson: burning property with intent to defraud.
- Article 128 — Assault.
- Article 133 — Conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.
- Article 134 — General article.
On top of those, sentencing guidelines allow military courts to tack on extra time if a crime has an extremism element.
“There is no apparent gap in law or policy preventing the government from prosecuting violations of DoD’s extremism policy,” according to the report.
But, according to the report, not enough time has passed for DoD to assess whether its latest efforts are making a difference or whether further policy changes are needed.
Congress ordered the report to gather some background for its own deliberations about updating the UCMJ, but it’s unclear whether that idea is still on the table.
On July 18, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a report as part of the 2023 NDAA process, calling for the Pentagon to pull back its anti-extremism efforts.
”The committee believes that the vast majority of servicemembers serve with honor and distinction, and that the narrative surrounding systemic extremism in the military besmirches the men and women in uniform,” the report reads.
DoD found roughly 100 reported cases of extremist activity in 2021, “which represents, we believe, an increase,” a defense official told reporters in December 2021.
“Now, whether that is an increase because our data fidelity has gotten better, or whether it’s an increase overall, is something that we’ll have to look at closely in years to come, as ... data fidelity improves,” the official added. “But certainly, looking at case rates of domestic violent extremism across the country as a whole could be a precursor to what we may be experiencing or could experience in the military.”
That study prompted members of SASC to call for a halt to anti-extremism programs.
“The committee believes that spending additional time and resources to combat exceptionally rare instances of extremism in the military is an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, and should be discontinued by the Department of Defense immediately,” they wrote.
The recommendation is based on an estimate of the time and money the department spent on its anti-extremism efforts in 2021, including $500,000 ― though the report doesn’t break down that number ― and more than five million hours spent on the standdown.
Defense Department spokesmen declined to comment on the SASC report.
The number of cases reported to Congress, however, may not reflect the full scope of extremist sentiment in the military. As part of DoD’s recent efforts to combat it, there is an ongoing effort to better track instances.
DoD announced in December that it intended to launch a study on the prevalence of extremism ideology in the force, with a goal to complete it by June.
The study is still under review, Army Maj. Charlie Dietz said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.