The White House on Tuesday announced a national effort for countering domestic extremism, which includes moves the Defense Department put into action earlier this year.
Among them are initiatives to better screen potential recruits, monitor extremist activity while in uniform and better educate new veterans about the possibility of being targeted for recruitment into an extremist group. The White House strategy would like to see those measures extended to law enforcement, according to a Tuesday release.
“While domestic law enforcement agencies take the lead, the Department of Defense will do our part to support this important strategy,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “That includes maintaining the Department’s robust relationship with federal law enforcement as well as refining our policies to better address this issue within the Department.”
The strategy builds off of a study released to Congress in March, a senior administration official told reporters on Monday.
“... it found that domestic violent extremists, motivated by a range of ideologies, pose an elevated threat to our country in 2021, with racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists — and specifically those who espouse the superiority of the white race — and anti-government militia violent extremists posing the most lethal threat,” the official said.
A government-wide anti-extremism push has been in the making since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. DoD took much of that lead earlier this year, after multiple reports that service members and veterans made up as much as 20 percent of the people charged for participating.
“... obviously, the Defense Department has really shown a lot of leadership on this, starting early in this administration, to ensure that those critical and sensitive positions — positions of trust that service members and others within the Defense Department hold — can’t be abused or exploited for the sort of nefarious purposes that domestic terrorists would like to see them exploited for,” the official said.
DoD’s work, including its Countering Extremism Working Group, is basically one arm of a larger strategy across the federal government, the official added.
That group is tasked with developing a definition of extremism that commanders can use when handling potential cases; something more specific than the current DoD instruction, which allows for membership in organization extremist groups, as long as a service member is not “actively” fundraising, planning action or participating in public events.
Elsewhere, the president’s 2022 budget request includes nearly $31 million to help the department develop a punitive regulation for prosecuting extremism.
The Justice Department may go a similar route, the senior administration official said, though that’s still under review.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.