The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) on Wednesday sent a letter to U.S. lawmakers and the Department of Defense urging them to take direct and swift action to root out white supremacy and other forms of extremism from the U.S. military.
Through Congressional testimony, GPAHE has previously advised the U.S. government on the concern of far-right extremism among active military members as well as veterans, and has offered suggestions for how to combat this increasing threat. The organization sent the letter to lawmakers and numerous congressional committees following the recent arrest of 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman charged with leaking top secret documents online — the most recent reminder of the immediate danger far-right extremists pose to national security.
“We have been warning the government for years about the growing threat of white supremacy in the military,” said GPAHE co-founder Heidi Beirich. “And, what’s really scary and maddening is that even as numerous government agencies recognize the threat, under the leadership of the GOP, the government has taken active steps to actually do less to combat it.”
Even as the FBI, DHS, and other federal agencies have reported that white supremacist and antigovernment movements are the number one domestic terrorism threat to the United States, the Senate Armed Services Committee rejected efforts to identity and remove extremists from military ranks based on the patently false view that efforts to do so would “besmirch” our troops, according to the GPAHE letter. The SASC report had an impact: The final National Defense Authorization Act deleted seven of eight House-passed anti-extremism provisions.
As GPAHE wrote in the letter, “soldiers who express racist and bigoted ideas that are pushed by the white supremacist movement, and involved in organizations that are driven by extremist ideology, sully the integrity of our dedicated troops. They pose a national and an international security threat when they work with far-right extremists in other countries to further these ideas. They also endanger their fellow soldiers and our military’s efforts to bring peace and stability to countries where our troops are stationed.”
In addition to the involvement of numerous veterans and active military members in the Jan. 6th insurrection, the letter pointed to other recent examples of Americans with military connections being convicted of violent extremist crimes.
“There is no doubt that extremism in the military continues to grow,” said Wendy Via, co-founder of GPAHE. “Pretending that this isn’t a problem and refusing to address it risks future domestic terror violence and mass casualties. Our congressional leaders and the U.S. military must not allow politicization of this very real threat and must be serious about addressing extremists in the ranks and the vulnerability of our veterans to extremism recruitment.”
View the full letter here. The GPAHE letter included the following recommendations:
- In its forthcoming study, the government should evaluate the adequacy of the policies and procedures currently in place, including revise its command climate surveys of active-duty soldiers to ask whether they have seen “extremist activity” by white supremacists and other forms of bigotry, antigovernment extremists, and other far-right organizations in the workplace to get an accurate reflection of the problem. The Military Times should not be the main source of this information.
- Develop clearly laid out mechanisms and procedures to investigate the social media accounts and online activities of prospective recruits and for those with security clearances, at a minimum. It is unclear how well this works now, though the DoD claims those with clearance are under constant monitoring. The case of Teixeira warrants a review of how well that is done. The Department of Defense has balked at reports that it was piloting a monitoring program in other circumstances.
- Develop stronger screening measures including a bolstered tattoo database.
- Improve screening and psychological and health tests to address potential extremist leanings.
- Provide training to members at all levels on the nature and threats of far-right extremism, including the commanders at all levels, and how to recognize it.
- Intervention training when white supremacy and other forms of bigoted activities are identified is critical, as are separation procedures if warranted. Currently, military regulations do not bar troop membership in extremist and supremacist groups but prohibit so-called “active participation” in the groups. Instead, the DoD should create educational programs for those who are “mere” members to offramp them from extremism. We understand that the DoD is working to clarify the definition of prohibited extremist activity and role of commanders to address online activity. We urge this to be expedited.
- Procedures addressing the vulnerability to extremist recruitment of the dishonorably discharged and those with a forced separation must be developed.
- Establish more rigorous and uniform enforcement procedures and mandate the reporting and collection of data on how procedures are enforced. An investigation of how enforcement currently works and the priority it is given by investigators and unit commanders is advised to determine the effectiveness of these regulations. Additionally, the military must fulfill its legal requirement to track and report hate crimes data to the FBI.
- In January, when the Senate cut the phrase “white nationalist” from the NDAA, it nixed an opportunity to be more proactive on the problem. This needs to be readdressed.
- The DoD must work more closely with other federal agencies in tracking extremism.
- The provisions on extremist activities that were struck from the most recent NDAA should be reincorporated. Additionally, appropriate legislation that enables our armed forces leaders to implement and fund these recommendations should be enacted.