Human rights groups call on Austin for details on fight against extremism in military

More than 30 advocacy organizations called for the Pentagon to release an updated report on how white supremacy and other forms of extremism are impacting the military and retired service members, saying the Defense Department “has made little information public” on the issue.

In a Wednesday letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the groups raised concerns that findings from a Pentagon report on extremism in the military have yet to be made public, warning that keeping the information undisclosed could harm efforts to tackle the problem.

“Extremism undermines the strength of the military and our democracy,” according to the letter. “We owe it to those who are serving and who have served to make addressing this threat a priority.”

The letter was signed by human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, as well as veterans groups like Military Veterans of America and liberal organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In late 2021, Austin ordered sweeping changes to confront extremism in the ranks based on a working group’s recommendations. Those included tightening screening procedures and forming an investigative unit to weed out extremist service members — actions that garnered approval from concerned groups.

But an internal report on the extremist problem across the military remains classified, and a Pentagon watchdog found last month that the military has failed to comprehensively screen applicants for extremists. A USA Today report over the summer also identified a broader failure to implement the promised reforms.

In the letter Wednesday, the concerned organizations pointed out that hundreds of Americans with military backgrounds have been arrested for extremism-related charges from 1990 to 2023, and they noted instances of veterans engaging in political violence, including a Marine charged in June with firebombing a Planned Parenthood clinic.

They also said those arrested in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to overturn the 2020 election included “a disproportionate number” of Americans with military backgrounds, including five active duty service members.

In Wednesday’s letter, the groups said they “understand the urgency of this threat and the impact it has on servicemembers, veterans, and their families.”

“In addition to the recent arrests,” they wrote, “extensive data demonstrate that extremism among the military and veteran communities pose grave risks to public safety, national security, and to active duty servicemembers themselves.”

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Back to top button