Posted on November 23, 2021

DoD Delaying Release of Extremism Report

Quint Forgey and Alexander Ward, Politico, November 19, 2021

A Defense Department working group has finished its highly anticipated report on fighting extremism in the military, Pentagon spokesperson JOHN KIRBY confirmed to NatSec Daily. But it’s still unclear when Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN will be briefed on the contents of the report, and the Pentagon has yet to set a date for when it will be made public.

Austin first announced the establishment of the Countering Extremist Activity Working Group in an April memo, ordering that its report should be “provided … no later than 90 days from its first meeting on or about April 14, 2021.” More than four months after Austin’s deadline, however, the secretary still has not seen the final product.

Kirby defended the delay to NatSec Daily, saying in a statement: “We appreciate the work stakeholders across the enterprise have put in this important effort. That work is undergoing some additional reviews and coordination. This is an important enough issue to the Secretary and the Department that we want to get it right, and to move forward in the most deliberate way possible.”

The wait for the working group’s report conflicts with the sense of urgency the Biden administration has sought to instill about the dangers of domestic violent extremists since Jan. 6 — when a number of active-duty service members and veterans allegedly participated in the storming of the Capitol.

The report’s hold-up has also frustrated Rep. ANTHONY BROWN (D-Md.), a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel who has called for tougher measures by Congress to curb military extremism. “If you really care about the men and women who serve, you don’t delay on extremism in the ranks,” he told NatSec Daily.

In the aftermath of the insurrection, the Defense Department has moved to root out extremists in the force, with Austin directing commanding officers and supervisors in February to conduct a one-day “stand-down” to discuss the issue with their personnel. Austin’s April memo also outlined several new “immediate actions” — including a forthcoming rewrite of the department’s definition of prohibited extremist activities.

Austin asked the working group to give a status update on those “immediate actions” in its report, as well as to detail “additional mid-term and long-term recommendations” aimed at countering extremism. To that end, the department sponsored a RAND Corporation study published in September that put forward a framework for helping commanders reduce the risk of military extremism.


{snip} But Brown, the Maryland congressman, said he was “absolutely” concerned by the Pentagon’s slow pace, and he argued the Defense Department was incapable of addressing this national security threat without congressional action.

That’s why Brown, a member of the Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs Committees, sponsored an amendment to the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act that would bulk up the Pentagon’s antiextremism response — including by establishing an “Office of Countering Extremism” within the Defense Department. Sen. MARK WARNER (D-Va.) this week introduced a companion amendment to the Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill.

Brown still needs to convince President JOE BIDEN to sign off on his proposal, though. The White House opposed the congressman’s measure “because it would impose onerous and overly specific training and data collection requirements and would foreclose other options to address extremism,” per a September statement of administration policy.

Brown told NatSec Daily his office has been “going back and forth” with the Defense Department, “receiving feedback, comments, trying to accommodate their concerns.” According to Brown, “the big sticking point” is the department’s refusal to ban membership in extremist organizations. Currently, military personnel are only prohibited from “active participation” in such groups.