Despite decades of DOD efforts, bias and extremism have not been eradicated.

With the memories of Washington's violent insurrection still fresh in Americans minds, Lloyd Austin, the newly confirmed Defense Secretary, signed a memo instructing commanding officers to initiate a one-day stand down to combat extremism in the nation's armed forces.

30 December 2021 Thursday 13:15
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Despite decades of DOD efforts, bias and extremism have not been eradicated.

The protest was in response to several veterans being arrested and another active duty military member being taken into custody. On Jan. 6, thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. In a chaos that left lawmakers scrambling for safety, one person was fatally shot by Capitol Police. Millions of dollars were also caused to the building, which is widely considered the symbol of American democracy.

Austin's order came at a time when America was struggling with systemic racism. It was also the latest in a series long-running efforts by the military purge its ranks extremists. The military issued new rules last week to combat extremism in response to Austin's order. These included updates to its social media usage policy. This means that liking or reposting extremist or white nationalist content could lead to disciplinary action. The DOD has also revised its screening process for recruits. It is currently looking into how to prepare troops retiring from extremist groups.

Nevertheless, an AP investigation revealed that despite these new rules, racism is still a concern for the military.

The investigation revealed that the new guidelines don't address the ongoing disparities in military justice according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is the legal code that governs U.S. armed force. Numerous studies, including one from the Government Accountability Office last year, have shown that Black and Hispanic service personnel weredisproportionately investigated and sentenced to court martiale. A study by the Naval Postgraduate School found that Black Marines were five times more likely to be convicted and sentenced at courts-martial than other races in the Marine Corps.

The AP investigation also revealed that the military's judicial systems do not have an explicit category for bias-motivated crime - something that the federal government, at most 46 states and the District of Columbia all have. This makes it difficult to quantify crimes prompted or motivated by prejudice.

Therefore, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Army Criminal Investigative Division don't have any hate crime categories, which affects how they investigate cases.

The NCIS stated in an email that "while it is possible for hate crimes to have occurred, our investigations were not titled as such." "For example, an assault against a person, no matter what the motive, would still be considered an assault...regardless the circumstances."

The President signed Monday's new National Defense Authorization Act into law. It directs the Secretary to Defense to recommend to Congress within 180 Days if a new statute is necessary to combat violent extremism. However, it does not address hate crimes and racial disparities with military law.

However, the new Pentagon rules don't prohibit service members from joining extremist organizations such as Oath Keepers or Ku Klux Klan. Like the previous regulations, these new rules only prohibit "active involvement" in such groups. This is a controversial policy that civil rights groups have been concerned about for years. Active participation is defined by the military as "publicly demonstrating or rallying, fundraising and recruiting members," as well organizing or leading organisations.

According to experts interviewed by the AP, there is also concern about the ability of the military commander to impose a variety of administrative and disciplinary measures -- including administrative separation or appropriate penal action -- against military personnel involved in prohibited activities.

Experts say commanders have complete discretion in deciding how to deal with situations. This has led to inconsistent, scattered enforcement. Some commanders employ a strict enforcement approach while others adopt a no tolerance approach.

The AP investigation found that, while the DOD considers racism and extremeism in the military a security concern, it doesn't have the funding to specifically address this issue. According to military officials, the Pentagon uses personnel screening programs, training and education programs as well as the Insider Threat Program to help "positively contribute" to combating extremism within its force.

The Pentagon didn't respond to questions regarding how much money was spent on efforts related to diversity and inclusiveness, or how many people are involved in this endeavor. Officials did not answer dozens of questions by the AP about how they plan to enforce their new guidelines on extremism.

Maj. Cesar Santiago, a Pentagon spokesperson, acknowledged that extremism or extremist ideology can have a significant impact on the military force in a statement to AP.

He added that "the vast majority of the men and women in uniform serve their country with honor and integrity." Lloyd Austin stated that since he took office in January, Secretary of Defense has taken immediate steps to combat extremism. The new guidelines on extremism were accompanied by the appointment of an interim deputy inspector general (DIGA) for diversity, inclusion, and military insider threats by the Defense Department in April.

Susan Corke, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, applauded the DOD for its key actions this year, including the announcements last week to combat extremism. She stated that the DOD sought out the expertise of academics and civil rights organizations who have raised the alarm for years about extremism within the ranks.

Corke stated that it was too early to say whether the new policies would eliminate extremism from military ranks.

She said that the devil is in the details. "I appreciate the commitment of the Defense Department to increase consultation with outside partners, and that more emphasis is being placed on additional research. We'll continue to keep their feet on the ground."

Corke stated that the SPLC continues to press for further reforms. This includes how the military's command structure allows commanders virtually complete command authority over their subordinates. This might discourage members reporting extremist incidents.

Many in the military agree with the call for more from the armed forces. Maj. Tyrone Collier from the Marine Corps Reserve was a judge advocate and said that there needs to be a shift in actions and behavior. This interview was conducted by the AP.

Collier stated, "Even if legislation is passed by the highest echelons government that promises you will do that and that, will it actually happen?"

DECADES OF REPEATED WOARNINGS

The military is not immune to racism and extremism. Before President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, desegregating the armed forces, racism and discrimination against persons of color were common policies. However, some units remained segregated up to late 1954.

Many complaints were filed by Black soldiers in Vietnam during the 1960s about Confederate flag-flying white soldiers. According to the 1997 book, "Fighting on Two Fronts": African Americans and Vietnam War, white U.S. military personnel stationed at Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam celebrated the death of Martin Luther King Jr.

The 1970s saw extremism in military became more prominent when the Ku Klux Klan, an underground organization of the U.S. Marine Corps, was discovered operating at Camp Pendleton in southern California. The base was home to white Marine klansmen who distributed racist literature, sprayed KKK stickers on doors and kept illegal weapons in their rooms. In 1976, 14 Black Marines were arrested for assaulting a party of klansmen in a base room.

The Klanwatch Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a warning to the DOD in June 1986 about white supremacists within its ranks. It urged Caspar Weinberger, then Defense Secretary, to ban active duty service members from joining Ku Klux Klan factions. At that time, the center claimed it had photos and evidence of active-duty U.S. marines who had been members of the Confederate Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. This North Carolina-based Klan group changed its name to the White Patriot Party last year.

The SPLC stated that it was "tolerable" for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, who have sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States to be allowed to join an organization that seeks to overthrow its federal government by violent means.

The military replied by saying that it did not find any evidence supporting these allegations. While it strongly discouraged military personnel from joining organizations with clear racist goals, it also realized that military personnel don't lose their constitutional rights under Article 1 upon entering the military service. DoD does not prohibit personnel joining organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan.

Weinberger issued a directive telling service members to "reject white supremacy, neo Nazism and other groups that espouse or attempt create overt discrimination."

Critics say that the military failed to respond quickly enough and did not adopt stricter policies.

Three white Army paratroopers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were arrested for the 1995 murder of Jackie Burden and Michael James. They shot and killed the couple in downtown Fayetteville. James Burmeister, Malcolm Wright and Malcolm Wright were both sentenced to life imprisonment. Another 19 Fort Bragg soldiers were also discharged because they participated in neoNazi activities.

Burmeister was not ashamed of his beliefs. Police found a Nazi flag on Burmeister's bed, along with white supremacist pamphlets as well as instructions for making bombs in the room he rented from base. An Army veteran Timothy McVeigh (an anti-government extremist who was awarded a Bronze Star in Operation Desert Storm) had parked a truck with an homemade bomb in front a federal building in Oklahoma earlier that year. This led to the deaths of 168 people, 19 of them children.

After the killings, the Pentagon again pledged to combat extremism within its ranks. The Army created an extremism taskforce after hearings were held by congressional leaders. However, military leaders claimed that the task force found very little evidence of extremist activity within the Army.

Margaret Huang, president and CEO of Southern Poverty Law Center, stated that the SPLC had been writing to Defense Department officials since the mid-1980s about their concerns about white supremacy and white nationalism in military. "This is an issue we've discussed quite a few times since it has been a significant issue in the U.S. Military for many decades."

According to a 2005 Defense Department report, "Screening For Potential Terrorists In the Enlisted Military Accessions Process," the Pentagon has many policies that limit and define participation in extremist groups. It also concluded that the military had a "don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding extremism.

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