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The U.S. military promised to counter extremism. Has the Pentagon made progress?

The Pentagon logo and an American flag are lit up January 3, 2002 in the briefing room of Pentagon in Arlington, VA. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The Pentagon logo and an American flag are lit up January 3, 2002 in the briefing room of Pentagon in Arlington, VA. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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The U.S. military promised to implement policies that would counter extremism in its ranks. But still it persists.

Has the Pentagon made any progress?

"We are really stalled out on an issue that is incredibly important. You know, it's like a drop of poison that can destroy all the water," Heidi Beirich, an expert in far right and extremist movements, says.

Chris Buckley is an Army veteran who was recruited into the Ku Klux Klan.

"A solider will always create his war," Buckley says. "It’s what we do, we fight. I just chose the wrong war. I was misled and taken advantage of."

And the problem is growing. California Congressman Mark Takano is the ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

"The annual number of violent extremist crimes committed by individuals with military backgrounds has quadrupled since 2010 compared to the two previous decades," Takano says. "Now, these are facts that we simply cannot ignore."

Today, On Point: Why isn't the Pentagon doing more to stop extremism in the military?


Bishop Garrison, fellow with the National Security Institute at George Mason Law School. Adjunct professor at the Center for Security Studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He led the Department of Defense’s working group to counter extremism in 2021. Find the report from that working group here.

Heidi Beirich, expert on far-right and extremist movements. Co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. She’s testified in front of Congress on the issue of rooting extremism from the military and reducing recruitment of veterans by extremist groups.

Also Featured

Chris Buckley, veteran and former member of the KKK who now helps deradicalize young people caught up in extremism. Watch the documentary featuring Chris here.


MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira was back in federal court today. A judge ruled in favor of the prosecution’s request to keep the 21-year-old in federal detention while he awaits trial on espionage charges. Teixeira is accused of one of the largest ever leaks ever of top-secret military documents.

Court filings are painting a more detailed picture of Teixeira’s alleged activities. Prosecutors submitted three Air Force memorandums to the court, which show that Teixeira was admonished by his superiors at least twice for mishandling classified information. But he was kept in his job.

In addition, a detention memo filed last month reveals that local police had denied Teixeira a gun permit because of violent, racist threats he made while in high school. Teixeira also allegedly identified himself as a racist to his friends, and often told them that he was preparing for a violent race war, according to reporting from the Washington Post.

All this is going on as the Pentagon continues to struggle with a rise in extremism in its ranks. Though the number of confirmed extremists in the armed services may be very small, almost 40% of service members polled by the Military Times said that they had witnessed white nationalist ideologies in the military.

In 2021, the Pentagon issued an extensive report with recommendations on countering extremism in the military. But recently, the Department of Defense has gone quiet about whether it’s made progress on those recommendations.


And especially why now? As extremism rises across the United States generally, what is stopping the military, one of America’s most diverse institutions, from rooting out the problem in itself?

Especially as more service members and veterans are willing to speak up about what they’ve seen, heard, and done. People like Chris Buckley.

CHRIS BUCKLEY: I'm a combat veteran from the United States Army. I served my country for 13 years. I left the military and joined a hate group, where the majority of the members in the group that I joined were Navy veterans, Marine veterans and Army veterans.

CHAKRABARTI: Chris Buckley had joined the Ku Klux Klan. This is On Point. I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. Chris joined the Army right out of high school, December 2001, just after 9/11, which he says filled him with the need to defend his country. He also wonders if aspects of his family's history contributed to his desire to be in the military.

BUCKLEY: My dad was a very abusive individual. I was sexually molested from five till probably 12. From that point, moving on, I had this profound hatred for homosexuals. Because of the same sex family member that molested me. I move on, I go into the military, and I lose my comrade in Afghanistan in my arms. It was very traumatic for me. And I found myself having the same hatred I had for homosexuals towards Muslims.

We were radicalized. We were radicalized by the U.S. military to go over there and be able to complete a mission and deal with the consequences of it later. The emotional and mental and physical consequences later.

We were radicalized by the U.S. military to go over there and be able to complete a mission and deal with the consequences of it later.

Chris Buckley

So when I come home from Afghanistan in 2009 and I went National Guard. And we got deployed on a state active-duty mission to Jackson, Kentucky, and I was forced to drive a military vehicle back from that deployment. On the way back ... I wrecked that Humvee once, end over end, and seven-barrel rolls down Interstate 64 right outside Olive Hill, Kentucky.

You know, I broke my back in that accident. So when reenlistment time came up, they were like, Buckley, we're going to bar your re-enlistment. Man, you're just, you're broke. Your back. You can't do things. I was angry. You know, I'd given my entire adult life to the uniformed services of the United States and to just be told that I wasn't healthy enough and all your friends take off and you don't have any civilian friends. And I was bitter.

CHAKRABARTI: Chris had been in the Army for 13 years. He needed painkillers for his broken back and became addicted to opioids and other powerful drugs. He stopped working and spent what money he had to feed the addiction. So the bills started piling up unpaid.

BUCKLEY: When a soldier's mission is taken away from him and he's left without a mission, he'll create one. A soldier without a mission, he feels worthless. So that's what I did. I created my mission.

CHAKRABARTI: Members of the Ku Klux Klan had stepped in. They helped him get a job. Got him back on his feet. Buckley later told a congressional committee, quote, "They did not approach me with pitchforks and burning crosses, but with a plate of barbecue ribs, a Bible and the promise of brotherhood I missed from my days in the army."

BUCKLEY: You know, that's not something that just people do to do. You know, like, I mean, hey, that meant something to me. So I kind of started to feel this obligation towards them. I joined within a couple of months of leaving the military. So, like, I got out in March, and I was a full patched member by like June.

CHAKRABARTI: This was June 2013.

BUCKLEY: I joined as like a low ranking, like initial member. Once I was able to show them what I could do tactically and, you know, the self-defense that I could teach, the hand-to-hand combat, things I could teach. And within like six months, I was promoted all the way up to a national level security officer.

And the only person over top of me in the organization was the Imperial wizard. Then the ideology started to seep in, and the indoctrination started to seep in. And the addiction, I think, was my biggest downfall. The addiction and the mental health that I was dealing with, the PTSD, the trauma, the substance abuse, just like that's where I was vulnerable.

CHAKRABARTI: Chris was an Imperial Nighthawk of the Georgia White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He was a black robed enforcer of the Klan's code. For three years, he trained other Klan members and burned crosses, often in public places. And he says he was a daily meth user at the time.

BUCKLEY: So my son was four. I remember there's some video out there and my son and he's dressed up in this little Klan robe.

CHAKRABARTI: The video is from a 2015 documentary called KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy. Chris and his son are filmed at a Klan gathering. Standing side by side in their robes.

BUCKLEY: White power.

CHRIS'S SON: White power.

INTERVIEWER: That was your little boy. ... Why did you dress your little boy up in Klan clothes?

BUCKLEY: I just want my kid to know that it's okay to be proud of who he is. And if being proud of his heritage makes him a racist, Well, I'll teach him to be racist.

INTERVIEWER: Are you a white supremacist?

BUCKLEY: Yeah, absolutely.

BUCKLEY: And I'm seeing me. Let him inherit my hate. This innocent little child. ... I'm pumping them full of hate and vinegar and venom. And I don't know what it was, man, but something just told me. It was like, this has to stop.

CHAKRABARTI: Being in the Klan also wrecked his marriage. Chris's wife Melissa, saw Klan life as a threat to their children, but she didn't leave him. And he's still deeply grateful that she stuck by him, even when everyone else had walked away. Even more remarkable, Chris says his wife is the reason he was able to find a way out of extremism.

BUCKLEY: My wife was really ... on me to get sober and get clean and eventually I found sobriety. And once I found my sobriety, I started to realize that everything I had been a part of was completely against my character and who I was. And it was just a symptom of a problem. The problem was that I was dealing with undiagnosed mental health conditions, so I decided to leave the group.

CHAKRABARTI: The process took months, but with the help of his wife and an organization that aids people who want out of racist groups, Chris left the Klan in late 2016. He's now a peer mentor for the nonprofit group Parents for Peace, where he helps de-radicalize young people caught up in extremism.

BUCKLEY: I can say that I want people to learn that one mistake doesn't define you. That we do recover. That we are worth the investment. You know, there's still honor inside of us. Extremism is a public health crisis. Like, just because it's a small minority doesn't mean that it's not important. That's the most important thing in the world to me, is making sure that my fellow comrades aren't falling prey to these extremists. Because our government has done what they've done since the beginning of time and just abandoned them when they didn't need them anymore.

Chris Buckley. He lives in Roswell, Georgia, with his children and wife, Melissa. Bishop Garrison joins us now. He's a fellow at the National Security Institute at George Mason Law School. In 2021, he led the DOD's working group that issued the report in December of that year on countering extremist activity within the Department of Defense. Bishop Garrison, welcome to On Point.

BISHOP GARRISON: Thank you for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: What strikes you as familiar or emblematic about Chris Buckley's story?

GARRISON: Well, so many things. First of all, my heart just absolutely goes out to him. He's dealt with so much trauma in his life to still be the man that he is now trying to make a positive impact on his fellow veterans, on his community, on society, is just absolutely tremendous. The big thing that we hear, and that we've been aware of for some time is that transition period that Chris mentioned after he was unfortunately medically retired from the military.

A lot of these young men and women, always young people look for that sense of community. They look for the sense of belonging, the sense of the supportive environment of structure that they had while they were in the United States military, when they were a service member. And it really provided them with a lot of stability. So once you create that vacuum of support, of a structure of this positive network for them, they look for it elsewhere. And in sometimes, often we can find it positively in the civilian community, but other times they have to look for it elsewhere, and that's how they are targeted by these groups.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Mr. Garrison, I'm looking at an inspector general's report of the DOD from late last year, and it says that the services took in 211 reports of domestic extremism between October 2021 and September of 2022. 183 investigations launched based on those reports. But 211 reports is obviously a tiny, tiny drop in the bucket in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of members of the United States military. So, yes, is it a problem?

GARRISON: Well, that's something that we wanted to ensure the department had an opportunity to actually determine, I think. Chris Buckley ... hit the nail on the head in the sense that we know the vast majority of those who serve do so honorably, and they do so with great integrity. What we've seen is a small group of actors that have a very detrimental, outsize impact to the safety and well-being of their fellow service members, as well to a unit cohesion and a good order and discipline in a unit.

What we've seen is a small group of actors that have a very detrimental, outsized impact to the safety and well-being of their fellow service members.

It erodes the ability for the United States military to meet its mission and to be mission ready and mission capable. When you have this type of activity potentially within your ranks. So we need to do everything we can to ensure that we have it as few, down to zero, as possible. And we need more data to understand exactly how large of a problem it actually is.

CHAKRABARTI: I think you've described it previously as, you know, a tiny drop of poison that can sully an entire ... ocean of water.

GARRISON: Absolutely. Absolutely.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So the question of gathering data, we're going to come back to that. Because there's quite a bit of controversy around that. But let me play something from the secretary of defense himself, Lloyd Austin. And by the way, we did put out a request to the Pentagon, if Secretary Austin could join us. He could not. But on Feb. 5th of 2021.

So, this is before your working group issued its report, the secretary sent a memo to all commanding officers in the military to select a date within the next 60 days to conduct a one day stand down to discuss extremism in the ranks. It was one of his first actions as secretary of defense. On March 29th of this year, Secretary Austin was asked in a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee how that stand down went. And here's what Secretary Austin said.

SEC. AUSTIN: We not only focused on how to recognize extremist behavior and what the existing policies were, and that we had on the books that addressed this issue. But we also focused on the value of service and why we are serving in and the importance of sticking to our values.

Because of that, you know, I've had numerous commanders tell me that, you know, the ability to kind of talk to their units and interact with their units in small group and talk about some of these issues was very valuable. And once that 2 hours was over again, they're on to the mission. This was not an effort to root out, you know, any kind of a specific person. This is just to make sure that our units, our living environments, you know, remain healthy and safe for people to work in.

CHAKRABARTI: So, Bishop Garrison, it wasn't long after that stand down that you were tapped to lead the Countering Extremist Activity Working Group. Do you feel that the stand down was as useful or unsuccessful as the secretary says there?

GARRISON: Yeah, absolutely. I think the big thing that we saw from it, one of the things Secretary Austin hit on towards the end was the small group conversation, as well, to call at this point the awkward conversations.

Those are opportunities with fellow service members, with your fellow unit members to have discussions around these difficult, sticky topics. And to be real with one another, to learn and to grow together in an environment in which you don't feel as though someone is going to attack you because of a particular misstep or poorly stated belief. It's an opportunity to really learn and grow. And that was some of the best feedback we received on the 60 day stand down. Was that it gave a lot of these units the opportunity to do exactly that on topics that were taking place in broader discussions within society at the time.

CHAKRABARTI: So the fact that just a mere stand down to have honest discussions about the potential problem of extremism in the military, that that took place very, very recently. Does that mean that little to no action had happened in the previous decades since the military first identified that this was a problem? In the report, the December 2021 report that that you helped issue, it says since 1969 the DOD has provided guidance on prohibitive activities.

And then after, you know, the 90s and again in the 2010's, the department built some kind of program to deter insider threats. But if even just having a discussion in 2021 yielded fruit, what was happening in the decades before?

GARRISON: Well, just like society changes and grows, so does the United States military. And there is no shortage of societal discourse. And they're going to have impacts back on the Department of Defense and on the military broadly. So what we saw throughout these decades is a change. And as change persisted, so did the way that we need to address our force, in the way we need to go about engaging in our policy development.

Just like society changes and grows, so does the United States military. And there is no shortage of societal discourse.

So that was really what you were seeing. So, for instance, one thing that we've seen within the last, you know, 15 to 20 years was the rise of social media and how you're having individuals that have a broader platform to speak from now on a variety of thoughts. And that is not something that was ever envisioned by policymakers back in the late 60s and early 70s. So it's important for us to go back and look at our policies and ensure that we're properly addressing them and properly giving out the proper guidance to the force, so they know what the expectations of their activities are.

CHAKRABARTI: ... I want to note that in addition, Secretary Austin again, in April of 2021, he actually did direct Pentagon leaders to take some specific actions about reviewing the definition of prohibited extremist activity, standardizing some questionnaires. I think all of these are either recruitment or like onboarding questionnaires. There's a transition checklist for service members. And commissioning an outside study on extremist activity in the total force. Did those things come to pass?

GARRISON: Yeah. So what you're laying out is the immediate actions that were a part of what we call the April 9th memo. And those things were some of the initial steps that we knew that we could engage ... and address immediately to have at least a starting, beginning impact on some of this type of prohibited activity. So one of the first things, the major thing we did is listed in the immediate actions, was the overhaul of 1325.06. That's the DOD instruction ... that defines what extremist activity is and what the prohibited activities under that are.

And then as you go through the document, you also see, as you mentioned, the updated servicemember checklist, letting them know that, hey there, there is a chance there that you are going to be potentially engaged or targeted by some of these groups or individuals. Because it's not always just a group. It could be individuals with these types of ideology that want to leverage your skill sets, your expertise, your experiences to engage in this type of violent criminal behavior.

And so you have the transition checklist. And then you do have the school screening questions based off of questions that already existed within the military departments, within the Marine Corps that looks for a specific activity that young recruits may have engaged in, or may be engaging in. To get more information to understand exactly what it is these individuals are doing and why. And why they want to be a part of the United States military. So as a part of the adjudicated process, the assessment processes are coming in.

CHAKRABARTI: But, you know, I have to say, we had a very difficult time in getting specific information from the Pentagon about progress that they have or haven't made on the recommendations, both what Secretary Austin had implemented and the recommendations in your report, which we'll talk about more momentarily. You know, lots of emails, lots of phone calls. We even sent them a detailed list of questions, which they didn't answer.

And the most that the DOD sent back to us was a statement that said, "The Countering Extremist Activity Working Group developed six recommendations and associated actions across four lines of effort. Military justice and policy, support and oversight of the Insider threat program. Investigative processes and screening capability and education and training. All recommendations have been assigned to the appropriate principal staff assistance within the department and are at various stages of development and implementation. How do you read that?

GARRISON: So a part of the implementation plan for this was ensuring that this was an effort that did not lay outside of the chain of command, meaning that it would be implemented within the normal course of business. And a part of that is a decision to ensure that the Department takes ownership of these types of recommendations in this type of effort and that they would see the necessity. And indeed, see the importance of it, and they would take it upon themselves to ensure that they were there, the recommendations were properly enacted.

So instead of having an outside group like the CAW-G, a working group to continue to try to push this forward, you put it into the normal course of what the military departments are doing and what the Fourth Estate is engaging in. And in this case, we're talking about personnel and readiness and intel and security. So there is always going to need to be a phased approach to these types of issues. Because some of them may require resources, whether that's additional human capital or that's funding. Or some of them ... you need more time to ensure that they're properly laid out, particularly when you talk about education and training, for instance.

So, I think the department could benefit from a little bit more transparency perhaps, in saying exactly where they may be in the various stages, some of these points of these issues. But I wholeheartedly believe that they're taking it upon themselves and giving their best effort to ensure that they're properly aligned with the normal course of their work and that they're being implemented as such.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So let me be more specific, because as we mentioned earlier, data and actual information about the extent or nature of the problem of extremism in the ranks is really important here. Because we don't want to misunderstand what's actually going on. And again, from that April 9th memos, as we talked about, Secretary Austin wanted an outside study on extremist activity in the military. Now, we've heard that the study has been completed, but perhaps not released to the public. I mean, have you seen it?

GARISON: I have not. I actually left the department for the private sector prior to the completion and any potential release of the study. So I've not been made privy to it. I am under the belief, the assumption that it likely has been completed, given a lot of the different pieces of the effort were taking place back in the summer of 2022, late spring or early summer of 2022. So I imagine that that study, that deep dive has likely been completed.

But it is of the purview of the leadership to determine whether or not it's proper for a study like that, an internal study, that is information for leadership to make recommendations, decisions onto be released. So there's nothing that necessitates a release of that type of study. But again, I think the department could benefit from even, you know, just a little more transparency in the sense of how they're addressing these issues and how they're going about getting this information and the analysis of it, what they're actually doing with it.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, it makes one wonder if there's some reluctance from the DOD because of how recently this has become a very politicized issue about extremism in the ranks. So to that point, in March of this year, Secretary Austin was criticized by Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. This was at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Senator Tuberville was critical of that stand down that we talked about a little bit earlier. And here's that exchange.

SEN. TUBERVILLE: And one of your first acts, Mr. Secretary. You put our military, every single member, active duty and reserve through a mandatory training to root out extremists. That sent a message. Mr. Secretary, that our military is filled with extremists. Our military is one of the most diverse organizations in the world. It is full of patriots.

SEC. AUSTIN: First of all, you said that, you know, I had our troops focus on rooting out extremism, and nothing could be further from the truth. You know, each of our units' troops spent a couple of hours talking about a number of things. We've always had regulations against extremist behavior. And you've heard me say that 99.9% of our troops are focused on the right things each and every day. But in this case, a small set of actions can have outsized impact.

CHAKRABARTI: Again, that's Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Senator Tommy Tuberville in March of this year. I want to bring in Heidi Beirich into the conversation. She's co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and has testified before Congress on this very issue. Heidi, welcome.

HEIDI BEIRICH: Nice to be here.

CHAKRABARTI: So the Senate Armed Services Committee has recently done some pretty interesting and you call them inexplicable things, including issuing a report directed at halting efforts to counter violent extremism in the military. Can you explain that?

BEIRICH: Yeah. This past summer, July of 2022, the Senate Armed Services Committee, a majority, all Republicans plus Senator Angus King, an independent, issued a report stating that efforts at rooting out extremists in the military need to stop because the process is, quote unquote, 'besmirching the troops.'

And the effect that this report had was that a series of provisions that had been inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act by House members to get a better handle on the situation with extremists in the military. In other words, most of these provisions were to get data. They were killed in the final NDAA, and as a result, efforts to get that kind of information were stopped, which has been a tragedy.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Heidi, I want to talk a little bit more about the actions of the Senate Armed Services Committee, because as you've noted in your own writings, they also cited that, in fact, they cited data from Bishop's own working group, that one in every 21,000 service members, that minuscule drop we talked about earlier, committed acts of extremism or prohibited violence. And so therefore, the number was so small that the Senate Armed Services Committee did not feel that the time and the half million dollars dedicated to the efforts was worth it because they called it an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds. What do you think? What's your response to that?

BEIRICH: The problem here is that, I mean, I think that the working group was right, that this number is probably very small, although we really don't know that, we don't have good data. But the outsize impact of folks who are veterans or active-duty military who've been involved in terrorism is what the problem is here. I mean, we have cases, for example, of a neo-Nazi who was training with his fellow neo-Nazis to kill his own fellow service members on a base in Turkey.

Everybody knows the example of Timothy McVeigh, who was a veteran and, of course, you know, conceived of and then carried out the Oklahoma City bombing. And the number of veterans and active-duty military involved in domestic terrorism has been growing. So although this is probably a very small number in the armed forces, the impact that they can have on national security and on our lives, domestic terrorism, is outsized.

And I think the Teixeira case also, you know, shows us the result of the insider threat issue when it comes to someone who was involved in racism and who had a track record that probably should have been caught before. So that's the issue. It's the outsized impact of these individuals.

The Teixeira case also ... shows us the result of the insider threat issue when it comes to someone who was involved in racism.

CHAKRABARTI: As Heidi had mentioned a couple of minutes ago, the Senate Armed Services Committees actions led to the removal of several provisions pertaining to extremism from the National Defense Authorization Act. Heidi notes in her writing that only one survived, and that was a call to screen social media for extremist ties. But that itself was only limited to foreign terrorist organizations and excluded screening for domestic extremism, showing up on social media for members of the military. I mean, does this mean, Bishop, that all efforts to gather data about the problem of extremism in the military has essentially stopped?

GARRISON: Well, no. You're always going to have ... FFRDC's ... that look into the data of this deeply with data scientists with researchers. ... The biggest problem is we do need the department. We need the United States government to look inwardly here to the point that Senator Tuberville was attempting to make with the secretary. I think it's a bit shortsighted in the sense that no organization that looks to be successful can do so. They cannot grow without some sense of self-reflection.

And that's what this type of effort is about. When we look inwardly and we look at this data, is to see what type of issue is this, what type of problem actually exists, and how can we create policies to best effect fit. If we don't do that, you're going to see more individuals potentially like Teixeira, that have these types of beliefs ... engaging in these types of activity that somehow slipped through the cracks and unfortunately lead to things like security leaks.

CHAKRABARTI: In, again, the Countering Extremist Activity Working Group report from December of 2021, we touched upon this earlier, but now I need to be more specific. There were additional recommendations that you and the group made, including developing comprehensive training and education plans on prohibited extremist activity, reviewing and updating policies to provide notice to the total force. And defense contractors, I should say, on prohibited activities, and modernizing the insider threat program. I mean, has there been progress made on those new recommendations that were in the December 2021 report?

GARRISON: To some degree that I know of, yes. And again, some of this is particularly when you start talking about the insider threat program, you begin to talk about some sensitive information, if not in some cases classified. The department is not going to release or discuss. But in some instances, yes, there has been some progress made, just as the department says there has been, towards us. When you talk about contractors and civilians, there are already longstanding policies as they related to security clearances, for instance, that govern the activities of these individuals.

But making an effort to actually call out the existence of those policies and ensuring that the industry and individuals were aware of what is and is not prohibited was a step that the department was making. I think it was a step in the right direction. When you talk about the investment of resources into the insider threat program ... it was about ensuring that they had the proper oversight and the proper resources to do their job. And I know that the department was definitely investing in moving in that direction and giving it oversight from the highest levels of the department.

CHAKRABARTI: Heidi, I mean, I hear Bishop clearly on what he knows in terms of how seriously Pentagon leadership takes this. But would you agree or disagree about the consistency of the efforts in the past couple of years?

BEIRICH: Well, I think, unfortunately, as this issue has become politicized, we're hearing less and less from the DOD. So I think Bishop's point about transparency is really important. Because for those of us outside of the Department of Defense, it looks as though there were quite a bit of efforts in 2021, in particular, the working groups issued report and then sort of stalling out. And I just want to point out that we like to think that this is a very small problem.

But several polls by the Military Times have shown around 30% to 40% of active-duty service members have seen evidence of white nationalist activity and racism. So we really need to get a handle on these numbers. How is it possible that that polling data is so much different than estimates of extremists inside? So, I'm just making a call for data. Because we have to have data driven analysis to solve this problem and for transparency so that we can see better what the DOD is doing to address these issues.

CHAKRABARTI: But, Heidi, it seems as if you're saying that the ability to gather that data has been made more challenging by the views of key members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

BEIRICH: There's no question. And this idea that getting good data on extremism in the military is somehow besmirching the troops is completely absurd, or that discussing this issue is somehow us saying that folks in the military are not patriots. You know, the military has to deal with as a large institution, a diverse institution with all kinds of issues, sexual harassment issues, drug and alcohol abuse issues, gang issues, etc., etc. And none of those issues, when they're taken up, are supposedly besmirching the troops.

So I'm not exactly sure why it is that Republicans have decided to take this line of argument when it comes to looking at things like neo-Nazis in the ranks or white nationalists. This is a serious threat. These people have contributed to domestic terrorism. We have to address it. And we need more transparency. And we need to look at this hardheaded, not through some kind of politicized lens, that by addressing the topic, is somehow just, you know, being terrible to the troops. It's not.

Related Reading

The Hill: "Republicans: Downplaying the dangers of extremism only harms our troops" — "The April 13 arrest of Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guardsman, for espionage due to his leaking top secret documents, is yet another stark reminder of the danger far-right extremists pose to national security. But Republicans don’t seem to agree."

Global Project Against Hate and Extremism: "GPAHE Asks Lawmakers and Pentagon: Take Action to Stop the Threat of Extremism in Military" — "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."

Military Times: "Signs of white supremacy, extremism up again in poll of active-duty troops" — "More than one-third of all active-duty troops and more than half of minority service members say they have personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism within the ranks in recent months, according to the latest survey of active-duty Military Times readers."

CNAS: "Protecting the Protectors: Preventing and Mitigating Domestic Violent Extremism in the Military, Veteran, and Law Enforcement Communities" — " The DoD and law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels have reviewed screening, management, and post-service transition processes to address the presence of DVE ideologies and behaviors within their ranks. However, these efforts have often been reactionary, sporadic, and inconsistent."

This program aired on May 19, 2023.


Paige Sutherland Producer, On Point
Paige Sutherland is a producer for On Point.


Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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