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Jason Beardsley: Pentagon's 'extremism' blunder – this move could make US military even more political

The defense created a policy mess nine years ago by trying to tackle “extremism” in the military, and it’s about to get a lot messier. 

In 2012, it amended DOD Instruction 1325.06, which outlines activities from which topics are prohibited. 

The rule was reasonably clear before – it said active-duty personnel cannot “actively advocate supremacist doctrine, ideology or causes, including those that advance, encourage or advocate illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, ethnicity or national origin…” It also said military” target=”_blank”>military<

In 2012, DOD added the word “extremist” into the rule. Since then, military personnel have been prohibited from advocating “extremist” doctrine or actively participating in groups that advocate “extremist” doctrine. 

A few weeks ago – nine years after the rule change – DOD admitted it has no idea what it meant to add the word “extremist” into the rule. On April 9, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said officials “want better guidance about what extremist activity really is,” and that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin heard a “hunger for more information and context about what we’re talking about here.” 

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Now, DOD appears to be ready to take two new steps. The first is to define “extremism,” something DOD said it will do in the next version of the rule. The second, we suspect, is to move closer to outright prohibiting military personnel from being members of “extremist” groups – DOD appears to recognize how bad it would look to state this goal explicitly, so we expect word games that offer more confusing hints in this direction. 

These steps are a mistake that would compound the error DOD made in 2012. Here are five reasons why defining “extremism” is another move in the wrong direction: 

**Defining this term is not necessary. If the Biden administration is looking for a way to expel military personnel who participated in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, it already has that authority. Members of the U.S. armed forces are banned from taking place in rallies in uniform and can’t engage in activities with a group that seeks to “deprive individuals of their civil rights” if those activities are “detrimental to good order, discipline or mission accomplishment or are incompatible with military service.” If a member of the military chucked rocks at the Capitol to pressure Congress to overturn the election, that service member is in trouble today. 

A DOD definition of “extremism” will be a political definition, one that fits the Biden administration’s political point of view

**A DOD definition of “extremism” will be a political definition, one that fits the Biden administration’s political point of view. Will it say anyone involved in the Jan. 6 protest at the Capitol is an extremist because some of those protesters were violent? We shouldn’t want either party to write a definition of “extremism” for the military, and given broad Republican opposition to this effort, DOD appears likely to hand down a partisan definition. 

**Once DOD defines “extremism,” it will be compelled to decide which groups fit that definition and ban membership in them. Here’s where the real danger begins. This will set up an endless chore for DOD – choosing which groups are so bad that affiliation with them will be seen as incompatible with military service. But it’s worse than that – it will create a new battleground for political disputes that will directly harm prospective service members. The list of “extremist” groups will swing wildly as DOD changes hands from Republican to Democratic control, or Democratic to Republican control. Americans who wish to serve will face a permanently changing DOD preference on who can serve, and who cannot. 

**Morale, as usual, will suffer. By making this a priority, DOD is wandering further away from the military’s core mission, which is to defeat the enemy in combat. Rather than focusing on the outside threats to America, DOD runs the risk of making an enemy of millions of Americans who pledged to defend the country. 

**DOD’s new definition will almost certainly create more confusion. Think about it – the Pentagon lived for nine years with a definition that it now admits is completely unclear. It’s quite possible that DOD hands down another soft rule that confuses everyone up and down the chain of command. The department has shown a past willingness to placate the crowd with unclear dictates. It won’t be a surprise if the new rule leads to new uncertainty. 


Here’s what DOD should do instead – forget about defining the word “extremism,” and remove that word entirely from the instruction. The department can already toss out service members for a range of bad behavior. Making constantly changing lists of good guys and bad guys will only further politicize a department that is already dangerously politicized. 

The Pentagon should be strategizing on how to insulate us from bad actors who threaten America. Instead, it’s being snookered into thinking its real job is to target Americans who dare to even question the woke fascism that is pervading this country. 

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