Extremism in Uniform: More Than a Case Per Day, Led by Air Force

December 7, 2021Maggie BenZvi
IG extremism report

US soldiers with the Virginia National Guard listen to a squad leader briefing after arriving near the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 13, 2021. A new report from the Department of Defense inspector general found 10 members of the US Air Force participated in the riot at the Capitol in January. Photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht.

The military recorded more than one case of “extremism” every day for most of 2021, according to a new report, with the Air Force finding the most examples in its ranks, while the Army found the most that were serious enough to warrant criminal inquiry.

The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General reported last week that military investigators looked into nearly 300 allegations of “extremist behavior” in the first nine months of 2021.

But while each service is reporting its own cases of extremism, the Pentagon has yet to officially define what should be considered “extremism” across all four services or to standardize reporting procedures.

The IG looked at so-called “prohibited activities” engaged in by military members. Though none of the services use the same definitions for prohibited activities — a disconnect that the report cited as a weak point in enforcement — the IG looked at reports of violence or misbehavior motivated by racial bias, anti-government or anti-authority extremism, animal rights or environmental extremism, or abortion-related beliefs.

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2021, the branches recorded a total of 294 allegations of “prohibited activities,” resulting in 281 investigations, 92 cases subject to action, and 83 cases referred to civilian law enforcement. The Air Force accounted for 137 allegations; the Army, 81; the Navy, 44; and the Marines, 32. But the Army had a much higher number of cases that were sent to criminal law enforcement — 60 cases, whereas the Air Force had 22 and the entire Department of the Navy had only one.

The report did not delve into why cases in one service might be referred for criminal charges more often than in another.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made combating extremism in the military one of his signature priorities in his first days in office, ordering a stand-down to address the issue. Despite this official emphasis, the numbers reported thus far have been compiled in a disorganized fashion. As such, the report is made up of possibly conflicting numbers reported with differing methods and terminology across the branches that did not get any independent verification from the inspector general.

Chief Legalman Justin Hood, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s legal department, recites the oath of enlistment during an extremism stand-down training, March 19, 2021. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Angel Thuy Jaskuloski.

The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act required a report on extremist activity to be compiled annually. However, the Department of Defense has so far failed to standardize definitions and terminology across all services. The Office of the Undersecretary of Personnel and Readiness is revising those definitions. 

In the meantime, most military branches hew close to categories of extremism used by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI such as “racially motivated violent extremist” and “anti-government/anti-authority extremism.”

The Air Force, however, called 102 of its reports “domestic violence extremism participation,” and described another 13 as “violating service standards, political involvement, disobeying an order, reprisal, and restriction.” The Air Force was also the only branch to create a special category for its members who took part in the riot at the US Capitol on Jan. 6. The service reported that 10 airmen were at the Capitol.

Both the Air Force and the Army also reported over a dozen cases of criminal gang activity. 

According to the report, the services had “issues with compiling and validating their data” and had some conflicting numbers, but the inspector general’s office chose not to independently verify the data from each department.

“Until the DoD establishes DoD-wide policy for tracking and reporting allegations of prohibited activities, the DoD will continue to have inconsistent tracking of disciplinary actions for participation in extremist organizations and activities,” the IG wrote.

Read Next: 4 Capitol Police Officers Describe Violence, Weapons, Racial Abuse in Jan. 6 Riot

Maggie BenZvi
Maggie BenZvi

Maggie BenZvi is a contributing editor for Coffee or Die. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in human rights from Columbia University, and has worked for the ACLU as well as the International Rescue Committee. She has also completed a summer journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In addition to her work at Coffee or Die, she’s a stay-at-home mom and, notably, does not drink coffee. Got a tip? Get in touch!

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