The Defense Department does not yet have a definition of what “extremism” is but is working “quite hard” to define it, according to senior Biden administration officials this week.
The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled a 32-page summary of its national strategy for countering domestic terrorism, broadly outlining some things the government would do, including the Pentagon, which administration officials said had shown “a lot of leadership” on the issue.
An administration official told reporters during a conference call ahead of the rollout:
As the strategy indicates, they are relooking at a number of things, and one of those is [how] they understand — quite literally how they define ‘extremism’ for these purposes. They are working that quite hard, both as a policy matter with the security experts and with lawyers at the Defense Department and elsewhere, to ensure they’re doing this in a way they feel ratchets up the protections but also respects expression and association protections, again, for service members and for others.
The summary said the Pentagon is also working on updating its definition of prohibited extremist activities for service members, and will consider policy changes to address such activity by civilian employees and contractors as well. Current Pentagon regulation does not ban mere membership in “extremist” groups — only active participation, but officials told reporters the administration is “relooking” at a “number of things.”
The Pentagon is also considering changes to the questionnaires that recruits and security clearance holders fill out, in order to “augment the screening process.”
It is also planning to incorporate training for service members leaving the military on potential recruitment efforts by violent extremist actors, and developing a “mechanism by which veterans can report recruitment attempts.”
Officials said the Pentagon’s Countering Extremism Working Group (CEWG) will be the “implementing arm” within the department for the Biden administration’s countering domestic terrorism strategy.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stood up the CEWG on April 9 and appointed Bishop Garrison, his senior adviser on human capital and diversity, equity, and inclusion, as its leader.
Garrison has suggested that all Trump supporters are racist and just last year defended the New York Times‘ 1619 Project, which claims that America was founded when slaves were brought over in 1619, and asserted “the entire system was based on racist practices.”
Officials tried to stress that their efforts would “take place within the context of upholding American civil rights and civil liberties.”
They also insisted it was not politically targeted.
“This is a strategy that is agnostic as to political ideology or off the spectrum. What matters is when individuals take their political or other grievances and turn that — unacceptably, unlawfully — into violent action,” an official said.
Democrats have labeled the January 6 Capitol riot an act of domestic terrorism and have even suggested it was carried out by white supremacists.
The Pentagon has cited the participation of members of the military for its efforts against racism and “extremism.”
To date, only one active duty member of the military and four reservists have been charged in connection to the riot, out of more than 450 charged altogether.