Military Could Better Tackle Extremism in the Ranks with Existing Programs, Report Suggests

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Sailors reaffirm their oath during a Navy-wide stand-down to address extremism
Sailors reaffirm their oath during a Navy-wide stand-down to address extremism, March 12, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Lauren Chatmas)

The military could do better at combating extremism in the ranks just by using programs that already exist, a newly published study by researchers at a Washington, D.C.-based think tank says.

"Historically, the military has struggled to identify and manage personnel whose beliefs might lead to future problems," wrote the authors of the report, which was produced by Rand Corp.

The most recent and glaring examples of extremists in the ranks include at least 32 veterans and one active-duty service member who were allegedly part of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. However, incidents of individual service members who belong to groups with extreme views or agendas continue to crop up as well. The Pentagon also has acknowledged that extremist groups are actively trying to recruit military members.

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The report's authors argue that not only should the Department of Defense utilize the programs it has to deal with service members in the initial stages of extremist leanings, but tailor them to whatever groups are targeting service members.

"You want to understand the landscape, and then tailor the programs accordingly so you can get ahead of this type of activity before it gets out of hand," Marek Posard, one of the study's authors, told Military.com.

Posard explained that "everything from mental health providers to chaplains to Family Readiness Groups" can be utilized as part of this effort.

"Military organizations don't exist independent of broader society and so ... you'll start seeing the same types of things happening in the military," he added.

The goal, Posard and his fellow researchers argue, is to intervene early -- ideally before law enforcement needs to get involved. The report stresses "community-based" approaches that focus on the entire military or whole groups of extremists rather than individual people.

Posard also noted that there is a great need to learn more about how service members get recruited and the real scope of the issue.

"There really is a need for data collection to capture and understand these trends at different kinds of touch points," he explained. "You can have actual activities that are clearly illegal, but there's also other types of manifestations and initial states. Those are harder to measure."

The paper also notes that "the military could better leverage existing violence prevention programs to prevent service members from becoming involved with extremist groups."

So far, while each of the branches has publicly condemned any extremist activity, dealing with individual cases has been more fraught. Some measures, such as tougher entrance screenings, seem to be yielding results. However, in other cases, officers have been allowed to stay in the military and continue working while lengthy investigations or court proceedings go on.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: Pentagon Announces Tougher Extremism Screenings for New Military Recruits

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