Department of Defense undergoes a
“Stand down” to rid itself of “Extremism”
On February 4th, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he ordered a military wide stand down over the next 60 days to deal with extremism in the military ranks after it was learned that active and former military personnel participated in events on January 6th that led to the storming of the Capitol.
During Austin’s confirmation hearing, he vowed to get rid of “racists and extremists.”
“Today I met with senior leaders to discuss extremism in the military. As a first step I am ordering a stand down to occur over the next 60 days so each service, each command and each unit can have a deeper conversation about this issue.”
These “stand downs” are not uncommon. Ever since the end of the Civil rights movement in the 1960s, the military has occasionally held seminars on race relations.
The meeting by Austin with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military leaders was an initial discussion on the issue of extremism and White supremacy within the military. “No matter what it is, it is…not an insignificant problem,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.
Kirby also noted that the FBI had opened 68 investigations into troops or veterans for domestic extremism in 2020 (only one quarter of those was associated with White nationalism). Given that there are 18 million veterans and 1.3 million in military active service, the number is still significant if we consider the unknow number of likely sympathizers. However, after Trump presidency and today’s Democratic Progressive movement and charged Culture political climate, many are trying to highlight as a national issue the white supremacy. Many find it reasonable to equate supporting Trump with extremism.
Although there are regulations in the military against extremism, the question is what is extremism? The definition is vague and much depends on one’s political outlook. Retired Brigadier General Thomas Kolditz gave his opinion to Fortune Magazine, “One of my bigger concerns is that there has long been a strong Trump following in the military.” He said rooting out “Trump loyalists may entail pursuing thousands of service members and Department of Defense employees.
For example, a Special Forces briefing on January 22nd at the Fort Bragg Special Warfare Center and School on the extremist threat left many Special Forces personnel shaken. They were informed that mere possession of certain “right wing” imagery could lead to being “detained” by Homeland Security.
One soldier, who wished to remain unnamed said, “People who are willing to stand up for the country are now being told we are extremists and that we are terrorists and that if we share these ideals with anyone or if we publicly speak on these ideals, that not only will I be chaptered out of the Army, but that I could possibly be detained and put under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.”
Lawyer and First Amendment expert Harmeet Dhillon said, “We’re definitely seeing a crackdown on our constitutional rights as we speak – there’s no question about that…It’s a very scary time.”
Of course, civilians who support Trump are also finding themselves facing more scrutiny too.
Major American media has attacked Trump supporters as extremists and White supremacist – amongst other things. MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson accused Republicans of being “Terrorist sympathizers.”
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson noted, “There are millions of Americans, almost all white, almost all Republicans, who somehow need to be deprogrammed.”
However, some Democrats see the charges as going too far. The longest serving woman in Congress, Representative Marcy Kaptur (D, Ohio), says she feels increasingly alienated in the Democratic Party.
Former Democratic Congresswoman, former Army Officer, and former Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has also said it has gone too far. She has condemned former CIA director Brennan and Democratic Congressman Schiff’s statements against Trump supporters.
Brennan has called Trump supporters “fascists,” “bigots,” and “racists.”
Schiff is introducing a domestic terrorism law that could be used against Trump supporters, although some republicans are pointing to Antifa and BLM as extremists and radicals. Such a law would leave the decision to prosecute up to political prosecutors, who could use the law to punish political opponents.
Not all threats would be punished. In May of last year, the Senate Majority leader Senator Charles Schumer threatened SCOTUS by saying, “You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price…you won’t know what hit you.” These comments were a threat of violence by many and earned a rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts.
So, extremist and threatening language comes from more than extremists or white supremacists in the military or general population. It is common on both sides of the aisle in Washington.
Which brings us back to the key question; is the US military generally racist?
A study by the Council on Foreign Relations says no. In a study conducted months before the 2020 election it showed the military as more open than society. Obviously, it is more male dominated since it is organized for combat operations. However, the percentages of women and races are surprising.
The report summary says, “The US military has taken significant steps over the past decade to build a more diverse and inclusive force that attracts the country’s top talent.
Although the flag ranks (general and admiral) are still predominantly white, the percentage of black flag officers closely matches the general American population. One reason for the fewer Hispanics in the flag ranks is that the Hispanic part of the population has grown dramatically in the past few decades – there has not been the time it takes for many eligible Hispanics to reach flag rank.
The good news is that the officer corps has similar levels of racial diversity as the general population. This guarantees that the number of Hispanic flag officers will grow in the future.
Interestingly, in all the services, women in the military are more likely to be a minority. Among Black Army recruits, the portion of Black women is higher than it is in the civilian labor force, which indicates that opportunities are better in the military for Black women, but this may be the result of seeing joining the military as an economic opportunity that not available in the civilian work force.
The Whitest branch of service is the Coast Guard.
There is a preference for the branch of service amongst minorities. Blacks prefer the Army. Hispanics (both men and women) prefer the Marine Corps. There are higher percentages of Blacks in the Navy and Air Force than in the general civilian work force.
Women have also found opportunity in the military. When the draft ended in 1973, only 2% of the enlisted ranks were women and 8% of the officer corps. Today that is 16% and 19% respectively.
Nearly a quarter of Coast Guard officers are women. Of the traditional military services, the Air Force has the highest number of women officers at 21%. The lowest is the Marine Corps with only 8% – a reflection of the Marine Corps’ tradition that every officer is also a foot soldier and must be equally qualified for a combat role.
One difference is in the jobs the different races want to hold. While Blacks prefer office jobs, where they can acquire skills useful in the civilian world, many whites and Hispanics prefer combat roles – probably a reflection of their desire to “prove themselves.”
So, is the military racist or filled with White supremacists? May be. A minority person, who can meet the tough standards to join the US military has a better chance for promotion than in many segments of the civilian work force. If that weren’t true, minority reenlistment rates would fall, and the percentage of minorities would be less than they are.
What SecDef Austin proposes will not help the military become more effective or even less racist. Those holding “improper” views will learn just to keep their opinions to themselves – just as many have over their military careers.
History shows that there are two reasons why factions seek to limit speech. One is that it is an effective method to quash dissent. The second is that they cannot defend their own actions or beliefs.