After a prolonged delay of over a year and a half, the Department of Defense released a report on extremism within its ranks.
This report, commissioned by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in April 2021, was one of four “immediate actions” initiated in response to the January 6 insurrection. The insurrection led to numerous charges against current and former military members.
Earlier this year, a USA TODAY investigation revealed a lack of progress in the military’s efforts to combat extremism, with key initiatives appearing stalled or incomplete.
One such initiative was the “Study on Extremist Activity within the Total Force,” completed by the Institute for Defense Analyses in June 2022 but never made public.
Responding to renewed requests, the report, comprising 262 pages, was provided to USA TODAY for the first time on Tuesday.
While subject to further examination, the report provides initial insights into what it did and did not uncover.
The report, intended to offer greater insight into the scope of the military’s extremism problem, disappointingly provides scant new data.
Despite hopes for fresh revelations, the primary focus seems to be collating existing data from sources such as the military’s Inspector General.
The authors delved into court-martial judgments, identifying only 10 cases related to extremists. However, they acknowledged the limitations of this approach, as most cases do not culminate in court martial proceedings.
The report notes that most cases were addressed through administrative action or non-judicial punishment.
While the report asserts that extremism in the military is rare, it emphasizes the potential danger posed by even a small number of individuals with military connections engaging in violent extremist activities.
Using publicly available data, including the Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS) database, the report aligns with previous conclusions that participation rates among former service members appear to be growing.
A significant finding highlights the inadequacy of the military’s security clearance process, which fails to consider domestic extremism.
The report suggests that the security clearance procedures are outdated, still focusing on Cold War and Global War on Terrorism threats rather than the threat of homegrown extremism.
The researchers recommend updating and standardizing security and suitability questions across the military to directly address prohibited extremist activities.
The importance of this recommendation is underscored by recent incidents, such as the arrest of Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira for posting classified documents and the involvement of three active-duty Marines in the January insurrection.
Without a comprehensive update to the security clearance process, the report warns of the continued risk of permitting individuals with a history of violent extremist conduct to hold privileged positions within the military community.