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Defense secretary orders 60-day militarywide stand-down to tackle 'extremism' within the ranks

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The stand-down was directly related to storming of the U.S. Capitol

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a militarywide stand-down to address extremism within the ranks. The 60-day stand-down was prompted by reports of service members and military veterans who participated in the storming of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.

Austin conducted a Wednesday morning meeting with all the military service secretaries and service chiefs, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten. Following the meeting, the defense secretary ordered a 60-day stand-down to confront extremism in the United States military.

"Within the next 60 days, each of the military services will take time out of daily duties to discuss the problem of extremism and extremist ideology in the ranks, as military leaders seek to get a better sense of how widespread these belief systems are," Military.com reported.

From Stars and Stripes:

"Austin wants all military units to take an operational pause to discuss extremism as he works to grasp the full scope of the issue and better address the longstanding problem, John Kirby, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, told reporters Wednesday. The pauses are expected to occur within the next 60 days, but Austin has yet to determine how the stand downs are to be completed, Kirby said."

"The intent is to reinforce the [Pentagon's] policies and values with respect to this sort of behavior and to have a dialogue with the men and women of the force and to get their views on what they are seeing at their level," Kirby explained. "He wants commands to take the necessary time to ... speak with troops about the scope of this problem. It's a two-way conversation."

"We owe the force, we owe these leaders some training materials and some deeper, more specific guidance about how to conduct [the stand-down], what the expectations are and thoughts about how feedback can be provided," Kirby stated.

The report of service members and military veterans being involved with the Capitol riots was reportedly a "wake-up call" for Austin and the Defense Department.

NPR reported in January that "nearly 1 in 5 people charged over their alleged involvement in the attack on the U.S. Capitol appear to have a military history." Of the 140 people charged in connection to the Capitol riots, 27 were current or former members of the U.S. military, which is almost 20%, yet only 7% of all American adults are military veterans.

"We woke up one day and discovered that we had extremist elements in our ranks, and they did bad things that we certainly held them accountable for," Austin said in January during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "But we discovered that the signs for that activity were there all along. We just didn't know what to look for or what to pay attention to — but we learned from that."

"One of the reasons the secretary wants to do this stand-down is to see the scope of the problem. ... We don't want to overestimate or underestimate the number of people it might affect," Kirby said. "It may be more than we're comfortable hearing and admitting and probably a lot less than the media attention surrounding it seems to suggest it could be. But where is it? It's just not clear."

"[Austin] too is frustrated that this is an issue and that we don't have better visibility, better understanding of it," Kirby added.

"The vast majority of men and women who serve in uniform and the military are doing so with honor, integrity and character, and do not espouse the sorts of beliefs that lead to the kind of conduct that can be so detrimental to good order and discipline and in fact is criminal," Kirby said, according to a Department of Defense news release.

In 2020, the Department of Defense received 143 notifications of investigation from the FBI, 68 of them concerned with domestic extremism.

The Pentagon was reportedly already reviewing its policies on extremism before Austin was named the secretary of defense on Jan. 22.

Wednesday's meeting was "an initial discussion" on the topic of extremism in the U.S. military, and specific action was not named as of yet, but Kirby stressed that Austin was not "ruling anything out."

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) was not welcoming of the 60-day stand-down.

"Biden's Defense Secretary ordered a 60 day service-wide stand down to address 'extremism' within the US Military," the freshman Republican representative tweeted on Thursday. "This is nothing but a political litmus test of our brave men & women. It is obscene & dangerous to use soldiers who risk their lives for America as political pawns."

"We can hardly be surprised by these political litmus tests given Biden's political vetting of the 26,000 National Guard troops in DC for his inauguration," Boebert continued. "I spoke up, as did many others, warning that would open up a very dangerous precedent & less than a month later here it is."


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