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U.S. Air Force to stand down, review extremism in its ranks

Acting Secretary of the Air Force John P. Roth this week issued a memorandum that the Air Force and Space Force will seek to reject extremist views among its ranks. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force
Acting Secretary of the Air Force John P. Roth this week issued a memorandum that the Air Force and Space Force will seek to reject extremist views among its ranks. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force

Feb. 12 (UPI) -- An order by the secretary of the Air Force to review extremism in the ranks calls for a stand down and rejection of extremist views.

A letter on Thursday, signed by Acting Secretary John P. Roth and leaders of the Air Force and Space Force, the branch will carry out a "comprehensive review of the issue."

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"The vast majority of us -- whether active duty, guard, reserve, or civilian -- spends every day upholding our nation's laws, policies, and standards," leaders of the branches said in the letter. "However, there is a small subset who far short and are eroding the respect our Nation's civilians have for its military.

"While the First Amendment of the Constitution recognizes freedom of expression, it is our obligation to stand against extremism, as we should with anything that threatens to undermine good order and discipline, trust, and our culture of respect," the letter said.

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The letter, announcing plans for a stand down to conduct interviews and conversations with Air Force members, follows a service-wide order by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The Army and the Navy announced their compliance earlier this week.

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It was noted that of 190 people arrested so far in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, at least 30 are veterans, and three are current National Guard reservists. A protester who was shot and killed, Ashli Babbitt, was an Air Force veteran.

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Evidence of threatening racial behavior was also recently reported on U.S. warships and barracks.

The Defense Department's policy banning "active participation" in extremist or supremacist organizations dates to 2012, but does not explicitly forbid membership in those groups unless evidence of fundraising, bullying, recruiting and several other mentioned activities is observed.

Congressional testimony in February 2020 from military leaders indicated that the service branches do not prohibit troops from membership in extremist groups.

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"I find that astonishing," Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said at the time. "If you're a member, that's an activity. I think we need to take a look at that."

A proposed addition to the Fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual military budget, would have made a servicemember's violent action intended to intimidate or coerce a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but the proposal was removed from the final bill.

"The Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act includes provisions to improve tracking and reporting of white-supremacist and violent-extremist activities by service members and to establish a Deputy Inspector General responsible, in part, for monitoring and evaluating DoD's response to these threats. But these actions are not nearly enough," Speier said in a Feb. 1 statement.

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"At the insistence of President Trump, the conferees dropped my provision to create a standalone violent extremism offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, despite DoD's support for this policy change," Speier said.

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