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U.S. military branches gather data, conduct training on extremism

U.S. military branches gather data, conduct training on extremism
Sailors assigned to Commander, Destroyer Squadron Seven on March 12 are pictured participating in a Navy-wide stand down that is part of a Department of Defense-wide effort to address extremism in the ranks. Photo by Navy Lt. Lauren Chatmas/Department of Defense

March 19 (UPI) -- Military branches are collecting data about extremism in their ranks, and training troops, in anticipation of an April 1 deadline, a Pentagon official said this week.

The call to gather data from subordinate commands, train all troops and receive feedback came in early February, when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a military-wide, 60-day stand down to deal with extremism in the military's ranks.

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Austin's order for a "deeper conversation about the issue" was released after it was observed that active and former military personnel participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

A stand down is a relaxation of status of a military unit from an alert or operational posture, and in this case refers to a request for comment or data about the status of extremism in the ranks and ways to change it.

RELATED Racial, political divides in military grow as services try to weed out extremists

"I will tell you that we are wanting to move fast on all these initiatives because we're dealing with people, and we just need to make sure that we provide the results that they need to have an environment that is worthy of serving," Ramon Colón-López, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday at a press briefing.

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"We're committed to confronting and rooting out extremism in the military," Colón-López said.

Austin ordered each service branch to collect data and notify Defense Department leadership about completion of training and any feedback they received during the training stand downs.

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Guidance for the stand down training came in a 13-page report, issued by the Defense Department in February. The report includes case studies identifying paramilitary activity, domestic extremism, organizing and recruiting, and racist and supremacist statements are identified.

It also suggests remedies to identified problems, including counseling and corrective training; removal of personnel from certain duties, such as restricted area badge access, flying status, or duties involving firearms; reclassification and suspension of certain eligibilities.

"Service members must reject active participation in organizations that advance supremacist or extremist ideology," the report states.

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The report specifically refers to ideologies that "advance, encourage, or advocate illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, or those that advance, encourage, or advocate the use of force, violence, or criminal activity or otherwise advance efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights."

Military leaders have speculated that the number of extremists in the service branches is not high, but most of the data have not yet arrived, Colón-López said.

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"What is most important to me right now is the prevention of that behavior," he said.

"Because even if they [extremists] exist right now, if they know that the department and the institution is looking for that behavior, and wanting to crush it, then they will think twice about performing those acts. This is all about prevention," Colón-López said.

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