Pentagon Announces New Screening Effort To Weed Out Extremist Recruits

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visits National Guard troops deployed at the US Capitol and its perimeter, on January 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta / POOL / AFP) (Photo b... Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visits National Guard troops deployed at the US Capitol and its perimeter, on January 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MANUEL BALCE CENETA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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April 10, 2021 12:46 p.m.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced plans to update screening procedures for military recruits as part of an effort to weed out extremism among the nation’s troops, according to a memo released Friday.

The development comes after the Pentagon last week concluded its 60-day “stand down” to address extremism and white supremacy in the military in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

In the memo on Friday, Austin said: “The vast majority of those who serve in uniform and their civilian colleagues do so with great honor and integrity, but any extremist behavior in the force can have an outsized impact.” 

The defense secretary called for additional screening of potential recruits, demanding that military services ask recruits a standardized set of questions “to solicit specific information about current or previous extremist behavior.”

It’s notable that Pentagon policy does not specifically prohibit membership in many of those groups and that Friday’s actions do not ban current service members from being members of such organizations.

The memo said that the updated screening procedures will still help officials to “clarify that any demonstrably false answers provided in response could form the basis for punitive action for fraudulent enlistment.” 

The Pentagon had acknowledged in February that white supremacist and similar fringe groups “very aggressively recruit soon-to-be veterans.”

Austin also announced on Friday steps that include setting up a working group that will immediately be tasked with developing a checklist that includes training for retiring service members who are often targeted by extremist groups and reviewing the department’s definition of extremism.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Friday that unaffiliated, lone-wolf extremists would also likely be considered as the Pentagon updates its definition.

“It’s not just about group membership,” Kirby said on Friday, adding: “Some of this radicalization occurs on an individual level.”

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