Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is taking on right-wing extremism in the military, ordering all commanding officers and supervisors to issue a one-day stand-down order, to address extremism in the ranks.
In a Friday memo, Austin granted a 60-day window for military leaders to discuss “the importance of our oath of office; a description of impermissible behaviors; and procedures for reporting suspected, or actual, extremist behaviors,” following reports that some of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were active duty service members and military veterans.
“We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies,” the memo signed by Austin read. “Service members, DoD civilian employees, and all those who support our mission, deserve an environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment.”
The stand-down order was first announced by the Pentagon Wednesday, when Austin noted that though the number of individual service members involved in the attack was “small”, they were “not as small as anyone would like,” reported the Department of Defense.
The department has not released information on how many active military service members are believed to have been present at the Jan. 6 riot, but Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said during a Wednesday press conference, “No matter what it is, it is … not an insignificant problem and has to be addressed.”
The secretary of defense said this order is just the first in a greater strategy to better understand the scope of extremism in the military and to “develop sustainable ways to eliminate the corrosive effects that extremist ideology and conduct have on the workforce.”
Kirby said that fight against extremism is a “thorny problem” that the military has fought against in the past.
A 2019 Military Times poll found that 36 percent of its active-duty poll takers had personally witnessed “evidence of white supremacist and racist ideologies in the military” – a figure that jump from 22 percent of poll takers in 2018.
Austin is the first Black Secretary of Defense and is expected to lead the charge in what the Pentagon has said must be a leadership down approach.
“We owe it to the oath we each took and the trust the American people have in our institution,” he wrote in the memo.