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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered all branches of the military to enact a “stand down” within the next 60 days so they can address supposed internal threats posed by white supremacy and other forms of extremism.
“The Pentagon on Wednesday said it was still uncertain how to grapple with the problem of extremism in its ranks and announced a military-wide pause to allow troops and commanders a chance to focus on the issue,” NBC News reported Wednesday. “Lloyd Austin, the first Black secretary of defense who recently took over at the Pentagon, ordered each branch of the military to stand-down at some point over the next 60 days to discuss the threat posed by white supremacy and similar extremism, said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.”
Austin gave the order on Wednesday during a meeting with the leaders of each military branch, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten. “There wasn’t one being in the room that didn’t agree that there wasn’t a problem,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.
Announcing the pause to the press, Kirby said the breach on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 served as “a wake-up call” for the Department of Defense. “Current and former members of the military took part in the siege, and the Pentagon is under scrutiny over how it vets recruits and tracks extremism within the ranks,” NBC reported.
“We don’t know how we’re going to be able to get after this in a meaningful, productive, tangible way and that is why he had this meeting today and that is why he certainly ordered this stand-down,” Kirby told the media, adding, “There may be cultural issues we have to deal with here.”
A staggering 25,000 troops from across the nation were ordered to Washington, D.C., to secure the inauguration of President Joe Biden on Jan. 20. The troops, as The Washington Post noted, were screened repeatedly for extremism.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott (TX) ripped into the vetting, likening the process to “loyalty” screenings. This is the most offensive thing I’ve ever heard,” Abbott said. “No one should ever question the loyalty or professionalism of the Texas National Guard.”
Notably, service members are already screened for ties to extremism or other potential red flags. Thus, the additional round of screenings seemed to have been excessive and perhaps linked to suspicion directed at supporters of President Donald Trump after the Capitol riot. The Associated Press, for example, named supporters of the president as potential threats to a Biden inauguration.
The AP report added that U.S. defense officials said they were conducting the vetting process out of concern about an “insider attack or other threat” from service members involved in securing the inauguration. The “threats against Biden’s inauguration,” AP underscored, “have been fueled by supporters of President Donald Trump, far-right militants, white supremacists and other radical groups”:
Insider threats have been a persistent law enforcement priority in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But in most cases, the threats are from homegrown insurgents radicalized by al-Qaida, the Islamic State group or similar groups. In contrast, the threats against Biden’s inauguration have been fueled by supporters of President Donald Trump, far-right militants, white supremacists and other radical groups. Many believe Trump’s baseless accusations that the election was stolen from him, a claim that has been refuted by many courts, the Justice Department and Republican officials in key battleground states.
Austin pledged during his confirmation hearings that he would “rid our ranks of racists and extremists,” The New York Post noted.
“We also owe our people a working environment free of discrimination, hate and harassment. If confirmed, I will fight hard to stamp out sexual assault, to rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity,” Austin said during the confirmation process.
“The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks,” he said.
Kirby noted Wednesday, “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.”