The Citizen (Gauteng)

US military wages war extremism


– Nearly two months after some active service personnel and veterans took part in the deadly attack on the US Capitol, the United States military has begun to tackle extremism within its ranks– but the fight promises to be a difficult one, by the very admission of its leaders.

New Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, the first African-American to hold the position, ordered all units to hold a day of discussion­s on right-wing and white supremacis­t extremism.

“It concerns me to think that anyone wearing the uniform of a soldier, or sailor, airman, Marine or guardian or Coast Guardsmen would espouse these sorts of beliefs, let alone act on it,” Austin said in a video recorded for the discussion days. “But they do. Some of them still do.”

In a country where freedom of speech is enshrined in the constituti­on – and vigorously defended in society– instructio­ns were sent to all unit commanders on how to lead debate without encroachin­g on the civil rights of some 1.3 million service members.

If a member raises the concern of free speech infringeme­nt during the discussion, their superiors have been directed to remind them that military personnel have access to sensitive informatio­n and weapons.

Therefore, the government reserves the right to evaluate their judgment and reliabilit­y.

“Any doubt is resolved in favour of the national security,” say the instructio­ns, which were released by the Pentagon.

The programme also recommends that units reread the oath taken by each service member upon their arrival in the ranks.

In particular, each member of the military promises to “support and defend the constituti­on... against all enemies, foreign and domestic”.

Some military personnel interviewe­d by AFP privately expressed concerns that their profession was being singled out in the face of rising extremism throughout society.

But according to CNN, 21 of the first 150 rioters arrested since the fatal January 6 attack on the Capitol building were current or former military personnel – 14%, a far higher proportion than in the general population, of which military members make up only 5.9%.

Several of those arrested belonged to the white supremacis­t “Oath Keepers” movement, whose leaders have been charged with conspiracy to carry out the 6 January attack.

One reason for the disproport­ionate representa­tion among military personnel or veterans, according to General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of the US Central Command that oversees troops deployed in Afghanista­n, Iraq and Syria, is that soldiers who have experience­d combat sometimes feel superior to the rest of the population. –

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